Notre Dame Football Is Finally Who We Thought They Were

Watching Notre Dame play the last couple of games feels like the kid in the movie Hook, who, through close inspection, finally recognizes Peter Pan. “Oh, there you are, offense.” Brian Kelly said the final drive against Virginia Tech unlocked something in Ian Book and would allow him to take the necessary steps forward, and wouldn’t you know; it seems like it did.

This sort of November transformation usually isn’t the case. If there is one thing Brian Kelly teams aren’t known for, it’s surging in the season’s final full month. And this season, in particular, looked particularly ominous. They were coming off of their worst performance and loss since the 2017 season, they were officially eliminated from the playoff race, and their senior captain quarterback had yet to look good in a football game against non-New Mexico and Bowling Green caliber opponents. In short, it didn’t look good.

A nail biter against what turns out to be a pretty good Virginia Tech team, and two blowouts against Duke and the then 24th ranked team per SP+ (Navy) and suddenly this team is what was promised in the offseason–a high powered offense fueled by the passing game and a defense that creates havoc with its front seven. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the team we saw earlier in the year, but no sense crying over spilled milk, they are here now, and it’s been really fun to watch.

Ian Book’s Deep Ball Cometh

Raise your hand if you thought Ian Book was capable of hitting a player with the speed of Braden Lenzy in stride on a deep post for a touchdown. I’ll be honest, that’s not something I saw in his bag. We didn’t see that from him last season or this season. The one deep shot he hit in 2018 was the 47 yarder to Michael Young against Northwestern, a pass he had to wait for. And Young does not have the speed of the state champion sprinter Lenzy. Color analyst Doug Flutie called that his best pass of the season by far, which is debatable, but it goes to just how surprising and impressive the throw was. Flutie didn’t think he had it in him either. The behind the play camera shows it best. It was an absolute rope of a throw that was uncoverable for that poor Navy safety, who has certainly never seen the speed of someone like Lenzy.

If you’re of the feeling that this means nothing for this season and it’s all a waste anyway, there is a good chance that this combination is around to pitch and catch next year as well. So we’ve got that going for us.

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And just for good measure, there was a bit of playmaking on the run from Book in this game as well. Book hasn’t been great throwing the ball once he’s left the pocket, but the pass to Keyes to start the third quarter was a thing of beauty. He hangs in the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, good packet awareness to spin to the open area, then puts it right where he needs to for Keyes, 40 yards in the air. Love to see it.

Clark Lea’s Defense Stays Steady

Best Navy team we’ve seen in a long time they said. Malcolm Perry is a game wrecker, they said. Well, not this week. Of the two units, the defense is the one that has consistently played at a high level (except for the Michigan disaster, which I genuinely want to hear from Lea about what he thinks happened there). They entered the game ranked 23rd in SP+ defensively and left ranked 21st. Before the season, that’s a ranking that would have given Notre Dame a chance to compete for a playoff berth. It was the offense though that had been doing them in all season, and with that unit climbing all the way to 26th the last few weeks, it’s no surprise the team has a whole has taken great leaps.

The defense gave up 13 points against Virginia Tech, seven points to Duke, and when the starters left the game Saturday, the score was 45-3. The case can be made that while they’ve remained the steadiest group, they are also getting better with the age of the season.

It’s all been buoyed by the play of the linebacking crew, the surprise of not just the defense, but the entire team. Drew White, Asmar Bilal, and Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah are first, second, and 4th on the team in tackles, 2nd and tied for third in tackles for loss. They have been playmakers, solid tacklers, and reliable in every game, save for one (WHAT HAPPENED AGAINST MICHIGAN!!).

With the play of the linebackers, the solid play of the surging defensive line, and a back five that has been loathe to give up the big play and is taken to another level with freshman safety Kyle Hamilton, this is the team we thought they’d be during the preseason weeks. It’s too bad it comes after their two biggest games, but they are here now, it’s time to enjoy the ride.

