Notre Dame Football’s Bye Week To Do List

Prior to the start of Notre Dame’s 2018 football season, Brian Kelly and his staff were hoping that they could enter their bye week undefeated. That’s been accomplished, with the Irish now ranked fourth and still in strong contention for a playoff berth. However, having a week to decompress and recharge their batteries for the final five games of the regular season is also a time for all involved to address some issues that have developed.

Some of these concerns are likely just aberrations that will revert to the previous success, while things like injuries can often simply be the luck of the draw. Yet making sure that they can be navigated over the next six weeks could be huge for those national title hopes.

These issues deal with:

The Need to Get Healthy

Football is by nature a rough sport, with injuries an accepted part of the game. Notre Dame has thus far been able to avoid seeing their perfect season end because of a key injury. That’s a testament to the team’s depth, but the Irish and their fans would no doubt love to still have players like Alex Bars and Shaun Crawford still around before their season-ending injuries required a Plan B.

Getting a cleaner bill of health would allow Jafar Armstrong to once again carry the ball. That would give the team a trio of running backs that would keep opposing defenses on their toes. Armstrong can also provide a boost in the passing game where the running backs have gone silent in his absence.  In the secondary, having Troy Pride back would keep other team’s offenses from trying to unleash a withering array of tosses at his replacement. That’s because they’d prefer to avoid challenging Julian Love unless it becomes necessary.

In short, given the competition that the Irish would face in any playoff scenario, having as many weapons as possible becomes integral to getting past the likes of potential foes like Alabama and Ohio State.

A Full Running Game

During the season’s first six games, the Irish running game was chugging along with interchangeable parts. Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. managed the workload well during the four-game absence of Williams. The latter then more than picked up the slack in his first two games by rushing for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Stanford and Virginia Tech, respectively. That included scoring on his first touch of the year and a 97-yard scoring run.

That changed against Pittsburgh, with the ground game essentially being stopped in their tracks. In their 38 carries, Notre Dame managed to gain just 80 yards on the afternoon against the Panthers, down from the average of 196 per game in the first six contests. Having the full complement of backs available for the first time this season should help alleviate that problem, since it will give the Irish fresh legs to work in tandem with the team’s passing attack.

One intriguing option that hasn’t been discussed might be the option of using Brandon Wimbush on certain running plays. He’s largely fallen off the map since Ian Book took over at quarterback, but his running talent is certainly undeniable. Notre Dame may be able to handle things just fine without any Wimbush contributions, but having another bullet in the offensive chamber can’t hurt.

Blitz Protection

One of the main reasons that the Irish struggled during the first two quarters against Pittsburgh was their inability to combat the Panthers’ seemingly relentless blitz. While Book finished with 264 yards by connecting on 26 of his 32 passes, that weak offensive effort early on offered a possible window for upcoming opponents into how to shut the Irish offense down.

Pitt did come into the game with a chip on their shoulder, given their heavy underdog status that evoked their early aggressive approach. That allowed them to maintain an early lead until just under six minutes were left in the game. Yet the higher-quality teams that Notre Dame would face in a playoff situation will have more than mere emotion on their side. That means greater attention to detail when it comes to designing blocking schemes for this inevitable approach is vital.

Downfield Passing Game

Book has infused the Irish offense with plenty of life, but has thrown three interceptions over the past two games after having none in his first two outings. In addition, connecting downfield has become more of a problem, especially in the Virginia Tech win.

With a deep weapon like Miles Boykin and other options like Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, missed opportunities in these types of situations will eventually come back to haunt the Irish. Making these types of connections will also spread the field and open holes for the running game, making for a potent combination.

On Deck

The Irish will get their first chance to implement these initiatives on October 27, when they travel to San Diego to do battle with the Navy Midshipmen. Notre Dame has dominated this this lengthy series, holding a commanding lead of 77-13-1. However, the last time they played away from South Bend two years ago, Navy won by a score of 28-27.

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  1. I agree with Frank about the downfield passing game and blitz protection issues. Hopefully the Irish are working on the missed downfield passing opportunities and better protection for the QB. There has been times when I wished they would have put Wimbush in, even if just for a series. Also love Finke as a pass catcher, but would prefer to let someone else return punts.

  2. College football, it seems, has an 800 pound elephant in the room.

    And it is from Tuscaloosa. Precisely, an elephant, not a gorilla.

    Lost in the sturm und drang of ESPNISM and FSIism, is the fact that Nick Saban has COMPLETELY retooled his offense in the last 3 years.

    A.J. McCarron
    Greg McElroy
    Jacob Coker

    They are not merely gone, they are archived.

    Nick has COMPLETELY changed.

