Notre Dame is headed to the College Football Playoffs. Sure we have to wait another week and a half to hear that officially, but with last night’s 24-17 win over rival USC, the Irish capped off a perfect 12-0 regular season and are all but guaranteed one of the four spots in the CFP for the first time in program history. There’s a lot to unwrap in this one and there was plenty to like and dislike as the Irish struggled to put away the a Trojan team that was just waiting to be put out of their misery. As always, let’s start with what I liked.
1. Notre Dame winning and staying undefeated
This is obviously the thing to like the most about Notre Dame’s win last night. I would have loved for Notre Dame to win more convincingly like they are capable of. Hell, I predicted a 42-17 Notre Dame win. At the end of the day though, Notre Dame won the game. They won 12 games this season. In fact they have won every game they played this season. And the Irish are headed to the College Football Playoffs.
I am sure there are some who will spend the next week and a half trying to justify moving Notre Dame to #4 in the rankings because they struggled against USC and don’t have a conference championship game to play in, but the whole 13th data point is a myth anyway when a team also plays a FCS school. Pitt’s loss yesterday will rob Notre Dame of one of their wins over a ranked opponent since the Panthers will fall out, but they will still have three wins over ranked opponents.
Wake Forest and Vanderbilt both, however, became bowl eligible with big wins yesterday. Virginia Tech will likely become bowl eligible next weekend with a win. That’s 8 wins against teams headed to bowl games.
If the committee actually looks at Notre Dame’s November schedule and sees that the Irish were on the road 4 of the last 5 weeks and navigated that 5-0 without playing a FCS tuneup game like the other playoff contenders, there is no reasonable way they could justify moving anyone with a loss over the Irish especially if the options are Ohio State and Oklahoma. Now, if Georgia beats Alabama I could see a scenario of Notre Dame being ranked 4th, but that would then still give them a matchup versus Clemson like they are currently slated for assuming the Tigers beat Pitt next weekend.
2. Miles Boykin’s block on the Tony Jones Jr TD
Tony Jones Jr might have scored on his 51 yard screen pass from Ian Book even if Miles Boykin didn’t lay a devastating block as Jones cut back inside once he raced inside the 20, but do any of you want to live in a world in which Boykin doesn’t throw that block? I know I don’t. Here it is if you want to watch it over and over again.
Into my veins. https://t.co/I7tYBn2FwV
— UHND.com (@uhnd) November 25, 2018
Not only did Boykin lay a devastating block, but he made sure he got in front of Jordan McMillan so that he didn’t get flagged for block in the back. It was also a clean hit where Boykin led with his shoulder. So props to Boykin for a textbook killer block that made sure Jones would reach the endzone untouched.
3. Chip Long’s use of the screen game against the USC pass rush
There were times that Chip Long got a little too cute with his play calling and might have abandoned the the run too soon, but I thought his use of the screen game was fantastic last night. It was apparent early that if USC was going to go down, they weren’t going to do so quietly on defense. They were bringing pressure all night long.
Dexter Williams had 8 catches in 7 games this season heading into last night. Against USC he hauled in 5 for 54 yards. Tony Jones Jr added just one but it went for 51 yards and the game sealing touchdown. Long started using the screen game more last week against Syracuse and he continued that trend last night. It’s a nice new wrinkle for this offense that capitalizes on Book’s accuracy and touch against teams that want to bring a lot of pressure.
Notre Dame could have had some more big plays in the screen game as well. Williams’ lack of experience catching the football showed a few times as he left some meat on the bone on nice gains that could have been even better if he set up his blocks a little better.
4. Alohi Gilman’s tackling clinic
The Notre Dame defensive game plan was frustrating to watch at times even if it did limit USC to 10 points until they scored a late touchdown to make things a bit uneasy for Notre Dame fans for a few seconds. Something that wasn’t frustrating on defense however was the tackling clinic that Alohi Gilman put on for the Irish. The safety transfer from Navy had several examples of textbook tackling that Clark Lea could make an instructional video out of.
It can be easy for a safety to fill out a stat sheet with a lot of tackles that take place down the field. Gilman’s 10 tackles last night were anything but empty tackles though. On several occasions Gilman came flying in from the secondary to stop a USC running back dead in his tracks. Some safeties would have fallen forward and went for a ride with the back for a couple extra yards. Gilman stood up the Trojan tailback in their tracks and turned what looked like it would be a 7 or 8 yard gain into a modest 3 yard gain.
Gilman was everything that he was advertised to be for Notre Dame this year and the last two weeks he has been one of the best players on the field for a Notre Dame defense full of very good players.
5. Watching a game with my dad and nephews
I have watched Notre Dame football’s perfect regular season all over the world this year. Literally. I started off the season in person in Notre Dame Stadium to see the Irish beat up on Michigan. I watched the Ball State game from a hotel room in Paris while over there on a work trip. I took in Notre Dame’s beating of Stanford from across the pond in London in another hotel room on another work trip. I saw the Pitt game from my niece’s college apartment before going to one of her musicals last month. I watched the Florida State game on delay in a hotel room in Mexico while away for my fiance’s sister’s wedding (and woke up the next AM with food poisoning the next morning). And I watched the Syracuse game in my day job office because of some commitments with friends after the game.
In fact the only games this season I watched from the comfortable of my own home were Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Navy, and Northwestern. Last night’s game was special though because I got to finally watch a game this year with my dad and my nephews who have both grown up to become big Notre Dame fans. It’s a rare occurrence these days, but it made seeing the Irish secure their spot in the playoffs last night all that much more special.
Since moving away from home years ago, my nephews have taken my place in watching games with my dad and it was a riot to see the younger of my two nephews get just as worked up and just as upset as me when the Irish stumbled out of the gates. The two of them are still Giants and Patriots fans respectively so obviously I went wrong somewhere as their uncle, but watching the game with them and my dad last night was better than being there in person.