After three weeks off following a COVID-19 outbreak, the biggest thing to like in Notre Dame’s 42-26 victories Saturday night was just the fact that there was a game of Notre Dame football again. It took a lot to get back on the field for the Irish, but they did it and won relatively easy. That wasn’t all there was to like in Notre Dame’s third win of the season; here are this week’s five things I liked.
The running of Kyren Williams
I mentioned this in my immediate overreactions post, but it is worth mentioning again, Kyren Williams is one hell of a running back. At this point, I have no idea why he wasn’t able to see the field more last year because he shows just a natural feel for the position, unlike anything we’ve seen in a while.
What made Williams night so impressive to me wasn’t the 47-yard touchdown or the 65 yard gain in the first quarter. It was all of the 4-5 yard runs he had where it looked like he’d be stopped for no gain, but made defenders miss and turn nothing into something. It was also his other moderate gains where maybe he didn’t have to make someone miss, but he did have to use his vision to maximize yields.
With Williams’s big night, he now has 359 yards on the season and is averaging 7.5 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He is the kind of running back that will make a difference against Clemson because unlike some other backs we’ve had in recent years that racked up big yards at times; he doesn’t need huge holes to exploit to do so.
Javon McKinley’s big night
Notre Dame’s wide receiver corps is still a bit in flux with Kevin Austin’s return, only generating a couple of targets, but it was hard not to feel good for Javon McKinley. Coming into the game, McKinley had just one reception on the season, but he hauled in five passes for 107 yards on Saturday night. Those five receptions tied his previous career-high set last year against Bowling Green.
It was great to see any wide receiver for Notre Dame make an impact given the lack of production the Irish have had from the group this year. Having that receiver be the 5th year senior who has had a bit of a tumultuous career after being a top-100 recruit out of high school made it even more special, though.
Notre Dame still needs much more production out of the position and its passing game as a whole, but it was positive seeing McKinley get open downfield and catch everything Book throws his way. Hopefully, the more McKinley catches, the more Book’s confidence in him grows because we’ve seen Book develop trust with receivers throughout a season before.
Ian Book throwing more deep balls
Ian Book unleashed a few deep balls on Saturday night – more than we are used to seeing him throw. Now, he didn’t connect on any of them other than a perfectly placed 38 yarder to Javon McKinley. Still, the fact that he threw them is significant because elite defenses will force him to connect on a few of those later this season.
Brian Kelly said that throwing the ball downfield more was something Book came to the coaching staff about preparing for Florida State. The next step is connecting on more of those throws, but after not pushing the ball downfield against Duke or South Florida, it was a positive development.
Notre Dame can probably win almost every game on the schedule this yeat without taking shots downfield, but they won’t have a chance against Clemson without it and could struggle against North Carolina as well.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s big hit
It was not a banner night for the Notre Dame defense. Florida State racked up 405 yards of offense, and even though they were set up with short fields t defend at times, they still gave up 26 points to a team that had struggled on offense all year. There were a few bright spots, though. One of those was Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah’s highlight reel hit in the second half.
This hit was textbook from JOK. It would have been very easy for him to lose control there and make contact with his helmet from poor form, but he was careful to make shoulder to shoulder contact for a clean hit that will now be on every single draft tape of his.
JOK has been living up to the hype all season long, and he was very active again on Saturday night. He had two more TFL against Florida State and now has 4.0 TFL on the season.
Aaron Banks versatility
Liam Eichenberg had to leave the field on Saturday night and head into the locker room after an eye injury caused his left eye to swell up. With their best offensive linemen in the locker room, Notre Dame slid starting left guard Aaron Banks over to left tackle and inserted Dillan Gibbons in at guard. The Irish offensive line didn’t miss a beat.
Aaron Banks looks like this year’s “veteran who some thought could lose his starting job who becomes dominant.” Last year it was Asmar Bilal; this year, it looks like its Banks, who is playing up to his potential in 2020.
The Notre Dame offensive line has been downright dominant throughout the first three games and looks like it could be as good as the 2017 group that won the Joe Moore Award while featuring two future top-10 picks (Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey).
Even if the NCAA hadn’t granted every player a “free year” of eligibility this year, Banks could have returned in 2021. He is playing at a level that will make his decision much more difficult at the end of the year. If he continues to play like he is, Notre Dame could be replacing four starters on the OL next year.