I’ve never been more confused. Notre Dame is so good at running the ball, and so bad at throwing the ball. I guess this is what it was like in the late 80’s. I feel like people were happier then. There wasn’t an expectation of good quarterback play, at least as it related to the passing game.
We should be over the moon right now. The numbers are incredible. 7th in rushing at 302 yards a game. 3rd in yards per carry. 2nd in rushing touchdowns. 20 out of 22 in touchdown conversions in the red zone. It’s all happening.
But, we looked like a JV team throwing the ball. And for as good as the running game is, Notre Dame isn’t doing anything this year if that doesn’t get cleaned up. It isn’t 1988 anymore, you can’t just ignore one part of the offense. And it is sitting in the back of our minds like a test you know is coming and you know you’re totally unprepared for. So, we are not over the moon. As silly as it is, we are worried. Welcome to Notre Dame football in the 21st century!
And it’s ok to be worried, we’ve been burned too many times. I was a guy who was yelling at the TV because Nick Watkins gave up another long pass with Notre Dame up 45-14. And if that was you too, I understand. Let’s just try to remember there is growing evidence this team is good, and maybe a strong running game with an average passing game is going to get the job done this year, instead of the other way around.
Lets take stock after the first month of football has come and gone.
I should probably say a few words here, because he’s been amazing. He started high, is currently high, and the only thing that looks to slow him down is a balky ankle. He’s 7th in nation in yards per game and he has missed six quarters due to blowout or injury or both. For some reason he’s been labeled as someone who only benefits from a line that opens huge holes, even as he took a hand off with an unblocked middle linebacker right in his face and escaped the situation with nary a finger being laid on him. He’s good everyone, it’s ok to say it.
He’s on pace for 1,579 yards over 12 games, and currently averages nine yards a carry. NINE yards a carry. And again he’s done all of this over the course of 3 1/2 games played in terms of total quarters. That’s quality. We should appreciate what he’s doing more than we are right now.
He continues his upward trend, catching a 4th and 11 crossing route for 21 yards and securing his first career touchdown on a 7 yard fade that Doug Flutie still wants reviewed. As his confidence continues to grow, look for his role to continue go up as well. He’s bought himself a little more margin for error with the plays he’s made the last couple of weeks, something he is no doubt aware of and that can lead to even better play. He knows he belongs now and he knows he’ll have a role. He no longer has to press.
Brandon Wimbush played his best game when Claypool played his biggest role and I don’t think that is an accident. He’s the type of guy that gives quarterbacks options as far as where to put the ball. Wimbush doesn’t have to be perfect with him. Notre Dame needed a second receiver to step up and it looks like they found their man.
This is going to be thing for the rest of the season with Watkins. He’s now given up multiple jump ball receptions, across multiple games, to the point where every team is going to try it, even when it’s covered. I don’t know if he’s being taught to face the receiver, while also trying to locate the ball, but it hasn’t worked out for him and I wonder if he’d do better if turned and ran with the receiver on his hip as we saw from Shaun Crawford against Boston College and Julian Love against the Cardinals.
In a way he’s succumbing to the same thing as Brandon Wimbush; lack of confidence. As a former defensive back, I can see it in the body language with the ball in the air. He’s not sure whether to turn and run, look back, or watch the eyes. He doesn’t have a good feel for how much contact he can make, which allows the receiver to handle him a little too much, as we saw on the second touchdown of the day. That’s offensive pass interference, but the refs never call that because they always let receivers clear space to receive a pass, even when the same action by the defender would draw 15 flags. Confident defenders with the ball in the air know where the line is, and Nick Watkins isn’t in a good place with that right now.
Luckily, he’ll have plenty of chances to develop it later, because it’s going to happen every game now. It’s always easy for the offense to just throw the ball up. And now they have good reason to.