Notre Dame beat Duke last weekend in a rather convincing fashion. It was in many ways, the most complete game Notre Dame has played all year long. It wasn’t, however, without a few things not to like. Thankfully this week, though, the things not to like were a little harder to come by, and some are even more of the nit-picking variety. It’s a nice change following the last few weeks.
Apologies on the late posting of this column this week, work has me on the road all week and free time has been tough to come by.
1. The coverage by the ACC Network
Let’s get this one out of the way. That coverage was terrible. And terrible in a “shut up, Flutie” or a “what the heck were you watching, Terry” sort of way like the typical NBC coverage we’re subjected to regularly. For starter’s, the video quality was terrible. You’re not going to get too many people to fork over extra money towards their cable bill when you’re delivering poor quality video. It’s 2019.
The hilariously bad commercials prove just how hard of a time ESPN and the ACC are having trying to sell that second rate network. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel for sponsors right now, and nothing said that louder than the public access level ad spots.
And of course, the ACC Network had to dig up footage of Boston College beating Notre Dame in 1999 because Tim Hasselbeck was the color commentator. Pro tip ACC Network, nothing will enrage Notre Dame fans more than needlessly inserting video clips of the Irish losing to Boston College.
If you signed up for a free trial to some service just to get that network for the game, please remember to cancel.
2. Notre Dame’s lack of a running game outside of Ian Book
While it was great to see Ian Book running for 139 yards as the Irish rediscovered the QB keeper off the zone read, the lack of a running game from the Notre Dame running backs was concerning. Sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’bo Flemister did flash some promise again, but Tony Jones Jr and Jafar Armstrong both looked less than 100%. Brian Kelly has said the duo is healthy, but they looked anything but healthy on Saturday night.
Notre Dame is going to need to keep drives alive and can’t waste possessions if they want to beat Navy, and they’ll need the running game to do that. They can’t just rely on Ian Book to pace the rushing attack again this weekend. Hopefully, that means more Jahmir Smith, who has looked like the back with the best vision on the roster most of the season.
Notre Dame got 27 yards on ten carries from Jones and Armstrong. Flemister and Smith, on the other handed, combined for 73 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
3. The game nearly turning in the final four minutes of the 1st half
Lost in Notre Dame’s comfortable win over Duke was the last four minutes of the first half in which the game nearly turned in favor of the Dukies after almost a half of dominance from Notre Dame. The Irish lead 21-0 and looked like they were on the verge of going up 28-0 before a questionable holding penalty negated a 78-yard pass from Ian Book to Chris Finke.
That’s when things nearly went awry for Notre Dame.
After the Finke pass was wiped out, Notre Dame ultimately punted with Jay Bramblett netted just 22 yards on a punt. Duke, who did nothing all half to that point, scored two plays later when Donte Vaugh stumbled and let Aaron Young get behind him for a 29-yard touchdown.
Okay, not great, but not terrible, right?. Well, two plays into Notre Dame’s ensuing drive, Ian Book threw an interception that set up Duke at the Irish 45-yard line with 2:09 left. It felt like Groundhound Day for Notre Dame fans at that point. After jumping out to a 21-0 lead and looking like there were on the verge of 28-0 and were now suddenly staring at going into halftime up maybe only seven points.
Luckily for Notre Dame, Duke couldn’t move the football and then missed a field goal right before the half to keep the lead at 21-7. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t impact the end result, against a better team it could have cost Notre Dame dearly.
4. Notre Dame losing Julian Okwara for the season
Perhaps the most disappointing development from Saturday night’s win was the damper that came on Sunday when Brian Kelly announced that senior defensive end Julian Okwara was lost for the season with a broken fibula. Okwara came back for what most thought would be a monster senior season, but outside of a brief glimpse of him being a game-wrecker against Virginia, Okwara was relatively quiet most of the season. His season ended, and Notre Dame career, ended on Saturday night in Durham with just 4.0 sacks this season – 3.0 of which came in that Virginia game.
Notre Dame entered the 2019 season with unprecedented, for them, depth at the defensive end position, and it has been tested. After losing Daelin Hayes for the year earlier this season, Notre Dame decided against redshirting Jamir Jones. With Okwara now lost for the year, Jones will be a full-time starter for the final three games and the bowl game. The only positive spin on the defensive end injuries is that Notre Dame will get Hayes back for a 5th year since his injury took place so early in the year.
5. Not getting Phil Jurkovec more reps in the 4th quarter
Brian Kelly has said repeatedly that Phil Jurkovec isn’t ready yet and needs more experience. He had an opportunity to get Jurkovec some experience on Saturday night but decided against sending out the sophomore quarterback with a 31-7 lead and nearly 9:00 minutes left on the clock. Instead, he sent out starter Ian Book for one final drive.
Book led the Irish to a touchdown, so it’s hard to argue with the result, but at this point, Notre Dame isn’t playing for style points, so did that touchdown ultimately matter? Wouldn’t getting real, live snaps for a sophomore quarterback who Kelly has said time and time again this year needs to play more?
Jurkovec finally did enter the game with just over 4:00 minutes left as the Irish ran out the clock. He did not attempt a pass in the seven whole reps Kelly got him. Two of those seven, by the way, were kneel-downs.