It was quite the productive bye week for Brian Kelly and his football team. They entered week eight undefeated at 7-0, ranked 4th nationally, and having navigated the toughest portion of their schedule. They will enter week nine at #3, with Ohio State’s loss to Purdue knocking them backward in the polls, and with a healthier football team for the final stretch run. Kelly announced the return of redshirt freshman running back Jafar Armstrong at his weekly press conference. He returns from a knee infection that sidelined him for three game weeks. In addition to Armstrong, Troy Pride is back into the starting lineup following his ankle injury, and Khalid Kareem, Robert Hainsey, and Tommy Kraemer have also been aided from having a week off.
S&P+ Team Trends
- In addition to their rise in the AP poll, the Irish also rose in the S&P+ rankings up from 10 to #7. Many are upset that they remain behind Michigan in that formula, but remember it doesn’t factor in head to head matchups, it’s strictly numbers based. Being #7 in S&P and #3 in the human polls is a very good thing!
- The Irish boast the 5th ranked defense, the 44th ranked offense, and 48th ranked special teams unit nationally. The special teams ranking just goes to show when they aren’t giving up kickoff return touchdowns that unit is actually pretty good, so if they can clean up that little glitch (BIG glitch) then they’ve got a pretty good unit on their hands.
- The Irish have a 31% chance of going undefeated and a 42% chance of finishing with one loss, which gives them a 73% chance to finish 11-1 or better.
- The toughest remaining opponent is the regular season finale at USC, which S&P gives Notre Dame a 69% win probability score. The easiest remaining opponent is this weekend against Navy, which gives the Irish a 91% probability score.
Kelly announced today Banks would be starting at left guard against the Naval Academy and Trevor Ruhland was moving to the right side to platoon with Tommy Kraemer. This move appears to have been precipitated by the improvement of Banks, who the team has put into the lineup regularly this year, and the struggles of Kraemer, who is said to have been struggling with an ankle injury.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Banks through out the spring and fall camps, but he was playing mostly at tackle, and those spots had been pretty locked up. With the injury to Bars, Banks moved to guard full time and has shown very good promise. He’s got very good size compared to Ruhland and is still a pretty good athlete with quick feet. If this goes well for him the expectation is left guard will be his spot for the duration of the season.
Bracy was inserted into the lineup against Pittsburgh with Donte Vaughn having a very rough day, and had a productive 2 and 1/2 quarters. He recorded seven tackles, forced the receiver out of bounds on the decisive 4th down play to end the game, and was otherwise solid in coverage. His emergence has people speculating if the defense could move Julian Love inside to the nickel position, where the defense has struggled throughout the year, but that’s something we are unlikely to see against Navy this week.
Either way, Bracy appears to have earned the third corner spot away from the junior Vaughn, and I’d expect to see him heavily involved the rest of the season.
Is this the week the offense will finally be unleashed with all of its weapons at its disposal? The unit has boomed at times under Book at quarterback, and with the addition of Armstrong to pair with Dexter Williams, the possibilities appear to be endless. Dreams of a two-back offense with zone read option plays, Armstrong flexing out of the backfield as a slot receiver, jet sweeps with either player, it’s all available.
The offense doesn’t have a strong history of successfully utilizing the two back set, even with Riddick and Wood in the backfield, but with Chip Long calling plays, we are allowed to dream.
Things haven’t been going smoothly for the highest rated player on the Irish roster this season. As mentioned above, there have been rumors of an ankle injury that has hampered him throughout the year, so want to keep that in mind, but whatever the case, the results have been mixed to say the least. He hasn’t shown the explosiveness we saw last season at right tackle, and the missed assignments and lack of mobility have been rather glaring. I’m glad they are keeping him in the lineup and he’s used to a rotation, but his star is definitely falling right now.
While Vaughn looks the part, and he really does look the part, he just didn’t have it against Pittsburgh in his first start since 2016. He gave up several contested passes early against the Panthers, and when I say contested I mean his coverage was at times very good. But, when it became clear they were picking on him, he reacted poorly, and even stopped competing during a play. As much as the staff may like him, showing that on the field will get you pulled every time. And then his backup came in and played well, so his path to the field just got rockier.
Kelly gave Vaughn a vote of confidence in the press saying he still liked him as a player, but he lost his job nevertheless.