    It began in ’16 when he benched Blake Barnett for Jalen Hurts, that was step one.
    Step Two is Tua.

    In Bama’s early championships, they relied on defense and the running game. Not any more.
    Saban was annoyed by Manziel, Cordale Jones, Travis Knight and absolutely bedeviled by Deshaun Watson.
    And he yet has deep scars from one season wonder, Nick Marshall. Marshall was the QB of record when Auburn beat Bama in 2013 on the field goal miracle, but that is not what bugs Sabam Alfter all Marshall had put up only 28 points (that’s a joke, lads, Nick does not LIKE giving up 28 points.

    But in ’14 While Bama won 55-44, it was not Nick’s brand of barbecue sauce as marshall put up 44 and Auburn amassed over 600 yrards in total offense.

    Great coaches change. We have previously documented that Leahy, over the thtumult of South Bend peasants with pitchforks, ditched rock’s beloved Box and put in the Split T.

    In ’64 Ara Raoul immediately went to full two platoon football.

    And now Saban has changed. Barnett was the last gasp of pocket QBS in the Capstone. Hurts was the bridge, Tua the landing point.

    NOw if Tua’s knee is bad, he may not be available for the stretch run. So be it. But Tua is his prototype and there are lots of these guys available in high school football.

    What has accelerated and elevated the Tide’s retooling is the three soph receivers:

    Jerry Jeudy
    Henry Ruggs
    Devonta Smith

    they are terrifying.

    I despise myself for saying this but I have not seen this level of maleficent, and yes, magnificent, explosiveness, since Florida ’96 when the head ball coach offered this troika to Danny Wuerfel:

    Jacquez Green
    Reidel Anthony
    Ike Hilliard.

    Look again at wheat they did to FSU on the rug in the superdome.

    As Nick, Cardale and Deshaun showed, a mobile thrower can put up points on even the Tide D.
    And in those games (even the two the tide won) the Tide THEN had trouble keeping up.

    It’s different this time.

    Here are the data points. Alabama, soon enough, will play LSU, later play Auburn, and probably Georgia in the SEC championship game.

    Note the average margin of victory in those three games. Were Notre Dame to run the regular season table it is unlikely that Notre Dame would perform more efficiently than the average of those three teams.

    Yeah, I lubs dem Irish, and yeah we have the fight song, and yeah, I sat in the Convo for the bookends of the UCLA 88 game winning streak. I have seen the impact of “What though the odds…………..”

    But this New revised Bama team.

    This, I believe, is Nick Saban’s finest mousetrap.

  3. Add this to your to-do list:
    Before you delete that Pitt game:
    That Book:Finke * Claypool drive for NDs first TD to end the third quarter was as Dean Martin used to sing “Bee-u-tee-full!”
    Okwara’s fourth and two tackle! Boykin’s great catch setting up the 35 yard TD perfectly thrown by Book to Boykin.
    “Badda Book Badda Boom!”
    An INT by Mr. Love, and on to the bye.
    Moving On!
    Over or under on leg injuries vs. Navy +/- (2.5)?
    Keep your hands up, boys.
    Chop! Chop!
    Time to try out plan B this weekend
    You needed that break from Dougie Flutie, and you deserve it.

  4. Among a few others, I suggested that the Irish start Ian Book against Vandy. A week later he started against Wake. I also suggested the Wimbush be incorporated in the offense for 6-8 plays a game, and was met with a chorus of boos for putting the back-up QB at risk. Since we are playing Navy next week, I’ll repeat the old say that a ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are made for. If Wimbush is worthy risking for three design runs in mop-up against Virginia Tech, he can be played for downs that still matter. In time, the idea seems to be gathering support among the fans as we realize the absurdity of keeping one of our best athletes on the bench.

    1. Yeah, agree about Wimbush. You put the players out that win the game. And in college style points matter.

      The only thing ND is saving by not playing Wimbush the rest of the year is the next team he will be playing for next year.

  5. I still believe that the greatest task for this two week period is from the neck up.

    The team has to realize how far they have come and then to realize they must have a zero tolerance policy for subpar performances like Ball State and Pitt.

    They must internalize that everybody will try to make their bones by upsetting the irish, that the travel schedule is tough and that refereeing is, as best uncertain. Some things never change.

    And then there is the muscle that Matt Balis doesn’t really work on, except every minute of every day. The WILL.

    The team must have the mind set that preceded the last two Bowl Efforts against LSU. The WILL to WIN. A desperate, hungry intensity.

    If that WILL is there, the X’s and O’s will follow. ND is vastly more talented than Navy, Syracuse and Northwesten
    FSU is rebuilding.

