Notre Dame Trio Proving Everyone Wrong in 2019

One of the most positive surprising developments for Notre Dame in 2019 is the development of a trio of players who many – myself included – wrote off at the beginning of the year proving everyone wrong and playing vital roles in Notre Dame entering their second bye of the season at 5-1 and inside the top 10. Asmar Bilal, Tony Jones Jr, and Jonathan Doerer are all big reasons why the Irish have that 5-1 record.  Without them, the Irish are 4-2 at best.

When Matt, Greg, and I ranked our top 25 players in the summer, none of these three players made the composite top 25.  If we were to do a mid-season reranking, all three would be there, and some may crack the top 10.

Jonathan Doerer Joins Rare Company

Heading into fall camp, it was widely considered that incoming freshman walk-on Harrison Leonard would challenge Doerer for the placekicking duties in 2019.  Doerer struggled with kick-offs in his first two seasons, and his spring practice experience didn’t do a whole lot to instill confidence that he would lock down the job.

Even when Doerer won the job in the summer, most felt that he would be called upon within 40 yards, and anything longer would be a crapshoot at best.  Boy were we wrong.  Against USC Doerer became just the second kicker in Notre Dame history to make three field goals of 40 or more yards in the same game.  He was a perfect 3 for 3 connecting on 43, 45, and 52-yard attempts.  Only Kyle Brindza has kicked a longer field goal in a Notre Dame uniform than Doerer’s 52-yard on Saturday.

With Doerer’s performance against the Trojans, Brian Kelly’s confidence in his kicker must be sky-high.  What was one time thought to be a significant liability for the Irish could now be a weapon.  Most Irish fans worried that field goal kicking would ultimately cost Notre Dame a game in 2019.  Last weekend, Doerer’s kicking won Notre Dame the game.  Without him connecting on all three, Notre Dame loses that game.

Kicking on the road is a whole other beast, but Notre Dame fans should have confidence that if called upon, Doerer can deliver in two weeks in Ann Arbor.

Tony Jones Jr Powering Notre Dame’s Rushing Attack

When Notre Dame lost Jafar Armstrong on the first series of the season-opener, Notre Dame fans thought the ground game was doomed.  Tony Jones Jr had flashed at times in his career, but he was too slow, too injury prone, and not dynamic enough to led the charge.

After six games, Jones is on pace for 1,206 yards (over 13 games) and 9 touchdowns. He’s averaging 7.0 yards per carry and has performances of 110, 131, 102, and most recently 176 yards against USC.  His total would be even higher had Kelly and staff intentionally not mainly rested him in the tune-up against New Mexico.

Some of Jones’s limitations have still been on display this year, but his strengths have far outweighed them, and we’ve seen Jones be a powerful runner that we hadn’t seen him be the last two years.  He’s still not winning many foot races, but if he continues to average 7.0 yards a carry this season, no one should care.

The great news here is that Jones can return in 2020 and be paired with hopefully a healthy Jafar Armstrong – we haven’t seen that duo work together much yet this year – and incoming freshman Chris Tyree who can be the lightning to Jones’s thunder.  Until then, expect to see Jones rack up a lot more yardage over the final six regular-season games and in the postseason.

Asmar Bilal Finally Living Up to Vast Potential

Perhaps the most surprising player here is 5th year senior Asmar Bilal.  At no point in his career did he give much hope of becoming a dynamic, playmaking linebacker for Notre Dame this year.  He was routinely out of position and never displayed the kind of instincts to give much hope the light would turn on.  Most felt that even though Bilal was the only returning backer with any starting experience, Notre Dame’s best group of linebackers didn’t include him.

Even in the season opener, Bilal looked out of place.  Since then, Bilal has been dynamite for Notre Dame.  Against USC, he racked up 11 tackles with 2 TFL giving him 5 TFL on the season.  He was a heat syncing missile on Saturday night.

Everyone thought Bilal would be a liability against pass-happy teams over the summer, yet there he was leading the way on Saturday night against the most dynamic passing attack Notre Dame will face in 2019.

