The 2018 Notre Dame Football Team Has Yet To Reach Its Peak

There is usually a lot of consternation around the Fighting Irish as the football season reaches the November month. There have been struggles and outright collapses, dating back to 2014. Despite a lot of talk of remedies–better conditioning, improved strength program, playing more guys in the early months–the November swoon has still reared its ugly head. Just last season Notre Dame was 8-1 and #3 in the College Football Playoff, only to get lambasted by Miami, struggle to beat Navy, and falter against Stanford to finish 1-2 and out of the playoffs.

November is bad.

The Irish are entering November this season ranked #3 in the AP poll, undefeated, and are favorites to heavy favorites in all of their remaining games. Will this season be different in the final month? There is reason to think yes.

This Team Is Still Rising

In a way, the team isn’t seven games into the year, but really four. Adding Ian Book into the mix at quarterback changed the trajectory and the personality of the offense. No longer were they a hit or miss, big play offense, but an at times methodical, quick strike, efficient offense. Book has been on the team for three years, but they’ve never built an offense around him. It makes sense the offense would need time to grow into what it can be after not having tapped into his skill set for a full 15 of 16 games since Chip Long has been the offensive coordinator. The  group is still gelling, and growing pains were set to be had, as we saw against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. We’d expect any team with a new quarterback to grow well into the season, so why wouldn’t this one?

New Players Are Being Incorporated On Offense

Along those same lines, it seems new players are being added to the offense in waves, though unintentionally. When Book was brought into the starting lineup, he initially didn’t have Dexter Williams at his disposal. When Williams entered the fray, running back Jafar Armstrong left with a knee ailment. Armstrong is unique in that he isn’t just an offensive weapon, he’s a versatile offensive weapon. He can hurt teams out of the backfield as a runner and receiver. He can lineup at different spots.

Notre Dame can be a power team and a throwing team with Williams and Armstrong on the field together, leaving defenses with a choice of personnel to put on the field. Adding him back into the lineup in the final five weeks allows Long to incorporate different formations and plays to gash defenses. In other words, he keeps the offense fresh. In past Novembers, they’ve been stale and almost playing out the string. Now they can do things we haven’t seen yet. Fun for the team, a nightmare for defenses.

The same is true on the offensive line. The quest to find the best five guys after the loss of captain Alex Bars continues, with the insertion of left guard Aaron Banks, and the move of Trevor Ruhland to right guard. This one is a little less optimistic because this isn’t happening due to stellar play. The group is struggling. That said, it does add a bit of upside to the unit because they have such room to improve. They are a 7-0 team that had strong running attacks against Wake Forest, Stanford, and Virginia Tech. So, not a dumpster fire. Even a 50% increase in their efficiency would go a long way for a team that boasts a quarterback who completes 75% of his passes.

The Defense Is Also Trending Up

It’s hard for a defense that is ranked 5th in S&P+ to make big improvements, but this unit can. They’ve struggled finding a solid and consistent nickel package all season after the loss of Shaun Crawford in the preseason. Freshman Houston Griffith has taken the bulk of the snaps, but he’s scuffled at times, and Nick Coleman doesn’t seem to have the trust of the coaches. However, Griffith has played better in recent weeks and a wild card in the secondary has been freshman Tariq Bracy, who showed well against Pittsburgh filling in for Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn.

Bracy’s emergence could give the defense a viable third corner and allow Julian Love to move inside to the slot as the nickel if the coaches feel that defense serves them best against the pass. I imagine the preference would be for Griffith to continue his ascent just due to his size, Bracy is a small dude and the thought of him matching up against the USC receivers is a little unsettling, again just due to size. Nickel is no easy position to learn, especially if you aren’t used to playing on the inside. That Griffith has shown improvement is very encouraging. Notre Dame has been a bad third down team on defense this year, they rank in the 80’s in third down conversions. If they can shore up their nickel package, a very good defense can make a very big leap.

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  1. Hopefully, ND sinks the Navy chopblockers. Getting off to a quick start would be great.

    Reading all the comments about Saban’s crew, I tend to agree with many noted observations. You can bemoan all you want about the schedule they play or how easy it appears. Here’s the bottom line, it doesn’t matter because when they have had to step it up when it counts, they have done that. 3/3 in BCS championship games and 2/3 in the CFP championship games, it really didn’t matter during those regular season games they played.

