The unique thing about the run-up to the 2020 Notre Dame season is for the first time in a long time (ever?) we’re all dealing with the same information. No one has had access to a practice, and there was no spring game for the fans to take in a judge for themselves. Everything we know about this team has been given to us from the coaches, and short little video clips posted online.
Consequently, there are many more unknowns and questions associated with the team this season, and we’ll finally get some of those answers on Saturday. Here are some of the things I’ll be watching for that could tell us more than how the actual game might turn out.
How Elusive Are Chris Tyree And Kyren Williams?
Every other back on the roster we’ve seen carry the ball and we know what they are about. One of the weaknesses of the running game last season was the inability of the backs to make people miss, either in the open field or in the hole. Generally, the backs got what the line gave them. To get the most out of the running game, running backs need to create space and opportunities for themselves.
Luckily, there is good reason to believe this is an area where Tyree and Williams can excel. Both players were excellent in open spaces in high school, Williams especially has a good amount of wiggle in his running style.
It is reasonable to expect the offensive line to improve in their run blocking, but if Notre Dame has lead backs who can be dangerous after the line has done its job, that is a formula for the type of running game that threatens teams week to week, a la 2015 and 2017.
Can Notre Dame Create Explosiveness In The Passing Game?
Plenty of people have weighed in the Notre Dame depth chart and regardless of who starts the only thing that matters at this point is how the performance looks. I think given the size and style of play with Ben Skrowronek and Javon McKinley, we can expect Notre Dame will be successful in the intermediate game; curls, digs, back shoulder fades, things of that nature. Despite Mckinley’s saunter through the New Mexico secondary, dynamic running after the catch isn’t a big expectation from him, and certainly not Skrowronek who didn’t display that type of skill set at Northwestern.
Certainly Notre Dame wants explosiveness out of Avery Davis, but again, aside from a long run against New Mexico when it wasn’t clear he even had the ball, we haven’t seen that. We have seen it from backup Braden Lenzy and Notre Dame put Lawrence Keys on kickoff returns, so they at least believe it’s there.
The question though is will explosiveness manifest itself during the game? The best and most dangerous offenses are able to score quickly, it gives the defense less time to right itself. A few more four play scoring drives with damage done through the air puts the defense on its heals and opens up everything else. I can see how Notre Dame would be a methodical team, I want to see how they can be an explosive team.
Can Notre Dame Protect The Passer And Rush The Passer?
This is kind of the whole thing isn’t it? I have a higher degree of confidence Notre Dame can protect Book, mostly because they were so good at it last season and all the people who were good at it are playing again this year. Stands to reason doesn’t it?
The pass rush on paper has enormous potential. Captains Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes have experience and athleticism, and Isaiah Foskey and Ovie Oghoufo ooze potential in this area. It could be a major strength for the defense. But, that’s at the moment just in theory and if it isn’t what we think it could be then the ceiling for the defense lowers a good amount.
Where Is Kyle Hamilton?
Having an elite defensive player like Hamilton is difficult for a defensive coordinator in a way it wouldn’t be for an offensive coordinator. It’s easy to just give the offensive player the ball and get the most you can out of them. But, for a defensive coordinator you can scheme their effectiveness right out of the game (see: Smith, Jaylon 2015).
You know Clark Lea has been thinking of ways to get the best out of Hamilton for the better part of the offseason, and I’m fascinated to see what he’s come up with. Brian Kelly already said they are not going to just stick him at deep safety, they want him around the ball. Getting the most out of your teams best player goes a long way towards realizing the teams ultimate potential.