Can we take anything away for the game this weekend against New Mexico? I’ve heard that question asked a bunch of times this week, either in podcasts or on Twitter. The answer is most often no, we can’t. New Mexico isn’t good enough and whatever happens against them won’t be any type of indicator as to how the rest of the season might play out. Sometimes, that is true, and in some ways it is true again this week.
For example, if Notre Dame runs for 300 yards or Ian Book is 23/23 for 350 yards, maybe there isn’t much to take away from that. At least not on the face of it. The numbers can be meaningless, and there wouldn’t be anything to learn just by looking at the box score in many cases.
But, there are things that can happen this weekend for the team that would be legitimately good news and could signal some of our fears following Louisville can be put to rest. It just depends where the numbers come from and how.
Ian Book Pushes The Ball Down The Field
Coming into the season, we wanted to see Book become more accurate with the deep ball. The Louisville game was troubling because the first part of the equation–throwing the ball deep–was not a part of the game. He didn’t even try, which is step one. In that sense, he was moving backward. On that front, if Ian Book throws for 300+ yards, but those yards largely come from underneath throws and the Notre Dame receivers doing the work, then that’d be fun and entertaining, but we know they can do that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, doing the things you’re already good at is important, but we aren’t learning anything new.
On the other hand, if Book pushes the ball down the field with regularity, and connects on those throws–things he hasn’t done–well that’d be nice to see against air, let alone an opponent who is trying to stop you. I wouldn’t feel any confidence in our offense going into Georgia and being able to hurt them vertically if we can’t do it against New Mexico. And I don’t buy the whole “saving it for the big game” stuff. Some things you do because it’s a part of your game, regardless of what it tells your opponent.
Running Backs Kyren Williams And C’Bo Flemister Perform Well
This is a situation where we need to see these guys perform, against anyone, because they will likely be needed when the schedule turns into a gauntlet.
For Williams, he’s the one who possesses a skillset anything close to injured running back Jafar Armstrong. He dropped a pass in the opener against Louisville on a swing route (and didn’t see the field again), but a second look and strong play this weekend would be a nice pick me up for the offense. We know Chip Long had built a package around two back sets, which had to be scrapped with the loss of Armstrong, that he’d love to bring back, and for his part Williams has to show he can be effective in a game first. These things have a way of building on themselves, especially for young players, and once confidence starts to grow, it’s hard to stop it.
Flemister is similar in that he brings a facet to the game only Armstrong previously possessed: speed. The other backs are considered bruisers, with Flemister having that long, outside speed, and it’d be nice to be able to put a home run threat of sorts in the back field for the defense to think about.
Poor performances this weekend render them meaningless against the Bulldogs, it’s likely the coaches would not trust them. But, strong performances give them, and every other team, something to think about going forward, and brings the offense closer to what it wanted to be pre-Armstrong injury.
Strong Play From Shayne Simon And Jack Lamb
Are the two young linebackers aggressive? Are they making plays? Are the assignment correct? The last question is important against any team. If they aren’t doing the right things, they won’t be put in the game. This will be their second career game, and not to rush anything along, but Notre Dame needs them to be good players this year. The first part to that is being assignment correct.
The other important piece is how aggressive they are, especially Simon. The linebacker they play behind, Asmar Bilal, is usually assignment correct, but he isn’t super aggressive and he doesn’t make a lot of plays. Simon has to distinguish himself in some way, and that way is playing more similar to the way his teammate, Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah plays, with his hair on fire. That style is obviously something the coaches are able to tolerate, and if Simon can get to that place, a player of his athletic ability playing more on the defense raises the level of the unit considerably. So seeing he and Lamb being assertive from their spots on Saturday portends promising things for the defense as a whole going forward.