With less than 24 hours until Notre Dame plays it’s first game in over a month, we are about to get some answers to a number of questions that have lingered over the last month. How the Irish answer them will determine if Notre Dame ends the season with 10 wins for the second time in three years or ends the year losing three of their last four games.
Here’s some questions we’ll be looking for answers to tomorrow.
How much improvement will Brandon Wimbush Show?
Everyone wants to see how much Brandon Wimbush improves from the quarterback we saw in November to what we’ll see tomorrow. Notre Dame fans ought to temper their expectations just a tad though. Anyone expecting Wimbush to come out and suddenly start completing 60+ percent of his passes tomorrow will likely be disappointed. Wimbush was below 50% on the season and while a breakout is certainly possible, expecting a complete makeover in 15 practices is just not realistic.
Greg hit the nail on the head with his article on Wimbush on Friday. The improvement Notre Dame needs from him to be able to pull off the win tomorrow is in the running game where he just wasn’t a threat in November. Every game where Wimbush struggled passing this year that Notre Dame won, Wimbush pulled off a big run early on to settle down. Against Miami and Stanford he wasn’t a threat running at all.
This isn’t to say that Wimbush won’t show improvement as a passer after 15 more practices. We should see some signs of improvement. The real improvement though will most likely (hopefully) come in the off-season. For tomorrow, if we see Wimbush connect on one or two of the downfield passes that he has missed most of the year and see him running in the open field, I like Notre Dame’s chances.
Is this the last game for a number of Notre Dame juniors?
Notre Dame has a lot of juniors looking at the NFL this year – more so than in years past. Between Jerry Tillery, Tevon Coney, Josh Adams, and Equanimeous St. Brown; it would be foolish to think we see all four back in blue and gold next fall. As of now, Coney and St. Brown would make the most sense to return given Coney’s never been a full time starter and St. Brown had a disappointing season.
Adams’s stock might not ever be higher than it is right now. With a big game on Monday he’ll top 1,500 yards on the season and the only knock on him will be injuries. The only way to overcome that would be to come back and play a full year without injury but that is risking quite a bit. Running backs don’t go in the first round much great frequency in the NFL anymore anyway so it’s likely his stock won’t be higher.
Tillery on the other hand is a curious case. He’s flashed dominant play at times but not consistency. If he leaves, his only chance of getting drafted high is some team falling in love with his athleticism. That happens quite a bit in the NFL though so it’s possible. Still, it just seems like Tillery isn’t the best case for leaving early if being drafted highly is his goal.
How each of the four play tomorrow could help finalize their decisions. If Adams goes for say 150 yards and scores against the LSU defense, it’s really hard to see him coming back. If St. Brown erupts and has a huge game against a great LSU secondary, he could use that momentum to leave early too. It’ll be interesting watching all four.
How much will the suspensions to four players impact the game?
Notre Dame is pretty thin at wide receiver now without Kevin Stepherson (suspension) and Chase Claypool (injury). Throw in Alize Mack (suspension) and the Irish will be counting on some receivers who haven’t played a whole lot this year to power the passing game. Notre Dame will also be down two running backs – Deon McIntosh and CJ Holmes – due to suspensions as well.
Holmes and McIntosh did not figure to be major factors in the game – baring injuries – but where their impact could be felt comes in where the team’s collective head is at right now. Players getting suspended for a bowl game is nothing new and it happens every year, but four players in a two week span is a lot and could be a sign that the team isn’t as interested in 10 wins as the fanbase is.
Now, the suspensions could all be individual cases of kids making bad decisions, but when four players get suspended for a single game; there is reason to worry about where the team’s head is at. It’ll be interesting to see how Notre Dame comes out of the tunnel and how they play early on. Are they fired up? Are they ready to play? Are they more interested in having fun in the sun? The first few minutes tomorrow will tell a lot.
Can Notre Dame get back to being a ball hawking defense against LSU?
The Notre Dame defense had a knack for causing turnovers early in the season – particularly momentum turning, game altering turnovers. That didn’t happen much in November. The defense played OK for the most part, but it wasn’t getting those game altering turnovers that were the hallmark of the defense in September and October.
Notre Dame is going to need Mike Elko’s crew to make a few momentum turning plays tomorrow to get that 10th win. We saw them do it time and time again earlier this season so we know they are more than capable.
Will the Irish defense be able to slow down the LSU running game?
To anyone wanting Notre Dame to come out tomorrow and just run and run and run it right at LSU since they will be missing three starting linebackers, I hope you are disappointed tomorrow. Notre Dame absolutely needs to get the ground game moving again tomorrow, but they aren’t going to do that just running right at LSU. They will need the passing game to help open things up for them.
A lot of people look at Notre Dame’s November struggles running the football and want to point to the offensive line. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was teams stopped giving the Notre Dame passing game any respect and Notre Dame couldn’t do anything to make them respect it.
To get the running attack moving tomorrow Notre Dame needs to do two things: 1) hit a few passes early to soften up the defense and 2) have Brandon Wimbush rip off a couple runs that leave you saying “wow” after. If they do those two things, you will see Josh Adams hit some open field.
With those linebackers missing for LSU, look for the Tigers to cheat their safeties down to compensate. If they do, Notre Dame should have the chance to hit a deep play or two. With those young linebackers, Notre Dame should also be able to run some crossing routes to confuse them and hit some open receivers. Do those things and the running game will open right up.
How much of a difference will having three healthy backs be for Notre Dame?
Speaking of the running game, it’s been a while since Notre Dame has had a full stable of its top backs healthy in the same week. They should have all three – Josh Adams, Tony Jones, and Dexter Williams – ready and available tomorrow. That will also help rejuvenate a rushing attack that lost its luster in November.
Missing McIntosh and Holmes hurts Notre Dame’s depth, but if Adams, Williams, and Jones are all healthy it won’t matter. Notre Dame leaned on Adams a lot in November even though it was pretty clear he just wasn’t right. Having Jones and Williams to split carries with should be a major boost for Notre Dame.