Notre Dame won a football game yesterday with a game-winning, two-minute drive to keep their home winning streak intact and keep their (maybe dwindling) hopes of a New Year’s 6 bowl alive. It was a frustrating afternoon for Notre Dame as mistakes piled on top of each to the point where the Irish were on the verge of losing to a team they were an 18 point favorite over. They snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, however, and despite popular opinion, there was still a lot to like in this one.
1. Notre Dame’s final drive and Ian Book’s game-winning touchdown
There were a lot of frustrating aspects to yesterday’s game. I already listed a lot of them and will get into some of them in more detail in tomorrow’s 5 things I didn’t like column, but at the end of the day, winning is better than losing, and we only get 13 of these stupid games a year so let’s at least enjoy the win. Winning yesterday doesn’t happen without Ian Book leading Notre Dame on am 18-play, 87-yard drive featuring two fourth-down conversions.
Regardless of how you feel about the first 58 minutes of yesterday’s game, the final two minutes were reason to smile. The Ian Book on that drive is the Ian Book that we all thought we were going to see all season long. He was in command of the offense, and he marched Notre Dame down the field for the game-winning TD. He didn’t panic on 4th down, and when Chip Long put the game squarely on his shoulders with a 3rd and goal run, he found the endzone.
Book’s had his struggles this season – including yesterday – but you have to be happy for him to get the game-winner the way he did after the week he had. Let’s hope he can take that drive and that run and use it fuel a resurgence on the final four games of the year.
2. Chase Claypool playing like a WR1
Chase Claypool is an excellent wide receiver, and on Saturday, we got a glimpse of that. Claypool finished the game with eight catches 118 yards, including the biggest play of the day (maybe the season) with a 4th and 10 conversion to set up the Irish with a first and goal that led to Ian Book’s game-winner. Claypool could have had an even bigger day if Book hadn’t underthrown him in the third quarter when he got behind the Virginia Tech defense. Claypool had a touchdown if the ball is in front of him. It wasn’t, and as a result, it got picked off.
Virginia Tech had no answer for Claypool, who is making a highlight reel of ridiculous sideline grabs this season. His target volume is lower than most expected, but he is making a living on sideline catches this year. The defense Notre Dame faces the next three weeks will have no answer for Claypool. Throw the ball up for the young man and let him keep making plays.
Yesterday was Claypool’s first 100+ yard performance of the year and the first time since the Georgia game he’s posted over 66 yards. There is no reason that what we saw yesterday shouldn’t be replicated for the next few weeks.
3. A successful screen play!
It’s come to this point with the offense where one single successful screen play is a reason to smile. Notre Dame’s second touchdown drive was set up by a successful screen to Jafar Armstrong that netted 26 yards. Had Armstrong cut the play back towards the center of the field, he might have scored, but hey, let’s celebrate progress here.
Notre Dame has not been sound in the screen game all year. Yesterday’s big gainer was the first really successful screen since the game-winner against USC in Los Angeles last year by Tony Jones Jr. With the personnel that they have, the screen game should be a more significant part of the offense. It’s been a struggle this year, though. This should be a play that Notre Dame can run the rest of the season successfully with Jafar Armstrong in the lineup.
4. Notre Dame’s defense keeping them in the game when the offense was stalling
After Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-7 lead, it looked like maybe the offense was getting its footing and was going to start stringing drives together. Then they went six straight drives without scoring a point. Here’s how those six drives netted out.
- 3 plays, 6 yards, PUNT
- 3 plays, 5 yards, PUNT
- 10 plays, 40 yards, FUMBLE (returned for TD)
- 8 plays, 42 yards, INT
- 3 plays, 8 yards, PUNT
- 17 plays, 82 yards, Missed FG
During that stretch, the Notre Dame offense allowed Virginia Tech to score more points than the Notre Dame defense. Jafar Armstrong’s fumble that was returned for 98 yards gave the Hokies seven points and tied the game. While the offense sputtered, the defense held Virginia Tech to just six points the rest of the game. That included a big red-zone stand where they forced a field goal to keep the lead to one-possession. Without that, Ian Book’s final drive isn’t possible.
There were issues on defense yesterday – namely some really untimely penalties to aid drives. Overall though, the Notre Dame defense made everything a fight for Virginia Tech. The Hokies struggled to score any points that a) weren’t aided penalties or b) didn’t include some sort of fluke play.
5. The home winning streak staying intact
I will repeat it. Winning is better than losing, and yesterday Notre Dame won. That win was the 17th in a row for the Irish on their home turf. That might not seem like a reason to celebrate, but remember how much trouble Notre Dame used to have winning at home? With Navy and Boston College left on the home schedule this year, Notre Dame could push that to 19 straight games if (and it’s a big if) they clean up the mistakes from the last two weeks. If they can close out back to back seasons without losing at home, that is big regardless of how they do it or who they do it against.
This season has not gone how anyone has hoped it would, but there is still a lot for this team to play for, and the home winning streak is one of those things. Reaching ten wins is another, and winning a New Year’s 6 bowl is another. The latter look much more complicated than they did a couple of weeks ago, but thanks to the late-game heroics yesterday, all three are still in play.