Notre Dame returned to the win column on Saturday thanks to a Herculean effort from their defense in the second half. After Bryce Perkins lit them up for over 200 yards in the first half, the defense came alive in the second and harassed Virginia into turnover after turnover. The Irish offense wasn’t quite on the same level today, but Notre Dame didn’t need them to be to beat #18 Virginia 35-20 to improve to 3-1 on the season.
There was a lot to like and a lot to not like about this one – those two columns will be fun to write. For now though, here are my IPA influenced immediate overreactions from Notre Dame’s latest victory.
Welcome back, Julian Okwara. We’ll start off with one of the biggest positives of the game – the reemergence of Julian Okwara. Through the first three games of the year he had three tackles – total. No sacks, no tackles for loss. On Saturday, Okwara came alive and helped saved Notre Dame’s season. He ended the game with 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble, but his constant pressure all game long is one of the reasons Notre Dame is 3-1 and not 2-2.
Okwara’s strip-sack in the first quarter helped give Notre Dame its first lead of the game. He spent the second half living in the Virginia backfield. This is the Julian Okwara we expected to see from week one. He was relentless in his pressure, and he showed why some think he is a first-round NFL Draft pick. If that is the Julian Okwara we see for the rest of the year, the Irish defense will be tough to score on.
Holy defensive ends, Batman. Let’s keep this positive for a little while. Outside of Okwara, Notre Dame’s depth at defensive end was on full display. With Daelin Hayes sidelines with a shoulder injury, Notre Dame used a deeper rotation than usual today, and it paid off. Jamir Jones, Ovie Oghoufo, and Ade Ogundeji all came up huge throughout the game. Khalid Kareem, a pre-season All-American by some publications had one of his best games of the year as well.
It’s surreal typing this considering how much Notre Dame has struggled at defensive end over the years, but even with Hayes sidelines, Notre Dame’s defensive ends were game-changers. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame can still redshirt Jones this year after he played the last two weeks. He’s been an animal, and at some point, you have to ask yourself, is it worth trying to redshirt him or just letting him play.
Ian Book did not have a good day… again. Ok, so for as good as the second-half defense was, the offense was almost equally as bad. Ian Book looked comfortable in the pocket in the most hostile environment he’s ever played in. Returning home to Notre Dame Stadium, he ended up regressing this week. Book bailed from the pocket when there was no pressure. He gave up on plays too early. And, he made bad decisions a senior shouldn’t make.
On Notre Dame’s first play of the game, Book was flushed from the pocket, and instead of throwing the ball away, he ran out of bounds for a five-yard loss. That’s a senior quarterback not knowing the situation and taking a five-yard loss when he could have thrown the ball out of bounds to save the yardage.
In the third quarter with Notre Dame facing a third and six, Book dropped back to pass and felt pressure that wasn’t there. He had Claypool coming open on a crosser if he just waited. Instead, he bailed from the pocket when he didn’t have to and ran into a wall of defenders. Drive over.
Book’s been very up and down this year. He will probably pile up stats next week against Bowling Green, but four games into the season it’s not yet clear if Book as improved in any way. It’s more accurate to say he’s the latest quarterback to regress under Brian Kelly.
My kingdom for a successful screen play. Notre Dame had at least three chances for big plays on screen plays – one to Avery Davis, another to Tony Jones, and a third to C’Bo Flemister. They didn’t get any of them. They were good play calls, but the execution of all three was sub-par. On the pass to Davis, the pass was slightly behind him, and he couldn’t come up with the ball. On the one to Jones, there was too much pressure too soon, and Book rushed the throw before Jones was looking for it. Both were set up to be huge gains that instead went as incomplete passes.
Notre Dame has not been successful with the screen pass all season long even though they’ve had opportunities to rip off some big plays on them.
Tony Jones Jr had himself a day. While Jones might not have had a chance on that screen pass, he had himself a day running the ball Jones ran for 131 yards on 18 carries with three touchdowns – both were career highs. Jones ran tough and broke tackles all game long. His lack of top-end speed was evident again since there were a couple of runs that could have been more significant gains for a faster back, but overall, Jones had a great game.
Notre Dame needs more from Chris Finke. Chris Finke is a 5th-year senior, captain who isn’t playing to the level he is capable of. Last week Finke had a huge drop that turned into an interception. This week Finke muffed a punt one drive and then the next drive he ran his route short on 3rd down ending another Notre Dame drive. Finke has done that at least three times already this year. Notre Dame needs more than that from one of its captains.
Brian Kelly revealed earlier this week that Finke injured his ribs against Georgia, but if he wasn’t healthy this weekend, he shouldn’t have been on the field.
Terry McAulay was worse than Flutie. I didn’t even know this was possible, but NBC rules “expert” Terry McAulay was terrible today. In the first half, he took the exact opposite take of what happened which also just so happened to be siding against Notre Dame. He tried saying Bryce Perkins forward progress was stopped on Okwara’s strip-sack, which was utterly ridiculous.
All game long though McAulay seemed like he was just trying to be a contrarian. NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame Football is becoming more and more unwatchable with every week.
Get rid of that damn camera NBC. Speaking of how inadequate NBC’s coverage is, can we please get rid of that damn camera now that it’s been bad two weeks in a row? Multiple times today, you couldn’t tell what was happening because the action was off-screen. Good job, NBC.
Notre Dame’s defense is playoff-caliber, its offense isn’t yet. Notre Dame’s defense had a rough first half as Perkins was lights out. He was making some crazy throws, and his receivers were making great catches. In the second half though, the Notre Dame defense was LIGHTS OUT. Notre Dame got to Perkins and got their hands on the ball. Luckily for Notre Dame, the defense played at a playoff level in the second half, because the offense was below average today.
Had it not been for the five turnovers that Notre Dame produced today, they probably lose this game. The Irish offense couldn’t sustain drives after the first quarter and left a lot of big plays on the field. Brian Kelly and Chip Long still have a lot of work to do on the offensive of the ball, but for this week it didn’t come back to bite them.