Normally the Stock Report comes out early in the week after a game, but Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick decided to ruin everything, make the game on a Monday, then move right into a bye week. The weirdness of it all threw everything off, not just in me, but apparently our quarterback as well. And like the team, I used the bye week to regroup, get back into the groove of the season, and so here I am with my weekly report.
In all seriousness, it has been a strange start to the season. It felt like it took so long to get to that opener, and it’s taken so long for the team to get back out there. Ironically, it has really worked out to Notre Dame’s benefit. They’ve had a couple of injured players on the mend due to collarbone injuries who will be missing one less game than they normally would have due to the bye. Just goes to show, there is a silver lining for everything.
Two Tight End Sets
One of the aforementioned players working to come back from a broken collarbone was starting tight end Cole Kmet, who had surgery on his injury on August 9th. Five weeks later, he’s back to practicing in pads, and could be made available this week against New Mexico, and almost certainly against Georgia on the 21st.
His return was going to be highly anticipated no matter what; he’s one of the best players on the team and figured to be a key weapon for quarterback Ian Book. But, it will be particularly beneficial for two reasons.
First, his replacement, sophomore Tommy Tremble, broke out against Louisville with three receptions and a touchdown on his first career reception. He is the speed tight end on the team, who is dangerous out of the slot and can get up the seam in a way the other tight ends can’t. The idea of pairing Kmet with Tremble gives Notre Dame the option to go big with two tight ends attached to the formation, or spread out with either or both players in the slot. It presents a matchup issue for the defense; do they treat those two in the lineup as a base defense formation and run the risk of matching them up with linebackers? Or do they send out the nickel defense, and allow Notre Dame to run inside on them?
The second reason is Notre Dame lost the two back set we heard so much about the in the offseason and saw on Notre Dame’s opening drive of the season. During Notre Dame’s six play scoring drive, Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong were in on every play. Chip Long may still utilize two backs at times, but it won’t be nearly as effective as it would have been with Armstrong in the lineup. So it could be goodbye two backs, hello two tight ends.
TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford
Otherwise known as the corners opposite of Troy Pride, Crawford and Bracy acquitted themselves very well in the opener, showing strong coverage skills as well as solid tackling. Crawford was again all over the place, making a key stop on the quarterback when it looked like there was plenty of room to run outside, nearly forced a fumble on the first play of the second half, and nailed the tight end on the reverse pass that went incomplete. Basically, he was all over the place, per usual for him.
Bracy was also strong in coverage, breaking up a third down pass to force a punt, and providing a steady player opposite of Pride. He had to have earned the confidence of the staff and likely played himself onto the field more often or at the very least cemented his role. Look for him to play a big role this season.
The Running Game
It’s not that the running game itself is looking bad, but they are running out of healthy bodies. Armstrong is out and we learned today running back Jahmir Smith sprained his toe in the scrimmage on Saturday, although it’s unclear whether he’ll miss games. At the very leasy, it is a question mark. That leaves Notre Dame with Jones Jr., freshman Kyren Williams, and sophomore C’Bo Flemister. The situation also forced the move of quarterback, turned slot receiver, turned running back, turned cornerback, back into the offensive backfield.
The only player with a dynamic skill set seems to be Flemister, but he may lack the receiving and blocking skills needed to be a consistent player this season. A lot of questions right now, but not many good answers.
The Interior Defensive Line
Turns out losing Jerry Tillary and Jonathan Bonner was not helpful to the interior defense. I think there were a lot of glass half full hopes about the quartet of Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa Amosa, Jayson Ademilola, and Jacob Lacy, but opening night was a little shaky for the boys playing inside. Louisville rushed for about 250 yards and not much pressure was generated inside either. It may be that Notre Dame has four backups inside right now. Which isn’t the worst thing, but you’d like some playmakers in there.
In fairness, this is a situation that could change for the better over time, as the players get used to their roles and become accustomed to being front line players that are counted on play after play. Jacob Lacy is a true freshman after all, patience needs to shown. That said, the thought of “oh, it’ll all be fine, somehow, someway” may not be how this goes, and we should adjust our expectations accordingly.