Notre Dame’s had a season it would like to forget injury-wise in 2021, yet they just keep winning football games. Over the weekend, the undermanned Irish traveled to Charlottesville amid another week of chaos that impacted their player availability even more. Luckily for Notre Dame, Virginia had its own issues to deal with injury-wise with Brennan Armstrong out. Still, the Irish managed to not only survive another week of mounting injuries, but they managed to find some more long-term pieces in the process – all while winning by 25 points on the road. Not too bad.
Notre Dame’s resiliency
Notre Dame has passed the breaking point anyone would have imagined possible injury-wise in the pre-season. Marist Liufau, Avery Davis, Joe Wilkins, Shayne Simon, Paul Moala, Blake Fisher are all out for the year. And we can likely add Kyle Hamilton‘s name to that list after Brian Kelly said that his injury timeframe was probably about six weeks (from initial injury) which would take him into the post-season.
On top of all of that, Notre Dame lost two more starters for the Virginia game at the last minute, with Drew White and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa forced to sit out with 100+ fevers from the flu. In all, 13 different players missed practice time last week as the flu ran through the locker room and throughout campus. Four of the seven captains for this year were unavailable in total.
A lot of lesser teams would have folded in similar situations. Notre Dame not only managed to prevail, but they also won the game by 25 points. And some fans are still upset they didn’t win by more. Everyone ought to take a second and think about all the challenges this team has faced and just kept winning. This isn’t Madden where it’s just plug-and-play in situations like these. Kudos to the staff for keeping the team together and focused.
Logan Diggs hurdle
You can’t talk about things you like from this game without talking about the Logan Diggs hurdle. It was one of the most ridiculous runs you’ll see a running back make. The defender Diggs hurdled – and cleared – is 6’2″. From takeoff to landing, he traveled four yards. And then he landed on his feet and picked up right where he left off. If the sideline wasn’t there, he might have gone all the way.
The emergence of Diggs over the last few weeks is significant not only for the remainder of the season but for 2022. Assuming Kyren Williams heads to the NFL, Diggs looks like he’ll form an impressive duo with Chris Tyree, who we’ve still yet to see be unleashed since his injury.
It’s still crazy to think how lucky Notre Dame was to land Diggs so quickly after their all-in attempt to land Will Shipley backfired.
Lorenzo Styles & Braden Lenzy both getting carries
I’ve been calling for either jet sweeps, pop passes, or end-around for Braden Lenzy all year long because he is so good at them, and we finally got another one. It took until the USC game for Lenzy to get his first carry and then another three games for the next one. Lenzy has two rushing attempts for 45 yards this year. In 2019, he ran the ball 13 times and averaged 15.4 yards a carry. Notre Dame needs to keep getting him the ball in those situations.
Notre Dame also got Lorenzo Styles involved in the run game. Styles could be just as a factor, if not more so, than Lenzy in this capacity because Styles is more of a natural runner versus Lenzy being more of a pure speed threat. It’s a shame that Deion Colzie got flagged for the holding to take Styles’ touchdown away, but as is, he picked up 37 yards on his lone attempt.
When Notre Dame has Tyler Buchner in the game – who is also a running threat – these two could have opportunities for even more big plays.
Rylie Mills breakout game
With Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa out, Notre Dame turns to Rylie Mills even though Mills played inside all season long. He responded with a breakout performance. The official stat sheet gave him credit for 2.0 sacks, but Brian Kelly keeps referencing 3.0, so it sounds like internally the Irish gave him credit for one the official scorekeeper gave to someone else. Either way, Mills was a menace all night long.
Back in the spring, I wrote that I thought Mills might make more sense to kick outside as a defensive end than Tagovailoa-Amosa because of his length, and on Saturday night, he made that observation seem wise. Depending on who returns/doesn’t return for Notre Dame in 2022, Mills as an SDE could be another long-term piece for the Irish.
Notre Dame possibly finding some long-term pieces in the secondary
Perhaps the most significant potential pieces Notre Dame found amid another week of chaos, however, were at the back end of the secondary. Playing with Hamilton again, Notre Dame turned to cornerback Ramon Henderson and converted WR turned ROVER turned safety Xavier Watts. Both responded as well as anyone could have hoped.
Henderson made the defensive play of the night was his interception, while Watts was second on the team in tackles. Given the uncertainty with the position in 2022, if either, or better yet both, can be long-term solutions, it would solve one of the most prominent off-season question marks before the off-season even gets here.
Add in DJ Brown, who recorded another interception and is developing a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and the losses in the secondary might have helped Notre Dame find their safety duo for 2022. It’s still early for both, but the way both flashed, it has to have Chris O’Leary and Marcus Freeman pretty excited.