Notre Dame just beat a power 5 opponent, one that some folks who cover this sport professionally picked to finish second in the conference, one that has earned a “superweapon” reputation against highly ranked teams, on the road, by a six-score margin. That opponent completed 36% of their passes and mustered up 44 total rushing yards. Those second and third quarters, in which the Irish ripped off 38 unanswered points, were an absolute sight to behold.
Ian Book is rarely, if ever, going to look like an elite college quarterback. That means that there are always going to be fans clamoring about how he’s not good enough, but don’t mistake that for Book not actually being good enough to lead this offense forward. He made several mistakes that a more locked-in defense might have capitalized on, but for the most part he gamely shouldered the load on a day where the rushing attack was unlikely to look like its usual self. Stop tweeting at us because you don’t think he’s as good as Kyle Trask or whatever, we don’t care (this request will surely not reach its intended audience). Insane that a 173.7 passer rating, on 10.4 yards per attempt, and three touchdowns, and zero turnovers, can’t speak for itself, but the fanbase is the fanbase.
The above is not a dig at the running game — 2.2 yards per carry is a far cry from early season results, sure, but we knew that Pitt would lean on their strong defensive front to try and make the Irish win over the top. That was the right game plan, and also it didn’t work at all. ND was still lights out on third and fourth down (12-19, compared to the Panthers’ 3-13), showing that getting the job done in high-leverage situations can effectively mask otherwise inconsistent results. The Irish likely won’t score that many points on that few rushing yards again soon, but they shouldn’t need to. Kyren Williams is so elusive and quick and tough that it still felt like he had a pretty good game despite only logging 38 yards on the ground. He’s so good, folks.
We need to circle back to the quarterback position because, for all his shortcomings, Book has proven himself to be an incredibly effective scrambler, and his offensive coordinator knows it. He’s just hard to bring down in the pocket, and quick enough to find open swaths of space in no time at all. It feels like he’s constantly extending drives and keeping the window open for the offense to work up some momentum. Forcing defenses to spy in an attempt to negate that threat is a win in itself.
Big step forward for one Mr. Rees on the play-calling side. ND ran the ball 50 times, but didn’t just jam the ball into crowded boxes for the sake of “establishing the run.” A lot of play action, misdirection, and early-down passes kept that vaunted defense on their heels and frequently up against their own end zone.
Can Ben Skowronek be relied upon to serve as that sort of deep threat on a consistent basis? I wouldn’t count on it quite yet, but it was certainly nice to see an Irish receiver make a couple aggressive plays for the ball while his defensive counterpart floundered. What’s a bit more clear is that Michael Mayer needs to be a focal point of the passing game — we need to squeeze as much as possible out of every weapon at our disposal (it feels like this just is not Braden Lenzy’s year, at all), and boy oh boy is he a weapon. Five catches for 73 yards and a score doesn’t tell the whole story, as Book sailed a few passes over his head that would have surely been big gains.
This defense is simply absurd. Pitt’s offense is absurdly bad, sure, but both can be true. Did I catch the booth saying that ND’s defense is better than both Alabama and Clemson’s units on Saturday? That’s certainly TBD, and might not even matter since Clemson’s offense is considerably more dangerous than ours, but that it’s even a debate is pretty wild. Not every quarterback will be as sloppy with the football as Joey Yellen, but if the turnover floodgates are fully open, opposing OC’s are on notice.
Bo Bauer really gave us his best 2012 Manti impression with that pick thrown right over his head, which you have to love. Wu gave us his best impression of, well, an NFL cornerback? Shaun Crawford is such a gamer, even if he’s good for one tough beat over the top per game. Nick McCloud has been so, so solid and it’s been insane to pretty much not notice Clarence Lewis, considering how much he’s playing as a freshman corner. The entire defensive line was dominant for 60 minutes — Justin Ademilola doesn’t get talked about a lot, but was a force in the backfield. These guys get off the field so efficiently and it’s crystal clear that hiring Clark Lea is one of the coolest things the university has done in a long time.
Their only lingering flaw seems to be chunk passing plays (notice that those completions are never around Kyle Hamilton’s territory), of which the Panthers had several. The Irish can’t afford another Tariq Bracy scratch against Clemson — we’ve all seen how that kinda thing can go. I also don’t think Shayne Simon is the answer at linebacker, which is a disappointment given his recruiting hype, but time is running out to find some other solution there. That these are our big problems shows you how good we have it.
It’s funny how little it matters that Notre Dame’s return games are not explosive in the least, because they simply score all their special teams touchdowns via Isaiah Foskey blocked punts.
28 wins in 31 tries. A program that has perfected the art of beating the little guy (college football powerhouses don’t live on average opponents alone, yeah, but it sure is nice to not feel that particular sort of NDFB despair anymore). No home losses since early 2017, after which I hung my head over the stadium wall and wondered when this would all get good again. We’re all sort of a broken record about it, but this winning stuff is cool, and we should keep talking about that for as long as it lasts.