5 Things I Liked As Notre Dame Snatches Victory from Jaws of Defeat

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.

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  1. New ND strategy: Don’t show up.
    Play to lose for 57 minutes….mess up everything. Penalties, drops, whatever it takes.
    Put the opposing defense into a coma with utter fecklessness.

    Then…with last possession…wake up and play actual football.
    The opponent will be so shocked, they won’t know what’s happening.
    And the drama of the win will make fans go berserk…like you just did the impossible.
    Divine intervention. God’s hand at work.

    T-shirt sales, speeches, movies, corporate appearances….ka ching!
    And it all starts with bush-league, shitty football!

    Ron Burgundy-George….marketing genius.

  2. Frank , I’ll address the Claypool in article. His catch with the “toe drag” completion to the sidelines is best I’ve ever seen — College or NFL. Check out the replay ! More on Claypool — Book might have made his best throw of the season–connecting with Claypool “deep slant” to the middle of field. It was a game changer of 26 yds to the 7 yd line. Too bad a “combo” of Book to Claypool has not transpired more often–chalk it up to OC coach play calling or Book’s lack of talent/vision limited. Maybe both. Kmet was over thrown , Claypool underthrown on a deep route — CC had both defenders beat for a TD around 10 yd line –had to slow down –to adjust to under-thrown ball by Book –defenders caught up — made an interception. Lenzy was underthrown in 4th quarter—on his catch from Book. He came back to Books throw—made catch. A good throw — and Lenzy had day light ahead –for TD or another 20 yds. In summary , I like Book because of his grit and attidude he brings–but his talent is limited–and not a QB that can beat elite teams on ND schedule or the future of ND’s shot at a National Championship.

  3. Hopefully this season is just Book’s “sophomore slump” and, since he’s unlikely to enter the NFL draft, will have a stellar final season. Also giving Jurkovec another season to grow into the position. Gholson, Kiser, and Wimbush were not provided the opportunity to grow for another season and they left/transferred before they could become great

  4. I’m having a hard time getting excited about this game….but I’ll admit those last 3 minutes were a thing of beauty. It doesn’t erase the rest of the game and the missed opportunities. But for those 3 minutes ND played good, even great football for a change.

    It’d be nice if the team was somehow able to build on that. Book scoring the last TD drive doesn’t hurt. Perhaps it’ll help him out of his funk, I don’t know.

    And yes, while the defense hasn’t been as dominant as I had hoped, they are fighting to keep them in games. Even against Michigan, they tried holding down the fort in the 3rd quarter, the offense just couldn’t help them out.

    But all that being said I’ll believe it when I see it. If they dominate the rest of the season and win a major bowl game against a really good team, maybe then. But BK’s fooled me enough times.

    I think ND needs to find a really good OC more than anything. I don’t think the Chip Long experiment has worked. I won’t want BK going back to running the offense because that wasn’t really any better. But they need to find a good OC that can develop the offense, the QB and call good plays that play to the strengths of the players you have, not what the OC would like to do regardless of the personnel, which seems to be the problem now.

    And they need to keep Lea. While this year hasn’t been an elite defense, I do think Lea is the right guy for now. Some of the problems we’ve seen on defense could be attributed to the offense hanging them out to dry. There’s only so many 3 and outs the defensive players can play through before they just get exhausted…and just plain frustrated. Why go out and get your butt kicked for long periods of time when your offense can’t help you out with even a FG.

  5. Final drive was a thing of a pure beauty, will be told for generations to come and only adds to the unbelievable legacy of the golden dome.

    1. Burgundy , like the comment. Irish aren’t having greatest of seasons — but that drive is up there with one of best comebacks –even under ARA/HOLTZ era. This wasn’t a field goal last minute win — Irish needed a touch down. QB Book, despite his flaws, led Irish to an 87 yard march –and two 4th down conversions–(thank-you Chase Clapool). Book ain’t elite we know that — but that drive just might go down in one of Irish best come backs ever–as Frank says — from the jaws of defeat.

    2. I shamed him into it! Finally….an actual football comment!!
      Regina George blinked.

      To the rest of the board: you’re welcome.
      Next…..getting Jack Swarbrick to pull the cord…..

      1. Ron, the memory will be especially strong for the children who saw it…and powerful…the images of that last drive will be what they are, defining ND in their minds, without any context of our underachieving in the red zone that day. And it will be far more indelible than if we had beat them 31 – 10, as we probably should have.

        As for you, David, I think someone should throw water on you, and melt you, my little pretty…and your little dog too!

        BGC ’77 ’82

  6. Frank, you listed 6 drives in the middle of the game (more or less) where ND’s offense stalled, or worse, gave up points. But against NAVY, who everyone around here has labeled as a lousy team, we might not get more than 6 possessions all game, if their version of the bone is working. And apparently, NAVY’s Coach has a sense of humor…he’s added a pass defense to his team this year…likely making it the best NAVY team we’ve seen since 1963!

    BGC ’77 ’82

  7. I still say Kelly needs to get rid of Long and Reese and hire 2 great offensive coaches and let them have complete control of the offense.This is what PennState and TCU did in 2017 and what LSU did this year. Those teams were all bad on offense the previous year and with the new coaches they average 45 to 50 points a game with basically much of the same talent.Burrows was at LSU last year. Mcsorley was at PennState and the TCU qb was there the year before too.

    1. MTA , no doubt Drew White , Bilal, JOK–are getting better each game. Hamilton ? He’s only just getting started –wait till next year. Like the addition of Pryor , transfer from Ohio State to hopefully strengthen the secondary.

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