Notre Dame Fighting Irish lacrosse (5-4, 1-2 ACC) lost to Duke (10-2, 2-1 ACC), 2-8, on Saturday before a packed 5000 person crowd at Arlotta Stadium. Gametime temperatures were below freezing, but neither this nor the howling winds kept away the expected huge crowd.
Unfortunately, not much to write here. Brian Willets had a goal assisted by Pierre Byrne, and Byrne had an unassisted goal. The Irish had but one (not a misprint) shot on goal the entire second half. Shot totals flatter Notre Dame, with the Irish nominally showing a 25-23 edge for the game.
Travisano had a quality game going 8 of 13 at faceoff. Defensively, Crance had four ground balls, Sexton had three ground balls, a caused turnover and a shot, and Millikin had two caused turnovers at short stick defensive midfield. Schmidt had six saves.
Check out the opening goal by Willets! Notre Dame gets on the board early.
— Notre Dame Lacrosse (@NDlacrosse) April 7, 2018
Pierre Byrne putting the ball on net in the 2nd quarter. Byrne and the Irish are set for the 2nd half against @DukeMLAX
— Notre Dame Lacrosse (@NDlacrosse) April 7, 2018
The afternoon started with the surprise news that Bryan Costabile would not play. No reason was given, but he was at the game and not identified as being injured. Brendan Gleason was out as expected. No timetable for his return was given. Mikey Drake started in place of Costabile.
Notre Dame got on the board early and first with a goal from Willets dodging from X. Duke scored the next four, including a goal that leaked in as time expired in the first quarter. Byrne had a nice dodging goal to make the score 2-4 at the half. To put it plainly, the offense went nowhere the second half, with the Irish failing to put the ball in the net for the final 32:48 of the game. The defense was quite good throughout and kept Notre Dame at least theoretically in the game. So that we are not accused of painting an inaccurately rosey picture of the contest, while the game never became lopsided, no one present thought the Irish were capable of making up ground in the second half.
Hidden in the frustration with the Irish offense was the fact that Duke also struggled to score at 6-on-6.
It was not a game for fans of scoring, but students of defense had a lot to be excited about.
This game was difficult to process, and it took an entire car ride back to Atlanta to figure out what to write. We’ve read too much superficial analysis suggesting that Notre Dame uses an archaic offensive system and that the fault lies there. While it may be true that it’s not the most innovative system, it is also true that the Gleason, Costabile, Garnsey and Wynne combination didn’t have too much trouble scoring consistently when playing in the same game. Moreover, their regular third-quarter nap notwithstanding, they were generally very efficient.
Similarly, the “Play more Garnsey” crowd is simply stirring the pot and not really making productive points. We agree, Ryder Garnsey is the most creative player on the roster and we are huge fans, as the volume of #50 jerseys owned by us will affirm. However, his effectiveness is helped by having shooters on the field who can stretch the defense, and effective closers who can sneak behind the double-teams and catch his rocket passes. When either are absent, his effectiveness diminishes as it would for any great attackman.
What it comes down to is that the gamble to play a short midfield bench didn’t pay off. The choice to play a short bench was a reasonable one at the time: an exceedingly difficult schedule and challenges gaining possession made it mathematically reasonable to keep the first line on the field for every offensive possession. It was a plan that worked well enough, but had exposure to injury as no one outside the top-5 had any experience to replace an absent player.
A secondary problem is that the solution for gaining faceoff possession is having Travisano-Sexton-Cohen on faceoff, with Schantz and Milliken covering in either box. Said differently, the Irish are effectively gaining possession, but do so with zero offensive midfielders on the field. The result is no opportunity at all for early offense, and only 6-on-6 slogs available. Again, with a full compliment of starting midfielders, this is a fair tradeoff. But take away the two best scorers of the five and you have a problem.
The problem is plainly evident: no Gleason against Syracuse and production goes down to 6 goals, no Gleason and Costabile against Duke, production goes down to 2 goals. Van Raaphorst and Giles-Harris had a license to unload on Garnsey and Wynne knowing at least two first-time midfielders were on the field. It also didn’t help that Collins had to play a lot of defense, and that turnovers due to inexperience resulted in Byrne having to rush back on defense only to find himself covering Guterding.
We’ve read criticism that there should be higher expectation for the crop of highly-ranked new players. We respond that it is entirely unfair to kids like Jackoboice, McNamara and Walters to pull them off a frozen bench for effectively the first time in the season, against Duke, and expect them to be a one-for-one replacement of Costabile as soon as they step on the field. We want them to succeed more than anybody, but expectations have to be reasonable and must consider the circumstances.
Our regular readers know that we strongly advocated for taking the risk to play the younger players early in the season as opposed to the short bench, but we also acknowledge in doing so we were simply arguing for a different risk. We don’t get an “I told you so moment,” as we don’t know how our plan would have worked out. The team can only move forward.
The timing of Gleason/Costabile situations to coincide with ACC play was an unfortunate time for the gamble to go south, but there are many positives to build upon while we wait on Gleason and Costabile’s return:
- Winning the faceoff battle is not a bad thing. Sure, it would be nice to have scorers on the field at faceoff, but 4-5 extra possessions is a problem most teams wish they had. Notre Dame only needs to be similarly efficient as its opponent to win.
- The defense is excellent. The midfield defense is awesome, and the team has worked past the growing pains of the youth of the close D. The offense won’t need double-digits to win (so long as they avoid a mid-week concentration lapse in Milwaukee!).
- The band-aid has already been ripped off. Walter, Jackoboice and McNamara have already had their trial by fire. They’ve shown their skills and it only gets easier from here. Jackoboice has had a few assists man-up, and Walter is not afraid to shoot. If it were up to us, we’d add a few more #giantfreshmen to the mix, but letting these three shoot is a good start.
- Transition. With such a strong defensive midfield, transition offense is due for a breakout. Shantz, Phillips and Sexton are getting their shots, the dam will burst!
- Proven scorers. Garnsey, Wynne, Willets, Collins and Byrne are proven scorers. A bit of practice with the new guys and productivity will return. We’re not saying they’ll unload 20 goals a game, but they only need a slight improvement to exceed the target the Irish defense gives them.
Finally, just the simple task of putting shots on net will help immensely.
- We read a lot of griping about the goaltending situation. Folks, Matt Schmidt is the goalie and will be the goalie. He’s a freshman, so it won’t be perfect, but Duke only scored 8. This should be an easily beatable score. ND-Atl 2.0 is also quick to remind us that Schmidt is performing on par with Shane Doss’ freshman year. We will consider ourselves to be fortunate to have another Shane Doss.
- The offensive struggles keep us from recognizing that Notre Dame has perhaps the best defensive midfield in all of college lacrosse this decade. Sexton, Milliken, Schantz, along with Hadley, Gaiss, Phillips and Cassidy, are simply spectacular. Sexton and Schantz are known quantities and All-Americans, but the ageless Milliken has been a revelation, and we hope his season will not go unnoticed by the All-American voters.
- We continue to be impressed with the leadership on this team.
- Jordan Walters and Auden Menke saw the field on Saturday.
- The polls were not posted as of this writing, but expect some overreaction and a drop into the mid-teens.
- NCAA, and ACC, tournament aspirations are in peril. Marquette, UNC, Army and at least one ACC tournament game are close to becoming must-win games.
- Up next: Notre Dame at Marquette, this Wednesday night, 7:00 pm, FS1