    Rosterwide USC will have over the whole roster more first round picks than ND. But they are woefully coached, play with ennui disorganization, no discipline and with no Physicality.

    Nevertheless. it is the Coliseum.

    This teams’ most underdiscussed “stat” is the leadership of the senior captains.

    Take the freakin’ hill lads.

    Go Irish

      1. Not possible for a simpleton, “Burgy”! You need more than elementary-school education to undertake TA. Sorry.

        Stay classy, “Burgy”!

  6. I think some of the problem with Notredames offense is in the game planning playcalling and making adjustments on the fly. Why doesn’t Notredame run any jet sweeps.I hope after this bye week we see some wrinkles with this offense and hope to see Armstrong and not so much Davis.Also I agree Notredame needs to get Winbush involved some in the offense.

  7. How bout working on stopping navy 15 play 80 yrd
    10 minute drives..that be nice n maybe pickup the blitzing
    saftey that has a red flashing siren on top his fing dome
    with big sign saying im bouts to beat the hell out your qb..
    and there nothing you can do bout it..
    My fault fellow ND peeps – uncalled for but just saying beat
    the hell out of Navy already for gods sakes..! Thank you for the rant fellas.

    1. Repulsive to think that shrimpy Navy can dictate those long drives. They rediscovered their offense just for this big game that puts them in spotlight. They are the sentimental favorite. It’s David vs. Goliath all over again.

      1. Greg, take a look at the Navy roster. They aren’t so shrimpy anymore. However, for whatever reason, Navy is experiencing an off year, and they won’t have the eight minute drives like they had in Jacksonville two years ago to limit Notre Dame to six possessions.

        This year’s Irish defense will force more punts than in years past.

  8. Frank, for “full running game” I would substitute “fix special teams.” The kick-offs are 50/50 into the end zone and the Doerer can do better, plus angle them toward the left side of the goal post; downfield coverage must improve, and discipline on punt returns needs work (staying onsides), plus ND’s punts have length but outkick coverage and, once again, aren’t angled toward the end zone corner.

  9. Notre Dame doesn’t play in South Bend. the entire campus is located in Notre Dame, IN 46556. Posters, stop making this ridiculous mistake!

      1. And to think my HS guidance counselor said i’d never amount to anything. However, we all know Al Gore didn’t invent the internet 102 years ago. I humbly and graciously accept the honor.

        May your ND bye week be filled with satisfying football viewing.

    1. Everyone Notre Dame plays and media think the game is in South Bend. It’s ingrained forever in their hearts.

  10. Definitely. Pittsburgh provided a blue print for future defenses to frustrate the Irish offense, so it’s imperative that they work on ways to close that weakness.

    And I keep mentioning about getting Wimbush involved in some fashion. Otherwise we are going to lose him. I personally thing that would be a shame because while he’s not a great passer, he is a great runner. He’s got talent and speed and it would almost be coaching malpractice to just let him keep stewing on the sidelines.

    And the other issue they need to work on is more consistency on ST’s. They were downright sloppy last week. The offsides on Pitt’s first drive that lasted until 5 minutes ago and ended in a TD was a key series for the game that could have doomed the Irish. And other misses. ST’s has to get better because in a game like that, where the score is close, ST’s can be the difference between a W and an L.

    1. No reason to use Wimbush at this time unless catastrophic injury to Book or any other secret tricks of the trade. They will All be let out of the bag at the Coliseum to get #twelve.

    2. I think the most important specific to combat the “Pitt defensive plan” is to complete some longer throws. Book is showing himself to be adding long throws to his arsenal. The “Book can’t throw a long ball” meme is simply untrue from the standpoint of arm strength: the long TD pass to Boykin went from the 39 to the 1, or 60 yards. And in that instance, the ball was perfectly placed, too. I expect we’ll see more of that in the upcoming games, so long as the OL manages to give him enough time to air it out.

      1. Oops. I was on the wrong side of the 50-yard line! Pass was only 38 yards in the air. Still, there’s the perfectly thrown pass in the Wake Forest game at 7:34 in the third quarter, which went for 52 yards in the air before drawing a PI call.

    3. I’m with you Damian on the subject of Wimbush. If there is one thing that frustrates me about football it is their general lack of imagination on the offensive side of the ball. Granted Wimbush is not a strong passer but he can throw the ball. Want to drive a defensive coordinator crazy? Line up Wimbush and Williams in the same backfield with Book at QB. Now what are you supposed to defend? BTW – I a not talking abotu a trick play. I am talking about putting three outstanding athletes in the backfield at the same time. Who do you watch?

      Go Irish!!!!

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