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16 comments

  1. Doc Savage 4 months ago

    ChrisJ, I feel bad for you because you sound like a severely burned out ND fan. Maybe you should take a few years off and go cheer for some other team such as Georgia or Michigan
    . It’s obvious that you no longer appreciate the ND football program /team. . You want to blame the team for lack of production but you totally forgot that it’s not them it’s the lack of production from the coaching.

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    1. ChrisJ 4 months ago

      Hey Doc, I agree the majority of it is the coaching which I have complained about all season long. But part of coaching is playing the best players, not necessarily your veterans. Is Kyle Hamilton starting at safety yet?

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    2. david 4 months ago

      Testify, brother! I can attest that this is damn good advice, Chris. There are some wildly entertaining games on TV every week.
      And if ND ever fires Brian Kelly, there’ll be time to pick it back up and follow along again.

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    3. ndcrazymike 4 months ago

      Everybody expects 12-0 every year Chris J not the only one complaining every year, every game win or lose. Fire the Coach is the oldest excuse from facing the reality that the team is what it is, a top 10 team maybe! STILL lacks the talent of the top 5 teams! Sad to say the experts on this site haven’t been contacted for the HC job!!

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  2. Robert Kennedy Anderson 4 months ago

    I really do NOT think Jurkovich is the answer. I would welcome another season with Book at the helm. I think the kid has some real MOXY and has a better than average arm. Jurkovich just doesn’t seem confident or poised. I’m not sure he is as football smart as Book is. People always love the back up quarterback UNTIL HE BECOMES THE STARTER. I too would like to know what the HELL happened against MICHIGAN. I don’t think it was all Book’s fault. It was a meltdown from A-Z. As for Kelly, I think 125 other teams would love to have him. I DO think he is ELITE and WILL GET THE TITLE before he is done at ND.

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  3. ChrisJ 4 months ago

    More impressive than anything Book did was Jurkovec’s very first throw to Lenzy from the right hash all the way to the wide side of the field on a 15 yard hitch all while standing tall in the pocket and taking a hit right to his chest from a blitzer coming full speed right as he was throwing the ball. The ball had some serious zip and Lenzy made the catch just outside of the DB coming over for a really impressive completion. That’s an NFL throw and more importantly, it was a throw that proves that Jurkovec has a higher upside than Ian Book.

    Does anyone think Book could have made that throw because I sure as hell don’t!? We all know Book would have seen that pressure coming right in his face and would have just tried to scramble away from it rather than hanging in there and making the hard throw on a longer developing play. The point is these throws are open if Book just stays in the pocket and lets them develop like Jurkovec did. Against good teams, there are going to be times where you have to take the hit to make the big play. Book won’t do it, ever, guaranteed. AND…he doesn’t have the arm strength to make that throw period anyway.

    Is anyone really impressed with Book beating up on might Duke and Navy? I myself can throw a ball 50 yards through the air to a guy who has 10 steps worth of space on a DB in Lenzy. Chase Claypool could have caught 8 TDs if the coaches would have wanted him to and that could have been with Finke throwing to him. There was nobody that could cover any of our guys in the last two games. I’m not impressed by Book and think this is a turnaround of our offense in games against two of our weakest opponents on our schedule.

    I’m not sure why this article says “Notre Dame Football Is Finally Who We Thought They Were”. We knew this right after the GA game and the Michigan game confirmed it. To sum that up…we have a good defense, decent special teams, and an offense that can score against garbage opponents but against good teams will be shut down. Welcome to 2020 ND football as long as Book is the starting QB. Oh btw for you stat guys…Book is at a 58% completion percentage for the season. Wasn’t this supposed to be his strength?? Hmm….

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  4. Joe 4 months ago

    Look at Bob.!!?? He has is nose deep in Irish ass. Not a fan but fanatically obsessed with Notre Dame.?

