It’s ok to feel good about being 5-1 everyone.
One of the things that’s been reinforced to me this year, in sports and in life, is multiple things can be true at the same time. It is true we don’t know what this team is and it appears the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. Five of the next six are against teams currently ranked in the top 25, with two of those coming on the road. Adding to that fact is Notre Dame has tailed off in the past in the month of November. So, there is lots of danger on the horizon.
However, lets not pretend what we’ve seen so far is something short of encouraging. This team tackles better, they block better, they (generally) do the little things better. The average point differential in their five victories has been 28 points. They are crushing teams. And they are doing it on the ground, something the Notre Dame faithful have been screaming over for the last 20 years.
Look, all of these positives bring with it zero guarantees. The goal isn’t to be good, the goal is to win all the games. I wrote a couple weeks ago about the “incompetency bias” a Notre Dame fan brings to the table; this tendency to take X information and turn it into Y. Simply because Notre Dame is good at blocking and tackling doesn’t mean they’ll go on the road and beat Miami and Stanford. And while Notre Dame looks good going into the bye ahead of USC, they still have to beat USC.
There is still much to find out about this team, but for the present, I’ve really enjoyed watching this team play over the first six weeks of the season, which I said exactly zero times in 2016. So there’s that.
This young man currently has 230 yards on 40 carries (5.75 per tote), and four touchdowns through the first six games. I’ll be honest, before the season I would have posited those would be career stats for him. His efforts the last three weeks have been what we call in the business “seizing an opportunity.” What was a fun little thing in the fourth quarter against Michigan State, turned into 12 carries, 124 yards and two second half touchdowns against North Carolina in which he displayed speed, power, elusiveness, and vision. Otherwise known as everything you want to see in a running back.
I always viewed McIntosh as an Amir Carlisle type. Someone who could play running back in a pinch, but really should be a wide receiver. Turns out he’s a running back whenever they need him to be and a quite capable one at that. He made several impressive runs last weekend, but I did not expect him to shuck a tackle from an unblocked middle linebacker at the line of scrimmage, throw a defensive tackle off him, and keep on trucking like he was Jerome Bettis. Here’s to Mr. McIntosh for greatly exceeding expectations.
I’ve been critical of his play during the first six weeks, but credit where it is due, he made some plays on Saturday, and not just as a receiver. He made a key block that sprung Josh Adams on his weekly 70 yard run, a nifty snag on 4th and 1 from Ian Book that moved the chains, as well as another key third down reception to extend a touchdown drive. Sometimes expectations can cloud our judgement; if Nic Weisher had been the one making those plays there would be a lot more attention given. Not so for Mack, but that is the responsibility of being a big time recruit. And unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as Mack dropped what would have been a touchdown on a beautiful throw up the seam from Ian Book. So there are still plays to be made.
It’s pretty clear when a player has confidence and when they don’t, and Mack has been mostly the latter to start this season. There are a lot of elements missing in the Notre Dame passing game, one of them being consistent production at tight end. A confident Mack changes things through the air, and last week was a step in the right direction.
Not a lot has been said about the starting right tackle the last few weeks, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about how he has been playing. He’s been in a time share with freshman Robert Hainsey since the start of the season, and I would imagine it will continue, but Kraemer has been the better of the two pretty much the whole way, at least from a penalty stand point. And it wasn’t really talked about because McGlinchey and Nelson get most of the pub, for good reason, but Kraemer might have had the best block of the season when he body slammed the left defensive end for Michigan State so violently, thoughts of retirement had to have crept in as he was flying through the air.
I don’t know if Notre Dame can get where they want to go if they can’t get this going in the passing game. They’ve connected on 15 of 37 targets to St. Brown this year, an abysmal 40 percent catch rate for their most targeted player (St. Brown registered a 66% catch rate last season). There are times when he has been open and flat missed, and there are times when he hasn’t been strong enough fighting for the ball, and there was a missed opportunity against Michigan State where St. Brown simply ran out of bounds on his corner route. It just isn’t happening right now.
There has been a debate about whether the trouble in the passing game has more to do with the problems of Brandon Wimbush or the receiving core. It should be pointed out that Notre Dame played a new quarterback last week and St. Brown finished with one catch for nine yards. Small sample size, but the infusion of what some considered the better passer didn’t bring new life to the Irish’s top receiver. I don’t get game tape, so it’s hard to say whether the fault lies more at receiver or quarterback, but I will say that Mike Denbrock, former offensive coordinator and receivers coach, was very good at his job who got a lot out of his troops.