Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day, as I was sitting at the in-laws waiting to partake in the feast to come, thinking about the 2017 football season. On Saturday, Notre Dame plays Stanford in a game that will largely shape how a lot of people ultimately feel about this season. A month ago, there was reason to be fully confident about this game and how it would turn out. The Irish were fielding their best team in years, they were blowing teams out, and they were sitting pretty in the college football rankings.
A month and three uninspiring performances later, it’s not clear what Notre Dame is to end the season. They don’t seem to have the same edge, the team is banged up, and they just find ways to lose at Stanford on the road. Since I may not be in a such a thankful mood in a couple of days, I want to recognize what we’ve seen this season that for better or worse is worthy of gratitude and praise.
Thank You For 49-14
It doesn’t matter what happens to finish the season, this game was incredible. Notre Dame has beaten USC before under Brian Kelly (2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015), but USC never entered as a good team in those contests, and the largest margin of victory was 10 in 2015. USC came into the game ranked 11th and a month later they still sit 11th, with a berth in the PAC 12 championship game. Notre Dame didn’t beat up on an overrated preseason team. They beat a PAC 12 finalist by five touchdowns. And they did it in prime time.
It was a beautiful game that featured strong preparation, great execution by the team, and play-calling mastery on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame beat them, and then humbled them.
I am especially thankful because as a Southern California resident, I got a night and week of USC sadness on sports radio during my commute to work, and let me tell you, it was as good as you imagine it to be.
Thank You For Mike Elko
It’s nice to watch a team play the way they are coached to play and to do it with solid fundamentals. It’s not just the numbers here, it’s the play by players who were a dumpster fire last season. Jerry Tillery was on his way to being a massive disappointment, he turned into a key cog on a defensive line that massively exceeded the expectations of anyone who followed the team closely. Jonathan Bonner, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti found themselves late in their careers on defense. Nick Coleman couldn’t see the field at corner and was considered a lost cause, he became one of the most steady players while becoming an every day starter at free safety. Suddenly, Drue Tranquill has an NFL future playing Rover.
Beyond that, he also produced stellar result. Notre Dame is ranked the 28th defense nationally by S&P+ and is 25th in points allowed. They are 26th against the run and 4th through the air by S&P+, against the 5th rated national schedule according to Sagarin’s computer rankings. In other words, he built a great defense in his first try, with pieces many thought were unusable. 10-2 is possible because Mike Elko coached his butt off.
Thank You For #33trucking
Ultimately, this was a failed Heisman campaign for running back Josh Adams, who has slowed down considerably due to injuries and poor team play over the last couple of weeks. But, ultimately it shined a light on some the best men Notre Dame has to offer in Adams and his offensive line. None of them would have asked for this, least of all Adams, who didn’t run from the campaign, but also was clearly a little uncomfortable with it.
It came about of course, because Notre Dame was running through teams, good teams, on their way to third in the CFB rankings. It was fun and beautiful to watch. There is nothing sexier in the game of football than running all over the opponent late in a game, or Adams racing up the middle untouched for a 70+ yard touchdown run while the lineman celebrate with each other as he makes the journey.
Thank You To The Captains
Last year was not fun. In fact, it was terrible. They were all a part of it and they set out to make sure it didn’t happen again. They lived up to that. Nelson and McGlinchey brought the best running game in decades, Martini, Morgan, and Tranquill brought toughness and grit to the defense. Those three players represent the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leading tacklers on the team, with a combined 16.5 tackles for loss. That’s leading from the front.
It’s hard to overstate the change from the defense from last year to this. They were shredded by Syracuse, Texas, and Duke last season. They couldn’t stop anyone. They were so good against USC, the talk following the game was quarterback Sam Darnold had to return because he wasn’t ready. Consider that in the past, Notre Dame was winning Heisman trophies for USC quarterbacks. Now they are causing them to reconsider their professional plans. Well done boys. Well done.
Now go beat Stanford.