Notre Dame Football Stock Report: Week 3

Another week, another “disappointing” victory from the Notre Dame football team. They, again, jumped out to an early double digit lead against a multiple touchdown underdog. And, again, they stalled on offense in the second half, while bleeding points on defense, and turned an easy win into a nail biter. And this one was REALLY a nail biter, with Vanderbilt failing on 4th and 4 when their go-to receiver Kalija Lipscomb couldn’t hold on to a leaping reception amidst pressure from safety Jalen Elliott. That would have led to first and goal from the 10 with a minute left and Notre Dame fortunes in serious peril.

As it stands, it was a 22-17 Notre Dame victory, a 3-0 record, top 10 ranking, and plenty of questions about what this team will be going forward.

Last week, Notre Dame overlooked Ball State, the players admitted it. This week, I think we fans did the same of Vanderbilt. Not that it would matter on the field, but in terms of perception of the outcome. They entered the game ranked 23rd by S&P+ (they dropped the 35 following the loss), and leave the game ranked 22nd defensively. Notre Dame didn’t play perfect, but this wasn’t a bad Vanderbilt team, at least according to the computers. As an aside, Bill Connelly, the author of the S&P formula, projected Notre Dame to win by 4 prior to the game according to his formula. So, he seemed to have the pulse of the contest.

Just a little fodder for those who are trying to decide “what it means” that Notre Dame only beat this team by 5. Maybe that’s just about right.


Tony Jones Jr.

Easily his best game in an Irish uniform, he accounted for 174 total yards on 19 touches, with 118 of that coming on the ground and 6.9 yards per carry. Aside from the quarterback, he was the Irish offense at the skill positions yesterday and his effort among the skill players running and receiving won them the game. His play was vitally important because Notre Dame remains short handed at running back while Dexter Williams continues to serve his all but official four game suspension. Carrying such a heavy load had proved too much for converted receiver Jafar Armstrong and Jones needed to pick up the slack.

He’ll be a nice compliment in the running game when Williams returns and Armstrong can play more of a complimentary slash role on offense.

The Offensive Line

I wrote about their struggles last week and this week they did a complete 180. Notre Dame ran for 245 yards on 48 carries, 5.1 yards per carry. The longest run was 20 yards by Tony Jones Jr., so these weren’t a couple of chunk plays around some mediocre ones. You can’t get to 245 with a long of 20 without consistent holes and room to run.

They also surrendered zero sacks and allowed just four quarterback hurries, a stark difference from last week’s abysmal effort. Simply, if they had turned out this kind of performance a week ago, the Ball State contest would have gone much differently. Can’t say the line is fixed after one week, but as the old saying goes, bad offensive lines don’t travel, so with the seasons first road tilt upcoming against Wake Forest, this was very good news.


The Pass Rush

Notre Dame has been held a lot the last couple of weeks (like, a lot), but there have still been enough opportunities for the defensive line to have a greater impact rushing the passer than they have. Vandy attempted 43 passes on Saturday, Notre Dame managed one sack and four hurries, not good enough for a defense that hopes to be elite, and might need to be elite given the lack of fire power on offense. Vanderbilt featured five returning starters from a season ago Saturday, so this wasn’t a green group of players they went up against, but these defensive ends need to be pretty much matchup proof. This is something to watch next week as Notre Dame hits the road.

Wide Receivers

Brandon Wimbush throws a lot of passes he shouldn’t, but one thing that stands out when he does is the lack of separation he is getting from his receivers. Miles Boykin couldn’t separate on numerous fade routes, Chase Claypool hasn’t been open on several deep balls and dropped a third down pass early on Saturday. Chris Finke also dropped a crossing route that likely would have led to a touchdown, just prior to Wimbush scampering into the end zone for the first touchdown of the day.

There just hasn’t been an explosive element to the passing game aside from the early completions against Michigan. Notre Dame has struggled getting into the end zone the last two weeks and they have one long touchdown pass all season, the 43 yarder to Finke against the Wolverines. They need more from this group in the coming weeks as the degree of difficulty ramps up.

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  1. Greg,

    You are right about the receivers. I posted this to C-Dog in another post about Boykin and the receivers in general. It’s been disappointing, especially Chase Claypool who is virtually non-existent.

    I remember Wimbush underthrowing Boykin twice on go routes. I’m not sure if those underthrows were by design or just bad passes but either way, Boykin is terrible at adjusting to them, at least in that game he was. When a defender is locked onto you on a go route and he is only looking at you and not playing the ball, you as the receiver have every possible advantage over the defender of adjusting to where the ball is at and making a play. Boykin did not recognize the passes were short early enough in the route to stop and come back to the ball. He just kept running thinking the ball would get to where he was running and basically had to work around the defender to make the catch. If he simply stops his route a half second earlier and comes back to the ball, one of two things happens. He either gets a PI because the defender will just run him over or he will make the catch because the defender will run right by which if he makes the catch, then he also has a chance to run after the catch. This is where a guy like Golden Tate was incredible because he was able to make this type of adjustment anywhere and playing centerfield in baseball really helped out. Unfortunately we don’t have anyone like Tate in this aspect where they can adjust well to a ball in the air and get themselves in the right position.

    1. Oh we have receivers that can make plays, they are just not getting the opportunity (yet). It is really frustrating to watch, there is a kid there that will get the job done.

  2. A frustrating game. It seems other teams make adjustments at half time and we don’t. Even Michigan, our best win so far, came out stronger in the 2nd half and our offense couldn’t adjust. While the O-line was more effective this time around, the offense as a whole couldn’t score much in the 2nd half again.

    At this point I don’t think anyone, team or fans, will be overlooking WF. At this point I assume it’s going to be another nail biter. I think they’ll come out on top, well, probably. But at this point I’m very skeptical that they’ll be in playoff contention come the end of the season, at least not without some vast improvement.

    Dexter Williams, well, I’m very curious about what happened there. I wonder if someday we’ll find out. Frankly, I’m not sure we’ll see him much this year at all. How many times was he left out last year when we all thought he could make a difference? He seems to be a talented RB that just needs some work, but he’s not getting it. Of all the players we have his case is the most mystifying.

    And as for seeing Jurkovec this year, at this rate that seems unlikely. Some thought last week and this week would have seen opportunities for him to take the field but ND hasn’t build enough of a lead to get him some reps. Going forward and the way they’re playing I’m not sure they’ll ever build enough of a cushion to get him out there.

      1. Yes, I know, nothing like stating the obvious. It’s just at this juncture in BK’s tenure, the recruits they get….if ND is really serious about NC’s then it’s now or never for BK (though personally that ship sailed a while back during the 2016 disaster).

        To be honest, for all their talk I’ve come to the conclusion the powers that be at ND really don’t care all that much about winning NC’s as long as the money keeps rolling in. Otherwise as long as ND has winning seasons and ‘respectable’ bowls they really don’t care all that much.

        It seems as long as BK averages 8-4 or better, with a couple bowl wins here and there, they’re happy.

        Now, that’d be great for Northwestern, or Vanderbilt, or Wake Forest. But is that what we want at ND? I think as far as Swarbick and others above him, yes…with the caveat that the money keeps coming in.

        Sorry for the rant, but my eyes were open after 2016 and that’s what my more cynical insight sees at this point.

      2. Agreed. If they were really looking to win NC’s, Dexter would be playing, and they would have hired an established defensive coordinator. Not sure if the OC is the real deal either for that matter. Also, we’d have at least one decent WR on the field.

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