Bilal is third on the team in tackles through six games with 35 just three behind team-leader Alohi Gilman.  At the pace Bilal is on, it would not be surprising if he moved up the leaderboard even more by the end of the season.

Up until now, Asmar Bilal has been an extremely gifted athlete who has always been more athlete than football player.  In 2019, he is developing into one hell of a football player and is a big reason why the Notre Dame linebackers are developing into a strength for the defense when everyone was convinced they would be a major weakness.

Notre Dame needs these three players to continue to play at a high level over the second half of the year to reach the heights they want to achieve – along with getting some players who have underachieved to step their games up.  So far, though, all three have proved everyone – myself included – very wrong and have been an absolute joy to watch each weekend.

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  1. I am very happy with the offensive recruiting in both 2020 and 2021. However unless Jurkovic Pyne or Buchner are Heisman trophy level quarterbacks Notredame will be good not great.

    1. Perhaps, Pete, perhaps not.

      Here are some of the championship QBS this millennium
      2000-Josh Heupel
      2001 Ken Dorsey
      2002 Craig Krentzel
      2003 Matt Mauck
      2006 Chris Leak
      2007 Matt Flynn
      2009 Greg McElroy
      2011 A. J. McCarron

      One thing each of those championship teams had was an absurdly good defense.


      1. Duranko – The last two teams to win the NC also had tremendous defenses…and blazing speed 2 deep everywhere on both sides of the ball: which allowed them to pull QB’s with great winning percentages in favor of freshmen. Duranko, having been around South Bend as long, or maybe longer than me, you know the type of posters we’ve been reading here the past several years…we’ve heard it all too much for all too long…if the guy can throw deep, we win an NC…it’s automatic. Protecting the ball doesn’t matter…great defenses are optional at best…who cares how many All Americans we have on the offensive line if our guy can throw the ball 60 yards in the air, right? Because real men always throw deep.
        Of course, if Kelly and Long really were the idiots that some of these posters try to make them out to be, especially David, they would bench Ian Book, and play Jurkovec (or whoever). Then Ian Book could become Tommy Rees, whose job it was to come on the field and clean up the diarrhea leftover from the various turnovers against Michigan, when Golson became eligible again, after Golson took a one year vacation in California. That sounds like GREAT advice (for the guys who predicted 8-4 and unranked this year). Let’s try it next Saturday…I miss the panicked “deer in the headlights” look in Golson’s eyes on national TV after his second interception in that game.
        Or, we could wait until next year when Jurkovec is more than ready, and add Tyree to the backfield, and win an NC…as planned from the Spring of 2017…step by step…piece by piece. But nobody in this society wants to wait for anything anymore…that’s why between the citizens and the government, our debt is on the verge of dwarfing our GNP. If you asked some of the people what the word “patience” means, they would have to Google It Duranko.

        BGC ’77 ’82

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. I see your point. It does seem though that we are in an era with the rules spread offenses teams in a warped hurry up the teams winning national championships have good defenses not great but what they do have are unstoppable 40 to 50 points a game offenses. The last 6 years the teams that won the national championship had games where they won 35 to 31 45 to 38 49 to 42. Etc. Notredames defense last year and this year is good enough to win a national championship if they had Ohio State Alabama Clemson Oklahoma LSU offense.

    2. I think everyone makes valid points in this thread. I would like to offer that College defenses only need to make two stops a game to be successful. Even Alabama and LSU are looking more like a Big 12 team rather than SEC play in a box.

      However the best way to stop this fast break football is to play a little Villanova Basketball ala 85′ or Navy. Hold the ball, long drives limit the possessions of your opponent. Make them make ever possession count. It is frustrating when ND plays Navy and only gets 6 possessions a game. Having a great offensive line allows you to control the game the way ND did in the fourth quarter against SC. Having a great QB is an added bonus and I don’t think that Book is horrible, just a little inconsistent at times, but like BK said he has barely been a started for one year.

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