Notre Dame’s final tune-up before the much-anticipated showdown with Clemson this weekend ended much the way the majority of Notre Dame games have this year – an Irish win that was solid but unspectacular. For the most part, the Irish were efficient in their 31-13 road win over Georgia Tech but failed to take advantage of one of the worst defenses in the ACC. There was plenty to like, but at the same time, there was more than enough not to like to give Irish fans some concern for this weekend.
A less than stellar passing performance
Any hope that Notre Dame fans had of Saturday being a breakthrough passing performance in advance of this weekend’s Clemson showdown evaporated pretty quickly when the Irish methodically plodded down the field on a 15-play, nearly 9:00 drive ending in a touchdown. It was emblematic of the Irish gameplan for the day – stay conservative, be efficient, and get out with the win.
That was fine for taking care of Georgia Tech, but we still haven’t seen the Irish passing attack perform at a level that suggests it will be able to push the ball against Clemson. Reminder: Trevor Lawrence’s absence this weekend won’t impact the Clemson secondary.
Ian Book finished the game with less than 200 yards for the third time in six games this season. He still has just one 300-yard performance. Against Tech, he was 18 of 26 for 199 yards and only a single touchdown. Not bad stats for his QBR, but not the kind of stats that instill a lot of confidence heading into Clemson.
Part of the reason Book wasn’t overly impressive on Saturday was due to some uncharacteristically poor pass protection. For the most part this year, pass protection has been excellent. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, however, with the Yellow Jacket defense dialing up pressure. They only ended the game with 2.0 sacks, but they got more pressure than we’ve been used to seeing this year. Another ominous sign heading into Clemson given how much better the Tiger defense is compared to a Georgia Tech defense that’s been scored on at will this year.
Overall the line was solid on Saturday, but the Irish will need the line to be more than solid this weekend. They’ll need to be elite.
No snaps for Jordan Johnson or Xavier Watts
At least this week, we got to see Jordan Johnson on the sideline after he didn’t travel with the team to Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but neither he nor Xavier Watts got any snaps. With how bad the Georgia Tech defense is, there was not much downside at all to giving the freshmen some reps and starting to get them ready. Notre Dame’s offense has lacked explosion in the passing game so far this year, and both offer some hope for that in the future.
Ian Book raved about Johnson’s practice performance last week heading into the game, so it’s a bit head-scratching that Johnson didn’t get any action.
The same could be said for Lawrence Keys, who returned from a concussion and was barely used. He did have a chance for a huge play in the second half down the seam, but Book didn’t see him and instead took a check down. Notre Dame will most likely need some wide receiver who hasn’t had a significant impact so far this year to step up this weekend.
Ian Book missing Tommy Tremble for an easy touchdown
While the game plan seemed to be pretty vanilla by design, it didn’t help that Book missed some big plays that were there to be had. The Keys play mentioned above was one, but the most egregious was a missed touchdown to Tommy Tremble.
Book rolled to his right and had Tremble wide open with what should have been an easy score, but the pass sailed over Tremble’s head. It wasn’t an overly difficult throw and is one that absolutely has to be made this weekend if it’s there. If Notre Dame misses touchdowns like that against Clemson, the Irish will not have much of a chance.
Notre Dame did appear to try to get Tremble more involved in the passing game, which was encouraging, but without explosive wide receivers, the Irish will need their elite tight ends to make plays.
The redzone has not been a strength for the Notre Dame offense this year, and those struggles continued on Saturday. Notre Dame made seven trips into the redzone on the afternoon but only scored touchdowns on four of those attempts. One of those failed attempts was the final drive of the game where C’bo Flemister was stopped at the one-yard line on the final play of the game, but the other two attempts ended with a fumble that was scooped and scored, and a 32-yard field goal after Book missed Tremble on the play above.
On the season, Notre Dame has scored touchdowns on just 19 of 33 trips into the redzone and has come away with 0 points on eight different trips. A few of those have been end of game drives that are skewing the numbers, but overall the Irish have not been overly impressive in the redzone.