11 down, one to go for the Notre Dame football team.
It turns out, certain things don’t matter when you’re a really good football team. Losing your top offensive lineman five games into the season, after losing two top 10 draft picks from the year before? No big deal, reshuffle and move on. Lose your starting quarterback unexpectedly before the home finale, while wearing the dreaded green uniforms? Play the guy you’ve played before and blow out the opponent anyway. Move a home game to a baseball stadium and play the 12th ranked team in their home state, while wearing baseball uniforms? Shrug it off and win by five touchdowns.
This team doesn’t care about narratives and it doesn’t care about pundits and their terrible opinions. They just go and win games, and they are now one win away from finishing the regular season undefeated for just the fourth time since the Leahy era, and two of those times Brian Kelly would be responsible for.
Two years ago Kelly left the Coliseum as a failure. Saturday he returns on the brink of greatness. What a turn of events.
S&P+ Statistical Update
- Notre Dame remains 6th in overall ranking, with offense (27th) and defense (3rd) also remaining stagnant. Special teams dropped down from 54th to 61st.
- The Irish opponent, USC, sits at 41st overall, dropping five spots after losing to previously 2-8 UCLA, with an offense that ranks 55th in country, and a defense rated 37th. They have had a generally poor special teams unit most of the year, although they have ticked up to 43rd. Notre Dame being behind them is an affront.
- USC is coming off of an especially abysmal performance against the Bruins, with their percentile performance totaling 19% (19% offense, 18% defense). That’s two weeks in a row for the Trojan offense as they could only muster 21% the previous week against Cal. This is after head coach Clay Helton took over play calling duties. So they are struggling.
- S&P gives the Irish a 71% chance of beating the Trojans, by a projected margin of 10 points.
In the last three Ian Book starts, Claypool has been targeted 24 times for 19 catches (79% catch rate), 285 yards and a touchdown. He now has the best marginal efficiency rating of the top five Notre Dame pass catchers, and is seven shy of breaking the fifty catch mark.
He has especially made things difficult for defenses who had been keying on leading receiver Miles Boykin, who is still producing solid numbers while Claypool has been emerging. When I wrote prior to Northwestern that Claypool had this in him, this is exactly what I was talking about. He largely receives one on one coverage and has been toying with defensive backs who try to put their hands on him. When Claypool or Boykin are matched up on the outside against whoever Iman Marshall of USC isn’t covering, they will have a tremendous advantage.
With Claypool emerging as a top flight wide receiver, all things are available for the Notre Dame offense and the only thing that stops them is a drop in play.
The Pass Defense
Some stats on the Irish defense against the pass from a good Twitter follow, GAMoons:
How good has ND’s passing defense been?
– They rank SECOND nationally in Opponent Passer Rating against.
– They rank THIRD nationally in passing yards per attempt against.
– They rank FIRST in fewest passing yards per completion.
– They’re SECOND in passing TD’s allowed.
— Moons (@GAMoons) November 18, 2018
As Moons pointed out in a later tweet, teams think that they can throw against Notre Dame, and they cannot. According to S&P+, the Irish are 8th in defensive passing S&P+, 6th in passing marginal efficiency, and 9th in passing marginal explosiveness. They don’t give up success throwing, and they don’t give up big plays. With safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott accounting for three interceptions last weekend against the Orange, they are also making plays on the ball, which was the final piece to that puzzle. Combine that fact with a swarming pas rush, and a final opponent that relies on big plays in the passing game to sustain itself, you see where Notre Dame has a big advantage.
The Offensive Line And Their False Starts
What is the Notre Dame record for false starts over the course of an entire career? Has Robert Hainsey broken it already? Single season maybe? Hainsey is a good a player, don’t get me wrong, but my goodness man stop moving before we snap it. How does that even happen with the way we snap the ball? Book just claps. It’s not like Notre Dame has a hard count. What’s with all of the flinching? It played a part in stopping two drives where field goals had to be kicked instead of gaining first downs. Didn’t cost them last week, could in the future.
Our Defensive Line Drawing Penalties
We are through 11 weeks now. The penalties are not coming. It’s just a fact we are going to have to be ok with. When Julian Okwara turns the corner and the defender grabs his jersey, then pulls his facemask so his head is turned sideways, directly in front of the official, and it goes uncalled, it’s never going to happen. Not sure how we got to this place, but this is where we are.