Awfully rude of Brian Kelly’s guys to keep doing the same thing for weeks on end, therefore making it hard to write about them without repeating myself. The pre-holiday season is always a lot anyway so we’ll stay on the shorter side here and get you on your way. Saturday was what happens when a good football team plays a not-so-good one, and despite settling for a bunch of field goals and playing from behind for a hot second, it was truly never in doubt. It appears that this team doesn’t really entertain the notion of letdowns anymore, making Saturdays fun and relatively stress-free even if you were jittery, like me, via pure inertia and muscle memory and also having to whip up a bunch of biscuits from scratch (they turned out quite nicely, thanks for asking). Kudos to Jon Doerer for being so, so solid and putting points on the board when the offense couldn’t muster up six.
The big, bad AJ Dillon was more or less a non-factor, and I’m enjoying this trend where I point out an opposing player as scary and the team laughing at me and completely negating them for four hours. A top 25 offense managed all of one score against the Irish, and one of the nation’s top backs couldn’t come close to replicating the output he’s generated all year long. Clark Lea, we love you.
There’s not a lot to say about Ian Book at this point except that he looks genuinely awesome, and it’s self-evident that everyone rooting for Notre Dame should want him back for one more go-round next year. After a shaky start, he is once again what we thought he’d be. Same goes for Chris Finke, who’s all of a sudden Vintage Slippery Fox, both in the receiving and punt return games.
Assuming Book returns as expected, next year should be a lot of fun. We’re taking Cole Kmet at his word for now, and Brian Kelly at his when he says that Kevin Austin remains potentially the best offensive player we’ve got. Chip Long is finding out how to weaponize Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys continues to make strides, and some super stud freshmen are in the wings. And, uh, Kyle Hamilton looks so good that I’m thinking why don’t we just play him at receiver occasionally? I do not believe that kid has any actual human limitations.
The real story, though, is the seniors. Khalid Kareem has put together a hell of a second half and has really led the defense in rebuilding all the good things we know this team can show. Asmar Bilal has exceeded all expectations and anchored an extremely good linebacking crew. Alohi Gilman has another year of eligibility, and we’d love it if he surprised us by coming back, but he’s been a genuine best-case transfer scenario in terms of culture fit and energy expended and plays made. Chase Claypool is part of an absurdly talented wide receiver draft class, but looks like one of the best among them. Troy Pride has had some ups and downs in 2019 but he’s been the best corner on a very good defense and should be commended. Also, Daelin Hayes is coming back for more but was great as a part of the extremely enjoyable NBC Fan Feed broadcast, and that counts for something. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
It seems the Irish are destined for some postseason camping in Orlando, which isn’t the ideal place to go camping, or the ideal postseason destination, but that’s okay. Losing in Ann Arbor the way they did means Notre Dame has to take their medicine, but it’s cool that they’ve responded to that bitter pill by gutting out a win against an apparently good Virginia Tech team and absolutely smashing the next several opponents.
That response is reflective of the current senior class in microcosm — they started their college careers by (mostly watching) a 4-8 cataclysm, and in turn they made themselves into one of the winningest classes in school history. They did the work, and they can hold their heads high. Winning so you can make a mid-tier bowl isn’t quite why we do this, but winning for winning’s sake is at least a little bit of the point. We all know about Brian Kelly teams in Palo Alto but losing to this Stanford team is not an option. Let’s get one more, and then let’s get another, and then let’s take a nap.
Photo via Matt Cashore