No. 2: Rust from the layoff was apparent
All season teams have had to deal with rust. In some cases, their season opener came against a team that had already played one, two, three, even four games. Those teams have had to adjust to live game action quickly or get left in the dust by their better-adjusted opponents.
Meanwhile, other teams, due to COVID-19 protocols, have had to take off extra weeks in the middle of their season. This happened to Notre Dame, who had three weeks between USF and Florida State.
So, with that break, where Notre Dame often was unable to even practice, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Florida State kept it closer than any expert predicted. It shouldn’t be surprising that Notre Dame, a top-5 team, could be so sloppy right out of the gates.
That rust was obvious, especially during the 1st quarter Saturday night, and led to a 17-14 deficit to end start the game.
It started on the first drive, second play, of the game. Kyren Williams fumbled, and the Seminoles jumped on it. It wasn’t like they stood Williams up and ripped it from him either. They just hit him soundly, and he coughed it up as if he hadn’t taken many hits in the past three weeks.
That was followed up later in the 1st quarter by a muffed punt. How many live punts has Notre Dame been practicing with in the past 3 weeks? Probably very few, and this mistake led to a touchdown for Florida State.
Special teams issues actually plagued Notre Dame all night long, and whether or not that was related to the layoff is hard to say, but before the layoff, special teams had been dominant for the Irish. Besides the muff, against Florida State, they had another near muff and missed a field goal. Against a better team, these uncharacteristic mistakes could have cost Notre Dame the game.
There were other pieces of sloppiness all night long, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There were blown coverages and missed tackles that you don’t normally see from a Clark Lea coached defense.
Yes, players were still out. Yes, there was a long layoff. Yes, practice time was limited. However, you need to avoid performances like this under any circumstances, otherwise, you will lose to good teams. Notre Dame survived this weekend, but they won’t get many more games where they’ll be excused for not being as sharp as possible.