    I think there are just a handful of teams that have defenses that might slow down Saban’s crew, and I include ND in that count. However, we really haven’t seen Saban have or approach offense with the personnel he has now on offense nor is the defense as strong as he has had in past teams. Beatable , YES, but, it would take some lucky breaks to go with it to slay the Tide. I do envy their depth and skill set of many of their players.

    Well, back to this weekend, torpedo the Navy and bring them down.
    GO IRISH!!

  2. I agree that the focus should be on beating Navy and the remaining opponents. However, it’s hard to ignore the noise from the crowd all but conceding the NC to Alabama. Isn’t it just a tad presumptuous for FANS to be deciding the fate of the Irish football team? Shouldn’t we give the players at least a chance to decide their own fate for themselves?

  3. This week will be the first test. How do they respond to their lackluster game against Pitt? If they dominate Navy that will be a move in the right direction. If they struggle that could be a bad omen of things to come. The bye was at a perfect time but they have to close out on the right note. The toughest game remaining will be USC, and USC is always up for their game against ND no matter the season they have. Syracuse can be tough too. The Orange have looked better this season and they’ll be looking for an upset and I’m still concerned that Swarbick sacrificed a home game for the almighty dollar.

    On paper, ND can very much win out. But they have to close the deal. I think they’ll beat Navy and Northwestern. Then we just have to make sure there are no November swoons this year.

    All that being said I really doubt an NC is in the cards for ND. Why? Because let’s face it. Alabama has all but won it all this year. I know the games have to be played an all. I was talking to a friend and we were saying we almost wish we could just give Alabama the NC crown now and let the rest of the teams play for 2nd place. The only thing that might change my opinion is if they falter down the stretch somehow, but honestly, does anyone see that happening? Be honest.

    1. I’m not saying Alabama isn’t the best team in the country. But let’s be honest, their schedule thus far has been a joke.

      Let’s see them play the 1-2 good teams on their schedule before crowning them.

      Also, this isn’t the normal suffocating Alabama defense. Although their explosive offense might make that a moot point.

      1. I agree about their defense. I think unlike 2012 ND could probably score on their defense this go around. It’s just thus far their offense has been unstoppable. They basically stop scoring points because they choose to, not because anyone actually stops them.

        Their schedule is pretty weak, with only a handful of truly good teams. But it’s more than just their scoring. It’s also their technique. Sometimes you can tell when a team is the real deal by their technique and discipline. And Alabama’s offense is doing everything right with few miscues.

        It’s not just ND. I can’t think of any defense out there right now that can stop Bama’s offense. I think no matter who faces them in the playoffs, that team is going to have a huge mountain to climb to top them.

    2. Alabama has not had an undefeated season since 2009. They went 14-0 in 2016 and lost in the championship game to Clemson. They are not unbeatable, they prove that once a year. Twice in both ’13 and ’14.

      1. Yeah. The thing with Alabama is they always get a gimmee game during the regular season. The pundits pretty much admitted Alabama has a built in loss (including if they lose in the SEC Championship game).

        It’s just this year their offense is explosive. Saban teams have relied on the run in years past with judicious passing but this year they have a QB that is an incredible passer on top of everything else, opening up his offense in ways we haven’t seen in a long time at Alabama (and they were already pretty dominant a lot of years under Saban).

        I’m just having a hard time seeing how any defenses, ND’s or anyone else, that is going to be able to stop their offense, their QB and their O-line. We’ll see how what happens in their game against LSU this weekend. But frankly I almost expect them to steamroll LSU as well. OSU and ND probably have the best defenses among the top 10 teams but I’m having a hard time seeing either of our schools containing bama right now.

  4. I have contended for many years that ND would not be a NC contender until they fielded a team with quality depth at every position. Although not like Bama (who is?) this is more the case this year than in the last 20 years.

  5. Last year the Irish hit the wall with those two mentioned above. Couldn’t handle it. We will see if Book is for real at His date with destiny at the Coliseum. A lot will be told in upcoming games.

    1. GETTIN ahead of yourself GK NAVY is the biggest game of the year RIGHT NOW!! Especially with the way the teams have played the last 5 years, take nothing for granted!! Survive and advance is the #1 goal right now!! Avoid injuries and cut-blocks this week and GO IRISH!!!

      1. NDCM, In days of yore, the Irish regularly beat Navy by super lopsided scores. I go back to Roger the Dodger days, then everything collapsed. Today Popeye is ready. He quit His pipe. No tattoos on His forearm. Bluto fears And respects Him now. Olive Oyl still cheers Him on. This may end up like the Pitt game, when one Notre Dame player sounded the alarm and said, let’s win this game. Irish 34-17.

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