Notre Dame did what they needed to do yesterday and not a whole lot more. And that’s okay. Notre Dame went down to Atlanta and came home with an 18 point victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It wasn’t the total domination we were all hoping for, but the Irish looked like a team that had a more prominent opponent on their minds. Let’s jump into the things I liked from this one.
Daelin Hayes breaking out at just the right time
Notre Dame’s defensive line is deep and talented, but they haven’t been game wreckers so far this year. On Saturday, Daelin Hayes was a damn game wrecker. He had two sacks and two forced fumbles and was a hair shy of a 3rd sack/fumble (it was ruled an incomplete pass on review). Coming into the contest, Hayes had no sacks and just one TFL on the season.
For Notre Dame to pull off the upset this coming weekend, they need Hayes to play like that again with a similar outburst from someone like Ade Ogundeji or Isaiah Foskey. Foskey had a sack Saturday as well, giving him 3.5 on the season to pace the Irish.
Before his season-ending injury last September, Daelin Hayes was playing the best football of his career. Yesterday was the first time this season we saw Hayes reach that same level again. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come for Hayes.
Joe Wilkins finding the endzone for the first time
A couple of weeks ago, Brian Kelly said three players needed to get more reps – Joe Wilkins, Isaiah Foskey, and Jack Kiser. On Saturday, two of them made an impact for the Irish. Foskey had one of Notre Dame’s five sacks, and Joe Wilkins scored Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game on a pass from Ian Book. It was his only catch of the day.
While it was Wilkins’s only grab on the afternoon, it was great to see Notre Dame getting him involved early after he hadn’t recorded a reception since the first half of the first game of the season.
Wilkins is an intriguing option at receiver for the Irish in light of the injuries that have robbed the offense of the top two presumed game-breakers they had – Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin.
Wilkins isn’t a blazer, but in limited action, he’s shown that he is a good route runner and has more quickness near the line of scrimmage than Javon McKinley and Bennett Skowronek. The pair of graduate students have both shown they have better than advertised wheels after the catch recently, but neither is known for their quickness off the line.
I’d love to see Wilkins get an expanded role moving forward. The same goes for Avery Davis, who continues to impress me when he gets the ball in space.
Two back sets with Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams
Notre Dame finally has a pair of dynamic running backs in the same backfield. On Saturday, we saw them start to utilize them in more two running back sets. They didn’t give away too much about their intentions with the two in the game while keeping things reasonably vanilla. However, they did have this beauty in there.
However, what I loved about seeing them on the field together are the possibilities that the formation gives the offense. Both can catch the ball well; both can run the ball well. You can do a lot pre-snap with the two of them in the game to create favorable matchups. Clemson has to prepare for that now.
Remember when Notre Dame played Clemson in Death Valley, the Irish turned around the game with a wheel route touchdown to CJ Prosise. I’d love to see Notre Dame use this two back formation to get Tyree out in space lined up with a linebacker.
Holding a third straight defense under 250 yards
Notre Dame’s defense has been beyond stingy the last three weeks. Since Florida State had some success moving the ball on them in the second half a few weeks ago, they’ve held three straight opponents under 250 yards. Technically, they held a third straight opponent under 10 points as well – Kyren Williams’s fumble that Tech returned for a touchdown inflated Tech’s point total.
Georgia Tech and Pitt don’t have great offenses, but Louisville’s has been dynamic this year. Regardless, holding three straight opponents under 250 is pretty damn impressive. That streak will end next week, no doubt, but the fact remains that Notre Dame’s defense has been playing at an elite level.
The defense wasn’t perfect by any means, but they bottled up Georgia Tech most of the game just like they have been bottling offenses up all season long.
Brian Kelly being unsatisfied with an 18 point win on the road
When Brian Kelly’s post-game interview with ABC started, I cringed when I heard “winning is hard.” Kelly has said that in the past when the Irish squeaked out victories over subpar opponents in the past and it annoyed me every time. By the time Kelly got to his post game presser, however, he sounded like a coach that wasn’t satisfied with how his team played.
Kelly challenged his team to raise their “compete level” over the last two weeks follows after their mediocre showing against Louisville. Last week they answered the call. This week, they looked OK. They weren’t bad by any means, but they also looked like a top 15 team but not a top 5 team.
Kelly has not always done this in the past. Too often in the past, it seemed like Kelly was just happy to get a win regardless of how it looked. He hasn’t been shy in saying that just winning isn’t good enough anymore. It’s been a refreshing change, and I love it.