4 Under The Radar Trends For Notre Dame Football In 2020

Of all the teams of the Brian Kelly era, I think I have the least amount of feel for this one. Notre Dame’s top five ranking is brought up a lot on the message boards and social media, with most wondering “are they really that good?” In truth, they don’t feel like a top three or top four team. They haven’t shown the explosiveness on offense and they aren’t really dynamic on defense, forcing turnovers and sacks, etc.

But, then again, when you win your games and you started the season ranked high and the people above you start losing, then you rise in the rankings. That’s how it’s worked since the beginning of time. And this will all sort itself out in the end, so while it gives us something to go back and forth about, the question will be answered for us eventually.

In trying to get a feel for what this team is though, I tried to take a birds eye view of the team, what they are good at, and what they are not, and came up with some things I haven’t seen discussed much.

TaRiq Bracy Is Really Good

For a junior who has played a lot since his true freshman season, Bracy is a pretty overlooked player. We all point to Nick McCloud as being Notre Dame’s best corner, almost by default, and while he has played well, Bracy has been very good for Clark Lea‘s defense playing the field this year.

Keeping in mind he missed the game against USF entirely due to COVID related reasons, Bracy is second on the team in tackles, with 18 (all solo), has two tackles for loss, and is tied for the team lead in break-ups with three. It is his small stature and the lack of elite athletic ability that contributes to his being overlooked for being as good as he is, plus his struggles late in his freshman season against USC that hangs in the minds of fans. (Should be noted those struggles came against Michael Pittman who was a finalist for the Bilitnikoff Award a year later.)

Bracy has always been effective with the ball in the air, doesn’t give up much after the catch, and is constantly around the ball. He’s also been a lot better in run support than would have been anticipated given his stature.

3rd And Short Conversions Are A Strength

This is one that can be filed under assumed and now confirmed. Being able to run for first downs has always been a bit of a telltale sign for the offensive line and running game and this year, so far, all the trends are pointing up.

The team has run the ball 18 times on 3rd down and between 1-3 yards, converting 12 of those into first downs, a 67% clip. At the current rate they will convert 36 first downs on the (12 game) season in this situations. Both numbers are notable improvements from last year, when they only converted 20 first downs in 13 games on a 50% conversion rate. That total first downs number could double by seasons end.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious, but worth noting. First, the line is playing at a much higher level. They are moving teams off the ball and winning at the point of attack much more consistently. Second, they have a backfield running behind them much more adept at finding holes and grinding for extra yards. The Williams and Tyree combo has been very good, perhaps unexpectedly in short yardage.

Tackles For Loss Numbers Are Way Up

When I think about the defenders in the front seven who are playing well, the first player that pops into mind is obviously Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. This is for good reason, he’s playing very well at the moment. He’s on pace for an 18 tackle for loss, 12 game season, and has been generally wreaking havoc all over the field.

But, beyond him it’s hard to single out a player or group, other than Jack Kiser or Isaiah Foskey in limited duty. Then I took a look at the tackles for loss numbers and was genuinely shocked. Notre Dame has posted 35 tackles for loss in four games, about nine per game. Last seasons group was Brian Kelly’s high water mark for tackles for loss with 92 through 13 games, just over seven per contest. Should Notre Dame be lucky enough to play 13 games this season, they’ll be around 114.

Even more shocking are the numbers for nose tackle Kurt Hinish. Generally assumed to be a plugger for the Irish in the middle, Hinish already has four tackles for loss this season and is on pace to reach double digits. Such a tally would be a boon for the defense at a position that isn’t known for that kind of production.

Avery Davis Could Be Having A Much Bigger Season

Just speaking for myself, I’ve underestimated what Davis could bring to the lineup and have wanted to see Lawrence Keys available more than he has been (I still do want to see Keys, but I just like his talent and doesn’t have anything to do with Davis per se). I have just kind of assumed that the passing game would improve a lot more once more talent was inserted into the lineup. And maybe there are more talented players, but the slot position has been lost in the shuffle between the tight ends and running backs, and Davis has made the most of the opportunities he’s been given and Book has missed some plays where Davis was in position to make huge plays.

Davis was wide open on a seam route against FSU that Book opted to throw to Tommy Tremble instead, was open on a wheel route for a TD in the same game when Book opted to scramble for nine, and was open on a crossing route for a TD against Louisville where Book tucked the ball and ended up getting sacked. It’s not the fault of Davis the ball isn’t getting thrown to him when he’s open, and the one time he was given the chance to fight for one against Duke, he secured the touchdown and the game.

Sometimes success comes from being given the opportunity and the more opportunity Davis gets, he’s available to make plays.

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  1. Yes, I concur. Its painfully obvious that Book is not only average at best, but he’s actually been a detriment to this team. Those Avery Davis examples are just a few of the many misses by Book. Hes not seeing open guys that are right in front of him only 7-8 yards away and instead tucks the ball and gets sacked. The “coverage” sacks that he keeps taking are for the most part just Book not seeing open receivers. Its frustrating because if we can all see these things, then why aren’t Kelly and Rees? There is way too much talent on this team for Kelly to let his loyalty(stubbornness) cause a loss to an inferior opponent. Kelly has a history of playing the upperclassmen over the younger guys regardless of how much more talented the younger kids are. Hes been better the last few years, but not enough IMO. Book looks scared out there, and at times he looks downright terrified! Its gotten worse since last year, even though the O-line has improved a ton. This team has the players to compete with Clemson and Alabama, and maybe even win if they had a perfect day. With Book at the helm though, they won’t even come close to sniffing a W against those upper echelon teams. Book seems like a great kid, but its time to see what Clarke can do and let Ian be the backup.

  2. You know Book can technically come back for the 2021 season with the NCAA rules for COVID?

    “Noooooooo! Nooooooooo! No, God no! Nooooooooooooooo!” – Michael Scott

    1. No matter….Kelly will be back. And keep coming back.
      Cyclones – Cowboys will be on Fox, if you find yourself needing a mental health break.

  3. I dont mean to be a downer and I know Notredame has had problems with the wide receivers due mostly to injuries but as much as myself and everyone wasn’t Ian Book to be great, I just dont see it in him. Maybe it’s not fair to compare him to Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or Mac Jones he is not on that level. The problem is you have to have a quarterback on those guys level to beat Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. As I see it Notredame has 2 choices but only 1 for this year. Tyler Buchner in 2021 or Brandon Clark or Drew Pyne this year. The 2 problems with that are there are no guarantees with Buchner no matter how much he is hyped and Kelly will not play Pyne or Clark without Book being injured or coming down with covid. I think what Kelly should do is look at the tranfer portal. It worked for Oklahoma, LSU and Ohio State.

    1. I agree with Pete. A national title is not possible with an average QB (at best). Looking at the transfer portal is an excellent idea while Buchner is acclimating you the system. It’s clear that if ND had a good QB, reaching the playoffs is possible. The elephant in the room is Kelley’s inability to develop a QB. Look at his entire career at ND and this becomes painfully obvious. This FACT is not unknown to elite high school QBs. Until ND lands and develops a true QB, a ND title is not happening!

      1. Right on Ray. Kelly’s recruiting and development of the quarterback has been his and Notredames biggest obstacle to competing and winning big games and national championships. He recruits very well imo in other areas. This is also puzzling because when he was hired at Notredame his reputation was being a great offensive mind and everyone raved about the way he used and developed quarterbacks. Imo Charlie Weis was much better than Kelly at recruiting and developing quarterbacks. Jimmy Clausen might have been the best college quarterback in the country his junior year. Brady Quinn was very good under Charlie.

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