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  5. Sam 4 months ago

    Statistically Book is going to complete some of the deep throws. Consistently I don’t see it being there so I’m still not sold on him being the starter next season and leading this team to the playoffs or even a win against a better team in a bowl game this year. He has found his stride again with the touch passes and intermediate routes but then it has been against Duke and Navy. He should have another big game against BC this coming weekend but the Stanford game will tell. They are going to be pissed about their season and looking to make a statement.

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  6. Damian 4 months ago

    It’s nice to see Book playing strong again. But as I noted on another thread, is he really over the hump or is it just Duke and an overrated Navy team? He’ll get a chance to prove himself to some point. If they win out they’ll probably get a NY Day 6 bowl and that should be against a decent, if not strong team. That should give us an inkling on whether Book just does very well against weaker competition or if he’s the real deal even against good competition.
    I have this irrational fear, however, that he does enough to be the clear starter for next year and a frustrated Jurkovec decides to move on elsewhere and is gone. Then Book comes back next year only to lose one or two big games badly like we did against Michigan knocking us out of contention again while Jurkovec lights it up somewhere else. Now our previous QB’s who have transferred have not fared well at all, but that was after they were a clear starter at least for some period of time and regressed under BK after a strong start. Jurkovec has never started so I’m really not sure what he brings to the table. All I really know about him is he was a highly touted QB recruit, supposedly more so than Book (and with a bit more hype than Wimbush came in with if I recall correctly).
    Is Book national championship material? Is he an elite talent? As much as he’s improved since that last drive against VT, I honestly can’t say yes at this point. Not until I see him face a really good defense. He’s good enough to beat teams we should beat most weeks. But the question is, is he good enough to beat teams we’re not supposed to beat? Now, I’m not saying no either. But until I see him go against a really good defense and come out on top I can’t say yes.

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  7. pete calco 4 months ago

    Mike Frank Notredame reporter said a couple of things about Brian Kelly which I found very interesting. He said that he feels that Brian Kelly needs to take a more assertive big game approach different from other games when Notredame plays these big games such as Georgia and Michigan this year. He mentioned how Lou and Ara would really fire up their teams for the big games. and really come up with great game plans adding wrinkles etc . Also said Kelly is afraid to play some of the talented younger players over more experienced but not as talented veteran players for fear the younger players will make more mistakes.He mentioned starting Fink and McKinley instead of Lenzy and Keys for example even when they were healthy. Lenzy is electric and needs to have many more touches. Same with Keys.Kid is really quick. I realize it was navy but Lenzy outran USC players and they aren’t slow buy any means. Also Keys made some down field catches against Georgia and Virginia.Two very good defensive teams.

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    1. david 4 months ago

      That isn’t fair…..Lou and Ara were great coaches.

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  8. Corey 4 months ago

    This is a top 10 team. The Michigan loss was a huge skid mark and hate how severely punished Notre Dame is for that loss. People seem to forget Athens in a playoff atmosphere and ND with a chance to win down by 6 nobody predicted that. But it will be ok I see utah, oregon, Penn st, Baylor, Minnesota all losing a game, maybe either or with Utah and oregon, and Michigan losing or beating OSU.. At this point I don’t know who to root for, probably OSU, that hurt typing that, but that would move ND up in the polls. If ND remains hot and wins out I can literally and figuratively see them in a ny6 bowl.. A camping world stadium or citrus bowl whatever would be an insult seeing it would be a matchup vs Cincinnati or Memphis or some opponent that shouldn’t be in the top 25

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  9. david 4 months ago

    Camping World Bowl!
    Tons of sweet outdoorsy swag….and maybe gonna win it all !
    Suck it, disappointed genuine contenders !

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    1. SteelFanBob 4 months ago

      You are a sad, sad small human being.

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      1. SteelFanRob 4 months ago

        Imitation isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery, Bob!

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      2. david 4 months ago

        You seem just fine, though.

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