Gerad Parker tries to reboot the sagging Notre Dame football offense

SOUTH BEND — Amid a troubling three-game downturn in production against nationally ranked opponents, Notre Dame football’s offensive coordinator Gerad Parker offered a novel remedy after Tuesday’s practice.
“Sometimes the best answer on not being good on third down is not being in third down,” Parker said ahead of Saturday night’s rivalry game against 10th-ranked USC. “Or certainly not being in third down and eight (yards)-plus. That’s a real answer.”
After soaring past 40 points every time out in its 4-0 start, Notre Dame has sagged to 18.3 points per game while dropping two of its past three outings. The past two games, including a dramatic win at Duke, have seen the Irish go 6-of-28 on third-down conversions, a 21.4% success rate.
Analysis:Third-down woes worsen as Notre Dame football goes searching for answers
The porous Trojans defense might be the perfect salve for the bruised egos on the Irish offense. Under second-year coordinator Alex Grinch, who followed Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, USC ranks 78th in third-down defense, 79th in scoring defense and 91st in rushing yards allowed per game (157).
Of course, USC’s defense was weak last season as well but still limited the Irish to 90 rushing yards on 26 attempts in the regular-season finale, a 38-27 outcome that snapped a four-game series skid for the Trojans.
In last Saturday’s 33-20 loss at Louisville, five sacks of Sam Hartman and a total shutdown of Audric Estime (10 carries for 20 yards) left Notre Dame with 44 rushing yards on 28 carries. That marked the fifth time in coach Marcus Freeman’s 21-game tenure (14-7 record) that the Irish failed to reach triple digits in rushing yardage.
Oct 7, 2023; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) runs the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
The 1.57-yard average was the worst of the Freeman era, and the total rushing output was barely ahead of the 42 yards (on 21 carries) the pass-happy Irish managed with former coordinator Tommy Rees calling plays in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
Freeman’s teams also were stymied on the ground in a 2022 loss at Ohio State (30 carries for 76 yards) and a narrow win over Navy in Baltimore (34 carries for 66 yards).
Since the start of 2015, a span of 8 ½ seasons and 109 games, Notre Dame’s rushing output at Louisville was tied for third worst in recent program history. Clemson held the Irish to 44 yards on 30 carries in the 2020 ACC Championship Game, sacking Ian Book six times.
Six more sacks of Jack Coan and Drew Pyne against Wisconsin in the 2021 win at Soldier Field left Notre Dame with a paltry 3 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
“We are facing good people,” Parker said. “And you know what? My job and our job is to make sure we’re good against good people. We’ll be better.”

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