Notre Dame responded to their last-minute victory over Virginia Tech with their more complete performances of the year. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than we’ve seen them for much of the year last night on the road in Durham while posting a 38-7 win over Duke to improve to 7–2 on the season. We’ve seen the Irish score more points and have better individual defensive performances, but last night was the first time we’ve seen all three phases of the game play well against a Power 5 opponent.
Here are this week’s overreactions.
We are almost back to 2018 Ian Book, and that’s a very good thing
Ian Book is starting to look more like the quarterback we saw in 2018, who forced his way into the starting lineup and set a Notre Dame record for completion percentage in a single season. It’s taken a lot longer than anyone thought it would – most thought we’d see an even better version of what we saw last year from week one, but that isn’t what happened. Book’s performance last night, though, was very encouraging.
Notre Dame finally unleashed Book in the run game to the tune of 139 yards on 12 carries. Book ripped off multiple long runs after being relatively quiet on the ground since week one when he rushed for 81 yards. The last two weeks combined Book has 189 yards rushing, and the success running seems to be waking him up passing.
Book still turned the ball over twice and missed some throws last night, but one interception came when he got his arm hit, and another came on a jump ball on 4th down. Overall he was 18 of 32 for 181 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. There is still a lot of room for improvement there, but Book is seeing the field better the last few weeks and is making throws he wasn’t making earlier this season. If he can build on this and keep improving, the narrative around Book could be very different by season’s end.
We’re starting to see the old Chris Finke again too
After having just one game with five catches this season through the first seven games, Chris Finke has hauled in five in each of the last two games. He found the endzone twice last night too and would have had a career-high in yards had it not been for a questionable holding call on Trevor Ruhland negating a 78-yard catch and run. Finke had a 46-yard punt return that set up an Irish touchdown as well.
For whatever reason, Chris Finke was not himself the first half of the season. He was running routes short on 3rd down, dropping critical catches, and making mistakes on special teams. The last two weeks, though, we’re seeing the dependable Chris Finke that had many expecting a big season for him back in the summer. He still has under 300 yards receiving this year, but with three games left, it looks like Finke has salvaged his final season, and the Irish offense is better for it.
Would have liked to see more of Phil Jurkovec though
While it was great seeing Book rip off some big runs and find the endzone four times, the only way backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec is going to get the experience that Brian Kelly routinely cites as the reason he’s not ready for more playing time is to get on the field. With a 28-point lead in the 4th quarter, Brian Kelly sent Ian Book out for a final drive instead of giving Jurkovec a chance to run the offense in a live environment. Kelly decided against giving his backup that chance.
If Brian Kelly truly believes the lines about Jurkovec’s lack of experience that he’s been spinning this season, then why not give the kid a chance with a 28-point lead? Notre Dame is not playing for style points anymore now that the playoffs are out the window, so there was nothing to lose in getting Jurkovec some extra work. Very odd decision by Kelly, to say the least.
Clark Lea and Notre Dame proving Michigan was an aberration
Michigan had its way with the Notre Dame defense a few backs, but Clark Lea and his defense are showing that was just a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come. Since then, the Notre Dame defense has been dominant against a couple of Power 5 opponents, albeit with average offenses. Duke could not get a damn thing going last night because of the Irish defense.
Notre Dame forced seven three and outs. Another two drives ended with Duke turnovers. Another two ended on downs. Their lone score came after a bad punt set up the Blue Devils with prime field position. Overall, Duke had just 10 first downs and 197 yards of offense.
Drew White led the way with seven tackles, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah notched 1.5 tackles for loss
Chase Claypool is a monster
He won’t end the year with eye-popping numbers, but Chase Claypool is putting together one hell of a film for the NFL Draft. He continues to make tough catches week after week, and this week was no different. Claypool made a huge diving catch to set up Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game. He hauled in five passes for 97 yards and a touchdown to push his season totals to 42 receptions, 651 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The yardage and touchdowns are already career highs.
After five straight games of being held under 90 yards, Claypool 215 yards over the last two games. He has become such a reliable weapon for Ian Book that it’s a wonder why the ball wasn’t finding its way to him more in the middle part of the season.
Jahmir Smith looked like Notre Dame’s best running back
Lost in Ian Book’s big day rushing is the fact that most Notre Dame running backs struggled to run the ball last night. Tony Jones Jr and Jafar Armstrong were stuck in neutral, and it’s safe to wonder just how healthy both are right now. We still didn’t really see the much talked about two-back set that we saw briefly against Louisville, and the two backs combined for just 27 yards on 10 carries. Jahmir Smith, on the other hand, had 58 yards on eight carries, including a 40 yard run on Notre Dame’s second touchdown drive of the game.
Smith isn’t Dexter Williams or Josh Adams, but on the season, he is averaging 5.1 yards a carry and deserves more playing time over the final three games. He has displayed better vision on the other Irish running backs, and on that 40-yard run last night, we did see him hit a second gear that we haven’t really seen from him to date.