To show how influential this column is, last week the Notre Dame run game was listed on the trending down track. Then they rushed for four touchdowns and bludgeoned the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter, so clearly, the coaching staff is paying attention to this space. Hopefully, that means Brian Polian will be logging in because things need to get worked out in the area of special teams.
While where this team ultimately ends up remains a bit of a mystery, things are becoming a bit clearer as to how this team will look on a game to game basis. Because of that, things are getting easier to project. The defense looks like it is going to be wreaking havoc week after week; they are on pace for 124 tackle for loss over a 13 game season, which would break the Kelly era record of 84, set in 2015. Forty more tackles for loss! Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah are putting up huge numbers on that front, and now the defensive line is kicking into gear. This group has shown an ability to wreck games in a way we haven’t seen during the Kelly era.
The offense is where things are more up in the air–the quarterback is too inconsistent–but if that light clicks on that’s when the offense and the team have got something.
Here is what I have figured out: if you give the ball to Jones Jr. on a straight handoff, when reads are not a part of it, and the play develops quickly, that’s where it is for him. Let him make one cut, put that foot in the ground, and head downhill. He runs into trouble when he’s moving laterally at the snap and has to get himself started once he’s already got the ball. Chip Long got him going downhill in the fourth quarter against Virginia, and he ripped them apart.
The difference between the way Jones Jr. looks in this clip
Versus the way he looks in this one, illustrates what I’m talking about.
Jones Jr. showed in this game what he’s capable of doing when he gets to run downhill against a defense that is tired and demoralized. He also got some rest during the game when C’Bo Flemister came in and showed some quality running, scoring his first touchdown. When Tony is used as a compliment, opposite someone like Jafar Armstong, that is when he is at his best, and we saw that on Saturday.
The Starting Linebackers
The trio of Drew White, Asmar Bilal, and Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah are rapidly moving into the “buy” territory in this column, which is a pretty stunning turn of events. I think most would have seen this as possible with JOK, who leads the team in tackles, but I don’t think anyone thought Drew White would be on pace for 20 tackles for loss after four games, and no one thought Asmar Bilal would display Jaylon Smith type of athleticism against Georgia.
Can't get over this play by Asmar against Georgia. Thunders the run, reads play action, settles his feet and stays locked to Swift, reacts to the route and runs him down for a TFL. This is the top of the sport. Put Jaylon in there and he doesn't do it better. pic.twitter.com/7UYz5pROJu
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) October 1, 2019
If this continues throughout the season, where are the weaknesses on this defense? The defensive line is certainly not, the safeties are playing at a very high level, you’re basically looking at corner, and that’s been pretty good so far too. While it’s true that Bilal, White, and JOK aren’t what Coney, Tranquill, and Bilal were last season, but production is production, and those guys are producing at close to elite levels through four games. If it continues through USC, lookout.
Not that I’m going to give this group as a whole a pass, but it was one game. The other thing about special teams is it usually comes down to an individual player doing something wrong. For example, am I downgrading Polian and the punt team because a senior captain muffed a punt? Because Johnathan Doerer missed a field goal? That all goes into special teams, but those are singular errors.
Now, the onside kick fiasco, that’s squarely on Polian, and whoever else didn’t notice a significant vulnerability on the kickoff team. I’m not blaming DJ Brown for this; he’s doing what he’s coached to when the second from the sideline player motions towards the middle of the field. He follows him, started doing it against Georgia, and did it every time since. Clearly, he’s coached to do that. I assume it won’t happen again, but it shouldn’t have happened the first time.
The NBC Production
Things the rules expert in the booth did not like: Virginia being called for offside, Virginia being called for a false start, passes thrown by Virginia that hit the ground being called incomplete, fumbles by the quarterbacks being ruled fumbles. Just an utterly bizarre situation where obvious infractions are being questioned by the expert in the booth, to the point where Virginia was called offside, Notre Dame runs ten plays after and scores, and NBC returns from commercial to show a player obviously offside and the expert saying he should be given a warning. Um, ok?
They of course also insisted on using the SkyCam, and it continues to be the worst part of the broadcast, although it wasn’t exclusive like it was during the opener. So strange that they’ve got a legend in the industry, Mike Tirico, calling the games and the rest of the broadcast is an amateur hour of camera angles, rules experts, and of course Doug Flutie. Do better, NBC.