Notre Dame won again this weekend, but for the first time this season, the win was met with some mixed reactions. There was the a win is a win crowd and the how did Notre Dame let up almost 600 yards to Wake Forest crowd. The Irish jumped out to a big lead but unlike weeks past when Notre Dame’s foot remained on the pedal, this week Notre Dame let up some late scores for a final of 48-37. Unlike Ohio State and Penn State though, Notre Dame won and their path to the playoffs remains clear.
Here’s this week’s post game 6 pack which features some concerns for the first time in a few weeks.
Brandon Wimbush is getting better each week
Brandon Wimbush is not going to pick apart a defense from the pocket just yet, but you know what? He doesn’t need to with his athleticism. What’s important here though is that Wimbush took another step forward throwing the ball this weekend and was inches close to having a monster game. As is Wimbush set a career high with 280 yards passing and topped 100 on the ground again this weekend all while combining for 3 touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing).
Wimbush juuuust missed deep bombs to Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool, and Kevin Stepherson throughout the game. All three receivers could have (maybe should have) caught the passes, but Wimbush was just a tad late in his read and the receivers had to adjust. If he hits just one of those, he’d have been well over 300 yards in the air.
He was also his normal dangerous self on the ground with his 50 yard touchdown run and another near long touchdown at the end of the first half that momentarily knocked him out of the game. Wimbush is getting better and better each week and by bowl season this kid is going to be downright scary to face. Hell, he is now already because even when he struggles passing he is so tough to contain. If he continues to get better passing each week though. LOOK OUT.
Chase Claypool took a step towards being a #1 WR
Notre Dame needs a wide receiver to emerge at the go to target for Wimbush. To date, no one had done it. On Saturday, Chase Claypool took a step forward in doing just that. He hauled in 9 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown to more than double his season total. He had the one drop downfield but for the most part, Claypool attacked the ball and made all the other catches that came his way.
Equanimeous St. Brown has not been the same wide receiver this year that he was last year. Notre Dame needs someone to fill that role to reach the promised land. If Claypool builds on this performance and starts to become that guy, this offense could be near unstoppable come bowl season/playoffs. We’ve seen him be a monster blocking all season long, but Saturday we saw him start to become a monster as a receiver as well.
Defense looked ordinary for first time this year
Okay, time for some of the bad. Notre Dame’s defense got gashed yesterday. Even before the two late touchdowns, Wake Forest was able to move the ball on the Notre Dame defense. They didn’t just get those 592 yards of offense in the 4th quarter. After not allowing more than 20 points in a game all season, Notre Dame let Wake Forest score more points than NC State and USC combined. The Deacons knew Mike Elko’s defense intimately well given the 12 years that Elko worked under Dave Clawson, but that performance was concerning.
Points and yards aside, Notre Dame was uncharacteristically sloppy tackling yesterday. We hadn’t seen that all year until yesterday. Wake Forest ball carriers seemingly fell forward for an extra 2-3 yards on many of their runs. Again, that’s not something we’ve seen all season long. Was this just an outlier aided by Clawson’s knowledge of Elko’s defense or did Wake find a kink in the armour that Notre Dame needs to be worried about? Hopefully it’s the former and not the latter.
Notre Dame had allowed just a single rushing touchdown all season prior to Saturday. Wake Forest ran for 3 touchdowns yesterday alone. Whatever the case, you could tell Brian Kelly was NOT happy in his postgame presser. He kept things together pretty well, but it was pretty evident that he wasn’t happy with the end result
Those WR screens set up other plays but they are tough to watch
The WR screen has not been a successful play when called for Notre Dame this year. In fact, many times it’s resulted in a near disaster. The positive of the play, however, has been that it opens up the middle of the field. Josh Adams long run against NC State was made possible because the Irish showed the screen look and then ran it right up the middle of the vacated NC State defense. Deon McIntosh’s long run at the end of the first half this weekend was made possible by a similar look as well.
All that said, those plays are coming dangerously close to creating turnovers at times and it’s clear that the timing just isn’t there yet. The play is a staple of the Chip Long offense, but for whatever reason the timing just isn’t there for Notre Dame. More will probably be called over the next three games and if the threat of that play keeps opening up the middle of the field, great. I’ll still be holding my breath every time one starts to develop though.
Notre Dame can’t keep the backfield 100%
Another week, another running back gets dinged. This time it was superstar Josh Adams the week after Notre Dame went all in on his Heisman campaign with a hashtag, hats, and a video. The injury was not serious and he was cleared medically to return, but given he just didn’t feel right, Notre Dame didn’t risk it. It looked like Dexter Williams pulled up a bit lame on what could have been a 60 yard touchdown if he was sprinting. Kelly said afterwards that he just can’t fire how they want him to.
With Adams out and Williams still not 100%, Notre Dame relied heavily on Deon McIntosh again this week. He ended the game with 63 yards on 9 carries and he now has 378 on the season. Tony Jones chipped in 59 yards on 10 carries as well.
The Notre Dame offensive line continues to dominate
Those rushing stats above were made possible by another dominating performance by the Notre Dame offensive line. The Irish ran for over 250 yards – in the first half alone – enroute to racking up 380 yards on the ground. It was Notre Dame’s 7th 300+ yard rushing performance of the season. It’s become ho hum at this point for Notre Dame to run for 300+ yard but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Notre Dame is doing this despite the backfield continually getting banged up each week.
Notre Dame had five different runners pick up a run of 30 yards or more yesterday and none of them were named Josh Adams. Brandon Wimbush (50), Deon McIntosh (45), Ian Book (43), Kevin Stepherson (35), and Dexter Williams (32) all ripped off 30 yarders.
Brandon Wimbush had a pretty clean pocket most of the day as well, but the story of the day offensively was yet another dominating rushing performance from the line. If there was anything to bit pick about on the OL it was the multiple false starts for Mike McGlinchey. That was a major issue for him last year and getting two in a single game at home is concerning considering how loud Hard Rock Stadium will be next weekend in Miami.