Because there were so many good things to like in Notre Dame’s 52-0 win over Bowling Green this weekend, this week’s column was actually a little tricky to write. There were just a lot of things to like. So instead of being very specific, I tried to be a bit more macro this week than usual in this column.
It was easy to like scoring 52 points on Brian Vangorder, and it was great to see Tony Jones top 100 yards on seven carries, but I went a little bigger picture this week. I’d also say that it’s time for us all to move on from BVG, and that’s why I didn’t include a section just for him, but I’m too petty for that. I’ll never get over how bad his tenure was and what could have been if he never stepped foot on campus.
1. Getting out of the game injury-free
Notre Dame exited their blowout of Bowling Green without any significant additions to the injury report. That is always one of the most critical factors of any game against a team like Bowling Green. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa did get nicked up momentarily, but he was ready to re-enter the game. Aside from that, the Irish left their route without any new injuries.
Not only did Notre Dame manage to get through this one unscathed, but they are also getting healthier at the right time. Brian Kelly announced on Sunday that running back Jafar Armstrong could be back this weekend already for USC. Lawrence Keys, who missed Saturday’s game, was only out for precautionary reasons and should be back to take on the Trojans as well.
2. All of the playing time for the backups
Notre Dame had a few chances for blowouts in 2018 that they didn’t capitalize on – namely Ball State and Vanderbilt. Both games could have given the Notre Dame reserves some valuable in-game reps that never happened because the blowouts never happened. Notre Dame capitalized on the same opportunity they squandered last year by dominating from start to finish and getting their 2nd and 3rd strings in the game for most of the second half.
The most crucial backup that got to play was sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Notre Dame needs to get their QB2 as many in-game reps as they can this season. Saturday he threw the first touchdown pass of his career and looked great running the football. For as rough as he looked in the spring game, he’s looked good the two times we’ve seen him get some real reps this year. Hopefully, Notre Dame has a few more lopsided wins they get Jurokvec in the game for this season.
Aside from Jurkovec, Shayne Simon, in particular, looked good on defense. We also had a Houston Griffith sighting at safety. Kelly said after the game that Griffith is cross-training there to get on the field. Griffith at safety in 2020 makes a ton of sense, so hopefully, that move is permanent.
3. The use of two-tight end sets
Notre Dame scored 52 points in a variety of ways, but I am a sucker for seeing the Irish offense utilize multiple tight ends. With talents like Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble, and Brock Wright; there are very few defenses who can account for the multiple tight end sets Notre Dame can throw out there. Saturday we saw more of that from Notre Dame with all three making plays throughout the game. Kmet and Tremble found the endzone while Wright had the longest reception of the game.
With Notre Dame’s personnel and a quarterback like Ian Book, this offense could continue putting up big numbers out of 12 personnel (two tight ends) – especially once Armstrong is back and Notre Dame adds some more speed in the backfield.
4. Notre Dame’s first shutout in over five years
There were times when Bowling Green did move the ball on the Irish defense, but they never were able to find the endzone or get on the scoreboard. Julian Okwara helped preserve the shutout with a third-quarter blocked field. Bowling Green never really threatened to score again the rest of the game.
Notre Dame’s defense this year has been better than expected. Most thought the loss of Tevon Coney, Drue Tranquill, and Jerry Tillery in the middle of the defense would result in a minor step back. The interior of the Irish defense, however, has been just as stout as it was a year ago. Saturday was another indicator of that with the Irish getting their first shutout since the 2014 blowout of Michigan.
After five games, we’ve seen enough of the Irish defense to know that it will play well enough for Notre Dame to win every game left on its schedule.
5. Some more downfield passing from Ian Book
The biggest knock on Ian Book’s game is still his downfield passing. Saturday, we saw him push the ball vertically more. The best part was, he had success doing it. Yes, it was Bowling Green, and it was a Brian Vangorder defense, but you can’t get better at something without doing it. We saw Book and Notre Dame work on that element of his game against Bowling Green.
Book wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but he was better. He’ll need to be even better this weekend against USC and again in three weeks for Michigan, but progress was made against Bowling Green. Book was one slightly off-target crossing route to Javon McKinley away from a 6-touchdown performance.
As it stands, Book has 13 touchdowns now in five games. That projects out to just over 31 for the season – only Brady Quinn has thrown more in a single season for Notre Dame.