When looking at a season and how it is going to turn out, I like to think of it in terms of a season for a sprinter. There are only a few times during a sprinters season when you want to peak. Usually there is a qualifying meet, then a championship meet, and some other big races when you want to be at your best. The rest of the time, you’re gearing up for the big races and trying to be consistent. And for Notre Dame football, the schedule works out where the Irish wanted to peak for Georgia, hang on against Virginia, and then train through Bowling Green to peak for USC and Michigan. It’s unfortunate they dropped a game at Georgia, but they are set up to play their best ball right as the schedule presents their toughest matchups.
Generally speaking, Notre Dame should not be losing games at home to any team that doesn’t have their act together, and that is the case with USC. The program, their athletic department, and the school as a whole is in a bit of turmoil. Yes, they are talented, but that shouldn’t matter. The Notre Dame operation and what it has been building toward since 2017 should prevail in a matchup like this. And fortunately, they are as close as possible to being able to put their best foot forward in doing so.
This is the first week of the 2019 season where the offense that Notre Dame wanted to put out there against Louisville is going to be all together. (Some will say Kevin Austin, but Notre Dame has known for months he wouldn’t be in the fold.) Cole Kmet and Michael Young returned against Georgia and Virginia from their broken collarbones, and running back Jafar Armstrong is set to return from an abdominal injury incurred during the first series against Louisville. The Notre Dame passing game was solidified, and now the running game is on track to do the same, with their most explosive player at the position finally entering the lineup. This sets up so many intriguing possibilities.
Imagine a scenario where Notre Dame lines up with Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble, Jafar Armstrong, and one of Chris Finke/Michael Young/Javon McKinley/Lawrence Keys for the last skill position. Notre Dame can spread the field from there and split out Kmet and Tremble, they can go empty backs and put Armstrong out wide, or they can go double tight end and run power football. It’s the kind of scenario that will have offensive coordinator Chip Long up late at night drawing up plays.
(It’s a funny thing how a bad thing creates a very good thing. For example, a significant part of Notre Dame’s main package, the two tight end set, is Tommy Tremble. He has exploded on the scene, primarily because he had to take the Cole Kmet snaps when he was lost to a collarbone. He has shown his ability as a pass-catcher and has improved tremendously as a blocker. Now, he and Kmet on the field together is a massive advantage for Notre Dame.)
With Book showing signs of becoming the player we thought he could be against Bowling Green, and the personnel finally coming together at the same time, the arrow is pointing way up for an offense many have seen as underachieving so far.
This is going to sound like a slight against Daelin Hayes, and it really isn’t, but there has been no drop off at defensive end after he went down for the season with a shoulder injury against Virginia. And that statement on its face is kind of remarkable. Notre Dame lost their third defensive end, who was playing at a high level and replaced him with a guy who the defense was trying to redshirt, and there has been no drop off. What I’m trying to say is savor this time, folks.
Jones essentially wrecked the game against Virginia, sacking and stripping the quarterback in the third quarter, setting up the Myron Tagovailoa Amosa excursion toward the goal line that ultimately led to Notre Dame taking the lead and never surrendering. Through two games, he has two sacks, three tackles for loss, and another quarterback hurry. On a 13 game pace of about nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Not too bad for a redshirt. I’d expect this level of play to continue throughout the year. Like I said, enjoy it while it’s here.
One of the strangest developments throughout the season has been the play of captain wide receiver Chris Finke. First, he doesn’t appear to be a considerable part of the offense despite how often he is on the field. He’s been out there for every game, gets the lions share of the snaps, but is currently on a 26 catch pace for the season, after bringing in 49 last season. He’s also muffed a punt that led to a turnover and dropped a pass that was intercepted against Georgia. Not really what anyone saw coming to say the least.
However, not totally giving up yet. The next couple of weeks will be very telling as more and more attention is given to Claypool and Kmet, and Finke should have favorable matchups against lesser corners, especially against USC. If he isn’t able to turn his game around, receiver Lawrence Keys, who is coming off of a foot injury, is waiting in the wings to earn more snaps. Hopefully, this week against USC is where he turns his final season around.