Man did this bye week come at a good time for the Irish and for me. For the Irish it’s going to allow some of the minor bumps and bruises that have been popping up to heel while for me it’s allowed me to be just a bit behind with some columns this week. Over the week Notre Dame improved to 5-1 with a solid effort in Chapel Hill over the decimated Tar Heels. The Irish won with a familiar formula – defense and running the football. Here’s the four players I picked out this week for the weekly Four Horsemen.
1. Deon McIntosh
Who would have thought in the pre-season that Deon McIntosh would be Notre Dame’s player of the game for any game this season with the depth ahead of him? The talk all summer was about Tony Jones Jr. Then over the first few weeks the talk was about why Dexter Williams wasn’t getting more carries. With all of the minor injuries that Notre Dame has had at the position, however, Deon McIntosh has been thrust into a pretty prominent role. He has responded pretty damn well.
Against North Carolina, Notre Dame was without Dexter Williams all game long and then saw Josh Adams head to the sideline with his balky ankle. They turned to McIntosh and the redshirt freshman ripped off 124 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns. McIntosh wasn’t just running through gaping holes either. He ran hard, broke tackles, and made yards after contact. After Saturday, the only running back with more yards this season for the Irish is Josh Adams. Not bad for a kid no one was talking about in August.
2. Josh Adams
Had it not been for that aforementioned balking ankle, Adams would have taken home the top spot again this week. As is, Adams ran 13 times for 118 yards and a touchdown including a 73 yard jaunt into the endzone. After that 73 yarder though, Adams only saw a couple more carries the rest of the game. Had the game been closer, Adams could have played but with the bye week on the horizon and the Notre Dame defense not budging, Brian Kelly decided to rest his star running back.
Adams has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season. If his ankle hadn’t been balky the last few weeks, Adams could have topped 1,000 yards in the first half of the season already. Even with more time on the sidelines than on the field the last three weeks, Adams has 776 yards on the season while averaging 9.0 yards per carry. Notre Dame needs to get Adams healthy over the bye week to gear up for the stretch run that will feature five currently ranked opponents over the final six games. If Adams keeps averaging 9.0 ypc and Notre Dame keeps him on the field over these next six games, he will be in the Heisman conversation.
3. Julian Okwara
Julian Okwara’s interception was one of the more impressive plays on the defensive side of the ball this season for Notre Dame. He came charging in, recognized he wasn’t going to get to the quarterback, and got his hands up to swat back the pass. Then he secured the batted ball for his first career interception. That wasn’t the only time Okwara was int he backfield on Saturday afternoon either. The sophomore defensive end was credited with a team high 3 QB hurries on the afternoon.
Okwara only has 7 tackles on the season, but 2.5 of them went for loss including 1.5 sacks. With his 3 hurries against the Tar Heels, he now has 5 on the season which is tied with Jerry Tillery. Okwara is getting better as the season progresses as well. His development is huge for Notre Dame in the second half of this year not only as the Irish try to build on an impressive start to the season but for the future of the Notre Dame defense. Okwara has the potential to be the kind of pass rusher the Irish have sorely lacked.
4. Jerry Tillery
The last three weeks of football have been the most impressive three weeks of football we have seen in Jerry Tillery’s Notre Dame career. The junior defensive tackle is really coming into his own and is developing into a disruptive force in the middle of the Irish defense. Notre Dame’s defensive success at this point in the season can largely be contributed to the play of the defensive line and Tillery is a big part of that. Against North Carolina Tillery was credited with 2 QB hurries, but more importantly, he teamed up with Jay Hayes for a game changing safety just before half time.
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