Notre Dame is back in action this weekend for their second game of the season and their first and only non-conference game of the year. South Florida with their young offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis Jr, arrive for their second appearance in Notre Dame Stadium in the first of a three-game series the two schools agreed to over the summer.
Things That Worry Me This Week
2011 flashbacks. Honestly, this might be the only thing I am legitimately worried about this weekend. That 2011 nightmare was so bad that Notre Dame fans still talk about it almost a decade later. It was, in many ways, a microcosm of Note Dame in the early days of the Brian Kelly era before Kelly started to turn things around.
That game really had it all, didn’t it? Quarterback changes. Awful red-zone turnovers. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Purple-faced Brian Kelly screaming on the sidelines. Times have changed quite a bit since those days.
If Notre Dame starts slow or turns it over in the red zone though – like they did last weekend – those flashbacks will begin to creep back into everyone’s memories.
Notre Dame being too vanilla. If I have a worry on offense, it’s that Notre Dame comes out too vanilla and boring. Greg did a great breakdown of how Notre Dame relied too much on simple dropbacks last weekend when that isn’t the strength of Ian Book‘s game. And I get it for week one after the weird off-season. But this weekend? Notre Dame needs to start opening it up a bit and letting Book roll out and work off of more misdirection/play action.
Getting Braden Lenzy back should help simply because moving him around pre-snap should terrify most defenses and get them off-balance. Tommy Rees needs to be a bit more creative to start the game this week, though. I liked the way he started using the screen game as the game wore on last week. Hopefully, we see some different wrinkles out of Rees’ playcalling this weekend.
Things That Don’t Worry Me This Week
Ian Book bouncing back. Ian Book did not have the best start to the 2020 season. He threw a redzone interception, held on to the ball too long, and missed some big plays that were there for the taking. It was a bit alarming since some of the issues we saw Book make were the same issues we saw him make in 2019. I think we’ll see a bounce-back performance this week.
Book was playing last week without his top two receivers, and Rees’s playcalling didn’t do him too many favors. With Lenzy back and McKinley on the boundary, I think we’ll see the Book we saw in the second half of 2019, not the one we saw at the beginning of 2019 and again last weekend.
Now, if Book struggles again on Saturday, then we have something to worry about. For now, though, I’ll chalk up last week to first week kinks and timing issues from not getting a ton of reps with the receivers he was playing with last weekend. Maybe that’s a healthy dose of gold-tinted optimism, but that’s what I’m going with for this week.
Kyle Hamilton potentially sitting this one out. Brian Kelly said on Thursday that Hamilton was still day-to-day, but let’s be real. Why would Notre Dame play Hamilton on a bump ankle against South Florida when he is so important to the Notre Dame defense? There’s just no reason to.
Assuming Hamilton is out this weekend, I’m still not worried about Notre Dame’s safety play with a combination of Houston Griffith, Isaiah Pryor, KJ Wallace, and DJ Brown rotating in. Notre Dame will miss Hamilton’s ubiquitous presence, but his replacements have more than enough talent for the Irish to be just fine defensively.
Notre Dame fans should just be happy that Hamilton only suffered a sprained ankle with how it looked last Saturday anyway. Rest the All-American up and have him ready when the schedule toughens up.
Notre Dame’s running game. Notre Dame got off to a slow start running the ball last weekend, but they were looking a lot better by the end of the game. This week, I’ll be shocked if the Irish don’t run for over 200 yards. Their second-half bounce back was part wearing down Duke physically and part adjusting to the new blocking schemes Tommy Rees and Jeff Quinn implemented.
I am expecting another 100+ yard outing from Kyren Williams and some more big runs from Chris Tyree. The freshman speedster showed glimpses last week and should continue to do so against a weaker opponent.
Players I’m Watching This Week
- Houston Griffith / Isaiah Pryor – Since I am not expecting Hamilton to play this weekend, I’ll closely watch Griffith and Pryor this weekend.
- Braden Lenzy – It’s been too long since we saw Lenzy get a jet sweep and make everyone else look like they are standing still. It’ll also be fun to see Notre Dame’s first #0.
- Joe Wilkins – He caught everything thrown his way last weekend. Get this kid the ball more.
- Chris Tyree – We got glimpses of Tyree’s speed last weekend. Tomorrow I think we see Notre Dame get Tyree out in space on a screen or two.
- Shayne Simon – With all of Duke’s passing, we didn’t see Simon a whole lot, but that should change this weekend. Similar to how Asmar Bilal broke out in week two last year, Simon could this year.
- Isaiah Foskey – He looked unblockable in part because Duke just decided not to block him. Let’s see if USF makes the same mistake or if it matters since Foskey looks like a beast.
- Michael Mayer – Baby Gronk earned the nickname last weekend. I’m looking for him to be more involved in the passing game this weekend.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – Because I am contractually obligated to as founder, president, and chairman of the JOK fan club.
Last Week’s Prediction
I didn’t account for as much rust as we saw out of the Irish last weekend. I had Notre Dame winning 35-17. Had Ian Book not thrown that redzone pick, that would have looked a lot better. I was also a bit too bullish on Tommy Rees’s first game playcalling as Notre Dame’s OC. Rees got off to a slow start, but expect to see some more creativity out of him this weekend.
If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I think the Notre Dame offense will look a lot better this weekend. It still won’t be a finished product, and I don’t expect Rees to showcase everything. I do, however, expect to see much better execution from the entire offense and don’t see South Florida being able to muster up much offensively.
Notre Dame 45, South Florida 17