5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame’s Didn’t Take Full Advantage of Last Tune-Up

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.

Pass protection

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.

Redzone inefficiencies

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.

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  1. Just watched, should say ‘painfully’ watched the playoff game in ‘18 against Clemson. Not bad for one quarter, but then Clemson remembered the pass and, well the rest is history. With no rush, combined with no concept by the DB’s of how to defend, Clemson moved the ball at will. It had little to do with the QB they used that day, he won’t be playing Sat nite, it was all on us.
    Let’s hope they don’t embarrass us again.

  2. Now that we are all here ,meaning the Pack 8 ,I have some comments. First, taking better care of the ball has always been whyBook started over Jerkovek. Second, for making the playoffs, assuming both Clemson and ND beat everyone else on the schedule, and split with each other ,. for ND to make it we must be conference champs . Then both teams make the playoffs. But if we beat Clemson at home, then lose to Clemson in the conference champship, we go to the Orange Bowl. We will beat Clemson at home. I think Kelly knows this . That’s why he said “we have to beat Clemson twice.”
    BGC 77 82 To Duranko, Southside, and Spicy Irish. Please post some comments .

    1. Could you provide some stat for your statement: “…taking better care of the ball has always been why Book started over Jerkovek.(sp)”

      I can’t seem to pull up the stats corroborating that poor habit in his game performances at ND.
      thanks in advance.

  3. Perhaps fans should congratulate Brian Kelly on the amazingly effective job he has done implementing a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy on his team.
    While other teams take pleasure in routinely curb stomping and annihilating the lesser competition on their schedules, Kelly teams almost always go out of their way to be kind, gentle, even generous to the very least of their competition.
    Often letting them stay within striking distance, their hopes soaring, well into the 4th quarter!
    Even once in a while, booking a milestone victory for their program, leaving with an upset over the mighty Notre Dame.

    Brian Kelly…true sportsman.

    1. And then to top it off, instead of taking a knee at the end of the game, he keeps calling run plays to try and score. Why? Very unsportsmanlike and a D move if you ask me.

  4. I fully expect to see Johnson, Watts, and Keys play on Saturday. Perhaps as a duet or all three in the same set. They are unknowns to Clemson, and their presence may be a surprise to their coverage schemes.

    1. I’m hoping you’re right, but I’m guessing your 2/3 wrong- maybe Keys.
      As for their coverage schemes, Clemson will be very comfortable packing the box, and from there, blitzing and stunting Book. and playing man-to-man coverage. Be it NDs TEs or WRs or RBs, winning the one-on-one passes could be the determining factor, assuming Book has the time to find them.

  5. Excellent points. I don’t have as much of a problem with the play calling as I do the execution. Teams have figured out that loading up the LOS against the Irish is really the only way to slow down the running game. Especially in the red zone. I am betting many of the passes “called” near the goal line were dictated by a box with 8-9 defenders in it. Here is the problem: teams are making the decision to live with Book throwing rather than being gashed by the line because they know 2 things about our 3 year starter: 1 – he has happy feet and his eyes go down quickly even when he has an intact pocket – Dungy has pointed this out several times – and misses open receivers while running out of the pocket at the first sign of pressure. 2 – Book is very inconsistent and has shown a tendency to throw the occasional pass directly to the other team. How many times has he done it already this year and somehow gotten away with it? Combine that with no Claypool this year to bail out bad throws and win 50/50 balls and here we are. It’s not all Book, receivers need to do abetter job too but I guess we just have to live with it for now.

    Having said that, the only hope against Clemson is Book having a day. Venables will absolutely bring the house at him and trust that Book will panic and/or our receivers cannot win battles downfield. Here is hoping that Tremble and Mayer have about 12 catches for 3 TD’s. Go Irish!

    1. That’s very true Mick. The plays are there but execution is off. Also for some reason it seems to me Book was much more accurate on the short and medium throws 2 years ago. He has always struggled throwing the deep ball and still imo doesn’t throw deep enough. At least his first year starting he had very good accuracy on the shkrt and medium throws. Finally I dont know if Notredame is going to win this game or not but going forward next year if I were them I would really look into the tranfer pool and try to land a Justin Fields or Joe Burrow. Maybe Buchner will be the real deal but I’ll believe when I see it.

  6. I think part of the problem with the red zone is in some of the play calling. For example against Pitt 1st and goal on the 4 William’s runs in down to the 2. Second and third down Book throws incomplete and was lucky the second down throw wasn’t intercepted. Again against Georgia Tech with Notredame leading 14 to 7 they started and had a nice drive going with Tyree and Book picking up big gains down to the Tech 13 yard line. Then Reese throws 3 straight incompletions and Notredame has to settle for a field goal. True some of the plays were there with better execution but overthrows and drops stopped the chance to score touchdowns. Also I hope Book pushes the ball down the field a lot against Clemson. Throwing these short 5 yard passes with 3rd and 8 wont get it done against Clemson.Even if he doesn’t connect on these deep throws he will help the running game because he will prevent Clemsons dbs from crashing down on the running game.

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