5 Things I Didn’t Like in Notre Dame’s Victory Over Duke

There was a lot to like in Notre Dame’s first game of the 2020 season like the fact that there was even a game. Programs like Michigan still don’t know if they will even have a season so we Irish fans should be grateful right now. Still, it was far from a perfect performance by the Irish so there was also plenty of material for this week’s five things I didn’t like column as well. Here they are.

Not using Jordan Johnson when the wide receiving corps was banged up

Notre Dame’s wide receiving corps was banged up this week, and they clearly missed Braden Lenzy as a deep threat. That is why I couldn’t understand why Notre Dame didn’t give Jordan Johnson some reps when the offense needed a jump. Fellow freshman Xavier Watts could have potentially filled that role as well.

Freshmen wide receivers have historically not done a whole lot during the Brian Kelly era. Still, with Johnson and Watts, Notre Dame has a pair of frosh who are more suited to play early than previous Notre Dame freshmen receivers. The group Notre Dame started might be great in the run game, but Duke didn’t respect the Notre Dame passing game enough with the trio that was on the field.

Johnson is a potential game-changer, and Notre Dame needs to see exactly what they have in him now to figure out if he is the kind of player who can potentially help later in the year when the schedule gets more challenging. Hopefully, we see him more this weekend against South Florida because even with a fully healthy wide receiver room, Johnson is the kind of player Notre Dame will need to beat a team like Clemson in November.

Clock management at the end of the first half

As it was happening, I couldn’t believe it. After stopping Duke on 3rd down with just under two minutes remaining, Notre Dame didn’t call time out even though they had three left. The clock just kept ticking, and the timeouts were just sitting there, waiting to be used.

By the time Notre Dame finally got the ball back after the Duke punt, they had the ball on their own 16 with just 1:05 left Duke’s 3rd down play ended with 1:55 on the clock. The Irish could have had the ball with 40 more seconds if they used the time out.

As it turns out, those 40 seconds would have been pretty handy. Notre Dame kicked a field goal with just 0:04 left on the clock with… wait for it… an unused timeout left on the board.

Days later, I still can’t figure out why Brian Kelly didn’t use a time out there.

Missed opportunities on offense

It was the first game of the year, and this team didn’t have a spring practice for all intents and purposes, so we should have expected the rust that we saw. That said, Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense left a lot of opportunities on the field

On Notre Dame’s second drive of the game, Book hit Tremble with a less than perfect pass, but a pass that hit Tremble in the hands nonetheless on third down that should have been a long catch and run. Instead, the ball hit the turf, and Notre Dame had to punt.

Notre Dame got a couple of nice gains out of its screen game, including a 75-yard pickup by Kyren Williams and a near touchdown by Jafar Armstrong. They could have had even more at the start of the second half. Notre Dame had a perfect screen to start the second half, but Book couldn’t connect with Williams again.

Notre Dame’s biggest miss of the day, though was a gimme 82-yard touchdown that Book didn’t see. In the second quarter, Book dropped back to pass while Lawrence Keys emerged out of a bunch formation without any Duke defender picking him up. It was a jailbreak. No one was within 5 yards of Keys as he broke for the endzone. Book never saw him.

Both of those last two plays could have been touchdowns if Book connects. Williams had a convoy of blockers with just two Duke defenders anywhere near the play. Keys could have walked. Against Duke, Notre Dame can miss those and overcome them. That won’t be the case in November.

Kyle Hamilton getting injured, even if it’s minor

It looked scary. After Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced a fumble in the third quarter as Duke was driving a bit, Kyle Hamilton got rolled up on, and it didn’t look good. Hamilton went down in the kind of way someone goes down when they have a significant injury. He limped off the field on his own but never returned.

Later we learned that Hamilton just suffered a lower ankle sprain and could have even returned. Brian Kelly said earlier today that Hamilton could even play this weekend when South Florida visits South Bend.

Hamilton is so essential to the Notre Dame defense for the Irish to have a chance at the Playoffs though that I don’t want to have the kind of thoughts I had while Hamilton laid on the turf again this year.

A red-zone turnover

For a brief moment, I had South Florida 2011 flashbacks. Notre Dame struggled to start the game, thunderstorms were in the forecast, and the Irish weren’t putting up many points. Then they turned the ball over in the redzone with just a one-point lead.

