Notre Dame won a football game on Monday, but the mood throughout the Notre Dame fanbase isn’t one of optimism following a 35-17 win over Louisville on the road. The Irish looked sluggish, and Ian Book specifically looked more like the QB we saw against Clemson than the one we saw against Stanford. Still, the Irish sit at 1-0 and believe it or not; there was quite a bit to like in the victory.
Oh, and don’t worry, we’ll get into the things I didn’t like about the game as well in case you haven’t read this column before. (We’ll have that one for you on Thursday).
1. The running of Tony Jones Jr
It looked like Tony Jones Jr was just going to run through the Louisville defense at will during the first 20 or so minutes of the game. Then the Cardinals adjusted and Jones wasn’t quite as sharp. Still, Jones topped 100 yards for just the second time in his career with 112 on 15 carries. The injury to Jafar Armstrong led Notre Dame to rely on Jones perhaps more than they planned, but the senior back answered the call.
A faster back could have turned some of the runs Jones had into massive gains, but we know Jones is more of a plodder than a burner. And that’s fine if he is going to run like he did Monday night all year long.
2. Chase Claypool with the ball in his hands
We heard the Michael Floyd comparisons for Claypool this summer, but maybe the comparisons should have been Mike Evans because Claypool showed better run after the catch than we saw from Floyd. That wasn’t Floyd’s best trait. Claypool though, looked great with the ball in his hands all night lead to a five-catch, 94-yard performance.
What we didn’t get to see at all was if those Floyd comparisons for his ability to high point the ball and make contested catches were warranted. That was because Ian Book, who had a shaky game, didn’t give him any opportunities to make them. Book was gun shy from firing the ball downfield and letting Claypool go up and grab the ball.
3. The triumphant return of Shaun Crawford
I’ve said it before. It’s impossible not to be rooting hard for Shaun Crawford this year. He’s attempting to come back from a 3rd major knee injury. Some players struggle to come back from one. In Crawford’s first game since the 2017 Citrus Bowl, he was his usual playmaking self.
At one point Crawford crashed the line of scrimmage and made a saving tackle of Jawon Pass. If Crawford doesn’t make the tackle, Pass had A LOT of green in front of him. Crawford, all 5’8 inches of him, though brought Pass down and prevented a huge play.
Later in the game, Crawford just missed forcing a fumble on one of his signature punch outs ala Michigan State 2017. Crawford got his fist on the ball, but the Louisville receiver’s knee touched the ground just before the ball came out. Louisville ended up recovering the would-be fumble anyway due to some really poor awareness from the other Irish defenders, but it was the kind of play that Crawford made with regularity in early 2017.
Game one of Crawford’s return from another significant injury was a success.
4. The potential that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Kyle Hamilton flashed
JOK and Hamilton were two of the more promising stories on the defensive side of the ball all summer, and both showed why. Owusu-Koramoah was flying all around the field and finished with 2.0 TFL. Right now, JOK is not always in the right position because he’s learning the job still, but his potential was on full display. If Clark Lea can get him to improve each week, we have a special linebacker on our hands.
Kyle Hamilton prevented Greg from having a heart attack for at least two more weeks by not recording an interception, but it was clear that it’s a matter of time. Hamilton was excellent in coverage, and despite one fairly big miss in the run game, he was solid all around.
Get used to seeing Hamilton on the field a lot – especially after the early portion of the 2019 schedule.
5. The consistency showed by both of Notre Dame’s new kickers
Going into Monday night’s game I was worried about both Notre Dame kickers since Jonathan Doerer had not done much to inspire confidence and Jay Bramblett was making his first career start. Both did what they were asked to do week one. For Doerer, that wasn’t much since he just had to kick off and make five extra points. He did just that though and didn’t make it interesting. Doerer missed a PAT against Navy when he filled in for Justin Yoon so going 5 for 5 in that department was encouraging.
Bramblett was borderline impressive for a first start. He isn’t going to rocket punts like Tyler Newsome – we know that. Bramblett is going to get excellent hang time though and prevent Louisville from doing anything in the return game. One punt did get away from him, but the damage was limited.
I thought about listing the defensive adjustments from Clark Lea as the 5th, but at this point, I expect Clark Lea to do that. If anything, it was more surprising that it took Lea two drives to adjust instead of one.