Listening to Brian Kelly talk this week about the challenges of the last few weeks dealing with practice closures, missing players, and increased workload of those available was eye opening. It really emphasized just how much we do not know about how the team is preparing and what to expect week to week. On the latest Irish Illustrated podcast, Pete Sampson of The Athletic reported a player who tested positive for COVID had participated in three padded practices in the last month. Three! There is so much going on under the hood this season, it’s hard to wrap our minds around.
Fortunately, Kelly also reported there were zero players out for COVID related reasons for the first time since September 8th, and they were finally able to have a normal week of practice. That means the team can start to grow and build from week to week. If there was ever a time where the team needed to get better as the season goes on, this is it.
When looking back at what we can confidently say we know about the team, it boils down to just a couple of things. We know they can run the ball, we’ve seen it for three games now, it’s without question the best part of the team. We also know they’ve got great tight ends and running backs, again, we’ve seen it in every contest. Beyond that, we have questions about the other position groups, hopefully as the weeks go on we can start to get more answers, and it would be best if those answers were good.
Aggressiveness In The Passing Game
As has been discussed, Notre Dame can run the ball. And not only can they run it, but they can run it for big plays. Every team watching the tape is focused on one thing and that thing is the running backs, tight ends, and offensive line on the ground. Notre Dame is very obviously focused on pounding teams and it’s a daunting task for any team to withstand the wave of blockers coming at them. This is what will open up the passing game for big plays.
We’ve seen Notre Dame take advantage of this to the tight ends on a couple of occasions, as well as Javon McKinley in the last contest. With the addition of a healthy Lenzy and Kevin Austin, the passing game should be buoyed from a big play perspective. But, there have been opportunities to give receivers down field chances, Book just has to think a little more aggressively.
As I state in the tweet, these aren’t poor plays by Book, per se. One is a scramble for eight yards on first and 10 and another is a completion on a crossing route. But, when we talk about taking chances in the passing game, this is what we are referring to. Maybe pass up the safer play for the higher reward play, with a little less chance of it being successful. No great offense ever became great by taking the safe throw. And it’s the last thing defenses want to see.
Notre Dame didn’t defend the run very well last weekend, and they did not defend the run against Louisville last year. They figure to have similar challenges with Malik Cunningham at quarterback and 1,500 yard rusher Javian Hawkins, plus a little Tutu Atwell fanciness on jet sweeps.
The word is there was a good amount of attrition on the defense the last few weeks due to the COVID shut down and everything that went along with that. Perhaps a bit of stumble was understandable with a new quarterback for Florida State and the lack of tape and preparation, but with everyone back now and a normal week, a poor performance against Louisville would put things in the time to be concerned category. We haven’t seen especially strong performances from the opening day starters at linebacker, save for JOK. The two best looking linebackers through the first three weeks have been backups Jack Kiser and Bo Bauer.
This could simply be a matter of not having enough time to develop or identify who the top performers at linebacker are, for various reasons. But, the sample size is getting to be large enough where some tough choices need to be made as far as playing time if things don’t get better.
He’s three of five on the season. Not a big deal at the moment. I’d like him to make the rest of his kicks though.
Can We Finish At The Quarterback?
Notre Dame has been getting solid pressure, without much to show for it in the sack category. Obviously, with an elusive quarterback they can make it difficult on defensive linemen to get clean shots and wrap up. But, plays are sitting out there to be made and they are being missed, and they are being missed by players with the C on the jersey’s in Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes. This isn’t a shot at those players; being in position to make plays is important, but it’s getting to be winning time for the program now and plays can’t be getting missed like this. It’s also not just a them problem, but leadership takes on many responsibilities and that includes leading from the front.