One play after Williams ripped off that 75-yard screen play, Book dropped back and tried to force a pass to Tommy Tremble, and it got picked off in the endzone.

A 5th-year senior, third-year starting quarterback can’t make that mistake at the goal line. Notre Dame has entirely too many weapons on offense for Book to have to force the ball to anyone down at the goal line. He’s gotta protect the football there. Especially with Notre Dame having an absolute weapon like Jonathan Doerer at placekicker, there is no need to take unnecessary chances down there.

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  1. The unique clock management strategy is a Kelly hallmark. It keeps the opposing coaching staff on edge, confused as to whether they’re up against a complete madman, a bully who’s taunting them, or a most cunning foe who’s already thinking eight or ten plays ahead.

    Enjoy another five years.

  2. Oh and one more thing and HAD to say this for NDCrazyMike….Chase Claypool’s first NFL catch was SIIIIIICCCKKKKK!!!!!! It was probably catch of the week in the NFL!

    NDCrazyMike – “Chase Claypool is not an elite receiver”….LMAO!!!

  3. Ian Book seriously looked like a backup high school QB that is scared to get hit on Saturday the way he had happy feet and throwing off his back foot a lot of the day. It was pathetic for a QB with his experience. I’m beginning to think it is simply that though…he is scared to get hit. Running laterally and taking 2 yard losses by running out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away when breaking the pocket or getting upfield and working through some contact has become the norm for Book. There were several times where just the slightest bit of pressure made Book leave the pocket and not only leave the pocket but move backwards as well. If he steps up into the pocket and lets some of those plays develop, they are wide open for big gains. This is Book’s biggest weakness and it clearly hasn’t been worked on in the off-season. Book is Book. We will beat crap teams with him and get shut down by good teams. I honestly can’t wait until he is gone and we move on to bigger and better things at QB.

    But get your records, Book. Keep running out of bounds for losses to keep that completion percentage high, buddy. Keep dinkin and dunkin. Keep benefitting from easier schedules than normal and getting your wins against crap opponents. It’s all good.

    And while Book will pass them in the record books, I’d take Brady Quinn or Jimmy Clausen over Ian Book all day every day.

  4. 5 reoccurences reappeared again last week from last season that I didn’t like .
    1.McKinley remains an unused big WR who is more or less another blocker, albeit a very effective one, who very rarely gets a pass thrown his way. 1 for 1 last game. Let the big fellow get more chances to catch some passes. See how he fares one-on-one with his excellent size and hands. Maybe TR and BK didn’t play WR Johnson because he’s not as good a blocker as McKinley. But most college teams not named Navy utilize their best WRs primarily as receivers, not blockers.
    2. Unpredictability can be an effective strategy even if you’re favored. When you say since December you’re going to run the ball, why wouldn’t Duke put 10 in the box like they did? Was it an ineffective OL as much as it was too many to block most of the first half? Duke came out with O’ formations (pistol and others) and blitzes ND hadn’t been prepared for. (Did see some ND screens though, and misdirections later, and DC Lea’s adjustments were right on again as usual).
    3. And where has Wilkins been for the last two seasons? His sideline catch was awesome and equals to more underutilization by his missing in action the last two years. How many others like him are buried on the depth chart but could be difference-makers? (see: Dexter Williams and others, such as another Williams . . .)
    4. How valuable might K. Williams have been last season had he played? One dropped screen pass in game one and he’s done?
    5. ND clock mismanagement reared its ugly head again finishing the first half!

    1. I keep hearing how good Book is as a QB. He is good at best compared to 1) Very good, 2) Excellent or 3)Elite. As Notre Dame fans we long for a Natty. Look at the programs that win titles. They have elite QBs. On the bright side, I do think we have a chance to win a title once we recruit an elite QB. Book is Book. I think a “pretty good” QB. They don’t win titles in today’s pass happy college football culture.

      1. Tim Prister said it aptly, “Chase Brice was the best quarterback on the field.” Sad state when Clemson’s backup is better than our starter. Book for some reason is not improving. I want him to succeed, but how many times are we going to watch the same mistakes being made? Keizer has fizzled in the league. 10+ years without a QB…

    2. MTA,

      Completely agree. McKinley needs to be thrown to. Johnson not playing is a joke, just like Hamilton never starting last year. Wilkins will probably turn out to be better than Finke but didn’t see the field last year. It’s repetitive of Kelly to underutilize talented players.

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