Offensive coordinator Chip Long must be quite confused when it comes to the happiness of the Notre Dame fan base. You’d think in a game where the Irish ran for over 300 yards, averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and had a 60/40 run pass ratio–in a victory!–folks would be lining the streets to cheer him on his way home. That’s not what happened though, because scoreless first quarters are not ok and for that he is a bum. Such is life as the offensive coordinator.
In seriousness, it was an interesting start, where it was tough to tell what exactly they were trying to get accomplished. The running game was sluggish, as was the passing game aside from the initial back shoulder throw to Claypool (why don’t we do that four times a game?). The offense didn’t find its legs until the 43 yard run by Tony Jones Jr. in the second quarter, when they scored on four straight possessions to take the score from 3-0 USC to 20-3 Notre Dame.
Being a play caller is tough, much tougher than on defense, because there is no version of “bend but don’t break” on offense that people will like. Any single bad call can ruin a drive and it’s the play callers fault. A good example is the jet sweep to Finke on 3rd down in the fourth quarter, that got stuffed and led to a field goal. Seemed like a bad idea all around, but came after a perfect play call on the screen to Cole Kmet that had it been executed better would have been a touchdown. Tough to call multiple touchdown plays on a drive.
Keeping in mind that it’s best to look at the game as a whole, and noting his quarterback wasn’t having the best day, it’s a B performance from Long on this one. Pretty good game plan with mostly good decisions calling plays, and very good to lean on the ground game in the second half.
I’ll say this for Ian Book: he competes his butt off out there, even when he is off throwing the ball. Book missed some throws on Saturday he simply cannot miss. There were at least three quick routes to the outside off of the RPO game that were either too low, too high, or behind the receiver. These are the types of plays that need to be automatic for him, his bread and butter. The reason the job is even his is because Brandon Wimbush could not make those throws and Notre Dame gave up his big play ability running because of that inconsistency. Not saying Book needs to be benched or anything, but he has to clean up that part of his game because it’s holding the offense back.
That said, for the second year in a row, he beat USC with his legs, converting a key third and 10 with a 15 yard+ scramble, then scored the game winner on an eight yard quarterback draw, capping a 14 play 75 yard drive that left USC in need of a miracle, which they did not get.
He was 17-32 passing, which is not great, but he didn’t turn the ball over and his decisions were mostly good just need better execution. He gets a an extra half grade because game winning touchdowns are worth something, as is winning against your rival.
So Tony Jones Jr. won us a football game against USC. That is a thing that happened, and while he didn’t do it alone, without him the game is likely not won. In total it was 25 carries for 176 yards for Jones Jr., that’s seven yards per carry for all you math nuts out there. He ran hard, he got into the open field, he secured the ball, he blocked well in the passing game. What else can you ask for from the lead back? He was phenomenal.
Jahmir Smith came in and offered more of the same, showing a healthy amount of burst hitting the hole while chipping in 32 yards on five carries. He’ll be a good spell for Jones in games not against our biggest rival and when Jones isn’t literally engulfed in flames as he totes the rock. Suddenly a murky running back situation looks pretty good.
It was a throwaway game for Jafar Armstrong, who was healthy to return, but apparently not ready to play high level football as he only got a handful of snaps and only touched the ball once, on a four yard loss. No big deal for him, Notre Dame has the bye week coming so they can get him healthier and ready to contribute, as well as boost his fitness. More to come from him.
Not bad, not great from this group on a night when the quarterback wasn’t feeling it. You get the sense that there is so much more out there for Chase Claypool with an Ian Book who is playing at a higher level. That guy is playing like a man possessed when the ball is thrown his way. Hopefully things turn and they can get more out of him in the second half of the year, because he looks great.
Braden Lenzy had his official introduction to major college football, taking a reverse 51 yards for a touchdown, displaying speed that shocked everyone, even if you knew he was fast. A reaction of “whoa, whoa, whooooooa!” was appropriate as he flew down the left sideline. Credit to Chris Finke for blocking his man all the way to the end zone, allowing Lenzy a straight path to goal line.
Cole Kmet was again reliable, although Tommy Tremble had a rough game, and Brock Wright recovered the onside kick, stealing it from Brian Kelly standing just behind him. Michael Young had a touchdown waiting for him on the second half kickoff return, but a requirement in football is the ball comes with you and it was a requirement Young was not ready to meet. Not his finest moment.
Taking out the Ian Book kneel downs, it’s 311 yards on 45 carries for the offense and one sack allowed on 32 pass attempts. Those numbers should and probably will lead to a victory against any team Notre Dame plays the rest of the way. A huge performance from Jeff Quinn‘s group. Tommy Kraemer looked great pulling in this game, opening a number of holes and springing big runs, and there was plenty of room inside against a pretty stout USC interior. The conventional wisdom was you can make hay on USC getting outside, something Notre Dame did, but USC could not win the game if Notre Dame was going to run the ball inside as effectively as they did.
Since Georgia when the run game was basically abandoned, Notre Dame is averaging 240 yards on the ground on 6.2 yards per carry, a trend that if it continues would give the Irish a great chance to run the table and finish 11-1 and let the chips fall where they may.