Notre Dame vs South Florida: What To Watch For Today

You may have noticed an uptick in discussion of the 2011 season opener against the Bulls, that ended…not so well. Could be related to Notre Dame’s opponent this weekend–the South Florida Bulls–or it could be a coincidence. Either way, memories were re-lived that didn’t need to be re-lived and I didn’t appreciate it.

That said, I don’t have a visceral reaction to the 2011 game, which may be a minority view. When I’m reminded of that crappy day, my first thought is “oh, yeah, man that sucked” and doesn’t lead me to stare off into the distance for minutes at a time, like the game that occurred a week later in 2011.

But, if I was to vote, I’d say I’m all set not to play this team again, for the simple reason that an entire week of discussion about a terrible thing that happened almost a decade ago is something I could do without.

However, they are playing them this weekend, and there are some things I will be watching for throughout the game that could be instructive as to how the rest of the season will go.

Has Notre Dame Tweaked Their Passing Game?

This week I wrote about the discrepancy in the number of Notre Dame drop back passes (29) and their lack of efficiency (4 yards per play) vs Notre Dame’s play action/screen game (eight on 17.5 yards per play). As a comparison I went back and looked at the Clemson game against Wake Forest and charted their passing game. They ended all Trevor Lawrence possessions with 18 play action or screen passing attempts and 12 passes off of straight drop backs. Interestingly, 11 of those 12 drop backs came when they were in the two minute drill at the end of the half. Other wise it was an 18 to two ratio. In short, I’m an advocate of Notre Dame utilizing more play action into their passing game.

For one, it fits with the type of team they have. Given the backs and the line, Notre Dame will want to run the ball a lot, so it makes sense that their passing game should be a compliment to the running game. This doesn’t mean Notre Dame can’t pass to their hearts content, just give the defense something to think about every time you want to throw it.

For two, it helps a receiving corps that might need hesitation from the secondary and linebackers to get open right now. Get them moving in the wrong direction while the receivers break behind them. Four yards per drop back is incredibly inefficient when they do it 29 times.

And lastly, this is repeatable across teams. Drop back success against South Florida doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work against Florida State, or Louisville, and certainly not Clemson. Work on the things that you’ll do every week to great success.

How Deep Is The Defense?

Much more so than the offense, the defense loves to rotate players in and out of the lineup, even during the first series. Brian Kelly talked about getting more players involved at corner this week, and we know it’s unlikely Kyle Hamilton will play due to his sprained ankle from last week.

It’s one thing to insert lots of players into the lineup, but how good will they be? Can they dominate South Florida the way the starters can? Or are they treading water? Most seasons this are important but not totally essential questions because when push comes to shove, the best guys are playing in the biggest games most of the time. But, this isn’t a normal season and the odds of multiple players missing (multiple) games is way up. Getting the defense to play at a high level no matter who is in there is more paramount in 2020.

A short list of players I’m interested to see in bigger roles:

  • Houston Griffith
  • Cam Hart
  • Clarence Lewis
  • Bo Bauer
  • Jack Lamb
  • Jayson Ademilola
  • Ovie Oghoufo

What Has Chris Tyree Got For Us?

It’s my opinion that Kyren Williams is Notre Dame’s most important player on offense right now (yes, even more important than Book) because his play appears to be the least repeatable by someone beneath him. In the case of Book, could you see Brendan Clark playing similarly to the way Book played last week? I could, but I can’t see another back doing the things Williams did.

I’d like to see if Tyree can change my mind on that. He showed his signature burst on his long kickoff return and 25 yard run in the fourth quarter, but he also made some mistakes in blocking and in choosing his holes. None of this is surprising given it was his first game, but this is a nice week to see how much he’ll be able to handle once Notre Dame gets to the bulk of the season. Take some of the load off of Williams, keep him fresh, and put more on the plate of Tyree. After all, who is going to argue giving the ball more to the speedster freshman running back?

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