I noted following the week 2 loss to Georgia, there were lots of ways to lose games. We haven’t seen it much lately, but the same is true in victories. Sometimes you run for 400 or 500 yards and pull away from an inferior opponent. Other times it’s a defensive struggle. And, as was the case on Saturday, you can force turnovers, capitalize on those turnovers, and dominate a team while giving up more yards than you gain.
It wasn’t a perfect game, of course. The pass rush wasn’t awesome in the second half. Michigan State moved the ball fairly consistently, especially through the air. False starts continue to be in abundance. I’ll say this though, it’s nice to point out a games flaws following a 20 point road victory against a previously undefeated opponent.
What does it mean? Other than a third win, we can’t be sure. This is a dangerous win for fans. We entered the season skeptical, and that skepticism was justified following the one point loss to Georgia. Same old song and dance. Beating Boston College didn’t tell us much. But this game, this was the first game of the year that offered hope. Hope for a successful season and a successful future. Because no matter who is coaching them, these are the players that will be playing. Notre Dame won’t lose much from the core of this team, and from what we saw on Saturday, they can be built into something good.
I’m ready to talk about him every week. He’s always making plays, even when there is seemingly no play to be made. When you watch his strip at the goal line, where he not only knocks the ball out, but then is immediately up to pounce on it, even though it looks like Scott will be able to recover. Like he willed the ball out of Scott’s grasp as he tried to recover the loose ball. You’ll also notice his teammates, almost stunned at what happened. No one really reacts. They were resigned, just as everyone else was, that a touchdown had been scored.
These are the types of plays that turn games and turn seasons. What was going to be 21-14 became 28-7 and for all intents and purposes, the ball game. Crawford made the play, then the offense rewarded that play with an 80 yard touchdown drive, and the route was on. This is what Crawford brings to the table, game in and game out.
Not ready to call it a breakout, but a darn good sign for the receiving core moving forward. The thing Claypool brings is a physical nature to the game that isn’t present in the other receiving options. He’s just a big dude who moves well in open space, which isn’t anything defenders want to be dealing with.
On the first play of the game he takes a simple hitch route, jukes inside, and just brushes off a linebacker who ran 20 yards unimpeded with a clear shot, and lowers his head for a first down. The linebacker bounced off like a kid flying off the wall of a bouncy castle at a birthday party.
It’s stating the obvious, but the passing game opening up, coupled with the running threat of Wimbush, Adams, and a more involved Dexter Williams, makes the offense that much more of a threat. I’d look for Claypool’s role to expand next week and into the North Carolina matchup. If there are major strides to be made on offense, this is the position where it will come from.
Hit and Hustle
To borrow a phrase from my high school coach, this has been on display from the Notre Dame defense from the opening whistle. We all remember Jerry Tillery sprinting 50 yards to chase down a screen against Temple. And I just talked about the play of Shaun Crawford to save a touchdown against Michigan State. It showed itself again on the Daelin Hayes fumble recovery. Consider that Hayes was rushing the passer on the play and ended up on the ground after getting his legs caught up with Julian Okwara. He rolls over, gets up and begins pursuing the play. The offensive lineman who Hayes beats to the ground for the ball, was a good 5 yards closer when Martini makes contact. Hayes ran harder, Hayes made the play.
There was a lot of talk about Elko’s defenses causing turnovers at Wake Forest. Some of it is scheme and disruption, and some of it is a culture of playing your butt off.
The Targeting Rule
Hey everyone, remember when Devin Studstill was ejected for this?
The two officials staring right at this play deemed this to be perfectly fine and legal. Things are going great NCAA. Couldn’t be better.
Third Down Defense
Notre Dame was excellent on third down against Georgia, holding them to a 17% conversion rate, allowing 3 of 17 attempts. However, in the other three contests, the Irish have struggled. Temple, Boston College, and Michigan State have converted 23 of 45 third down attempts (51%), a number that if held over the course of the season would put them somewhere between 127th and 128th, or last, in college football. To be clear, it probably won’t play out that way over the course of the season, but it is something to monitor going forward. We can’t always rely on the opponent to give us the ball to get stops.