5 Things I Liked: Notre Dame v. Vanderbilt ’18

Notre Dame RB Tony Jones Jr

Notre Dame returned to action yesterday looking to “rinse off the stink” of last week’s underwhelming performance against Ball State.  The Irish didn’t quite fully accomplish that mission with another uneven outing, but they did manage to improve to 3-0 with a 22-17 win over Vanderbilt.  The performance gave me ton of material for the 5 things I didn’t like column, but as is customary, we’ll start with the positives in this one.

1. The running and receiving of Tony Jones Jr

For the last couple of summers we have heard about how good Tony Jones Jr can look in practice.  On Saturday we finally saw it in action against Vanderbilt.  Jones ran for a career high 118 yards on 17 carries yesterday.  Those stats looked like they would be even better when we started the game 8 for 87 meaning he only added 31 yards on his last 9 carries.  Still Jones had a couple runs in the first half where he flashed some great balance and vision we hadn’t seen before.

We also saw why Jones has been described as the best receiving back on the roster the last couple of years.   Jones hauled in two very well thrown wheels routes from Brandon Wimbush for 56 yards easily pacing the Irish passing attack. As much as that last statement is a indicator of Jones receiving skills, it’s also a major indictment of the Irish passing game, but let’s try to stay focused on the positive in this one.

Seeing Jones top 100 yards and pace an improved Notre Dame rushing attack was a very positive sign coming out of this one.

2. The kick return by Michael Young

It was only one play, but we got a glimpse of Michael Young’s speed and athleticism on his fourth quarter 48 yard kick return.  Young saw a crease and exploded through it.  Notre Dame is in dire need of some playmakers in the receiving corps and Young might be someone that Notre Dame turns to soon since none of the current Irish receivers have flashed that kind of athleticism yet this year.

Currently listed #2 on the depth chart behind Chase Claypool, a strong case can be made for Young to start taking more snaps away from Claypool after the junior receiver has been largely invisible in the passing game and a liability as a blocker.  If its not Young Notre Dame turns to, it could be freshman Kevin Austin.  Either way, Notre Dame needs to reshuffle their wide receivers to jump start their production and Young’s long return gave us a glimpse of his top end speed.

3. Seeing improvement from the offensive line

This goes along with point number one of the running of Tony Jones Jr, but it was a sigh of relief to see the Notre Dame offensive line play much better this week.  Last week’s game tape can officially be burned now since it was that brutal.  This week though, the offensive line took a big step forward in powering Notre Dame to 245 yards on the ground.  Last year that would have been below average but in the early goings of this season, it’s a major improvement.

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One thing to watch here – and somehow Brian Kelly was inexplicably not asked about this – is the rotation along the line.  In the second quarter Trevor Ruhland was inserted at right guard for Tommy Kraemer who remained in the game on the field goal team.  How permanent a move this is is worth watching.

Whatever the case, seeing Notre Dame’s offensive line not get pushed around this week after that Ball State performance was encouraging.  Jeff Quinn still has a lot of work to do in a short period of time, but yesterday’s performance is something that he can build off of.  Props to Quinn for that.

4. The Alohi Gilman forced fumble at the goal line

This play was reminiscent of Shaun Crawford‘s forced fumble of LJ Scott at the goalline last year against Michigan State that turned that game completely in Notre Dame’s favor and propelled the Irish toward a nice run.  Alohi Gilman’s forced fumble at the goalline is the exact kind of play that Notre Dame did not get from its safeties a season ago.

If Vanderbilt scores there, the game is 13-7 and who knows how the rest plays out given how close it got at the end.  Now, the offense couldn’t completely seal the deal with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but they did add in a field goal to extend the lead to 16-0.

Gilman and Jalen Elliott were both huge again this week.  Elliott had coverage on the game deciding 4th and 4 sttempt by Vandy that came up short.  Doug Flutie will swear up and down that the turf jarred the ball loose but watch that replay again close and pay particular attention to Elliott’s elbow that also comes down in the ball.  Great coverage by Elliott in the first place and great effort.

5. The big bounce backs from both Tyler Newsome and Jonathan Doerer

Special teams in general were improved this week, but Tyler Newsome and Jonathan Doerer were particularly much better this week than they have been in previous weeks.  Newsome, a 5th year senior and captain, had a rough start to his final season.  In both the Michigan and Ball State games, he shanked short kicks late in the game when Notre Dame needed to get back some field position.  That was not the case on Saturday.

This week Newsome averaged 59.6 yards per kick including a 63 yarder on Notre Dame’s last punt of the day that set Vandy up at their own 10 yard line with five seconds to play.  Newsome was booming them so far in fact this week, he had a couple other 60 yarders that ended up in the end zone for touchbacks.  Really nice rebound from him this week and if he can keep some of those long ones from reaching the endzone he’ll give Notre Dame a weapon they will apparently need given the struggles of the offense.

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For Doerer, the calls for Notre Dame to replace him with Justin Yoon on kickoffs have been loud.  (Guilt as charged).  So to see him rebound this week with four touchbacks on six attempts, you had to feel good for the kid.

Part of his issues with the kicks out of bounds the last couple weeks has been in part to what appears to be Notre Dame’s strategy of having him try to kick them high and towards the sideline to force a return and hopefully pin the opposition back inside the 20.  Given the strength of Doerer’s leg and the strength of the Notre Dame defense, how about we just let the kd keep booming them out of the endzone and call it a day from here?

Overall, this was another head scratcher of a performance that leaves more questions than answers, but there were some positives for Notre Dame to build on this week – the running game in particular.

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27 comments

  1. Michael the Archangel 1 year ago

    Can’t argue with any of your comments, Frank.
    OL run blocking much improved this week; pass blocking, not so much- still too many breakdowns in protecting BW. And more Tony Jones, please! BW threw two dangerous passes into double coverage, but was again this week, with Jones, the difference-makers between winning and losing with some key passes to go with his multiple drive extending runs, including his TD run.
    1st drive- 1st and goal @ 2 – no gain. Substitute for Jones and Wimbush= FG. Remember how effective Wimbush was in the red zone last year? Now they take him out in the “blue” zone. Great idea; do something different now, especially if it worked last season . . .
    The D’ played well enough, especially against the run. Seem to blitz/pressure less once ND gets a two score lead, and begins to play “not to lose’! Multiple passes broken up. Vandy QB Shurmer is for real. So is TE Pinkney and CB Williams. So why throw so often at DB Juwon Williams?

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  2. Damian 1 year ago

    I’m starting to have flashbacks of 2012 where the defense has to bail out the team on numerous occasions. They weren’t perfect, but they made sure Vanderbilt was stopped when it mattered most.

    The concern? Well there are a lot. But in 2012 of course we know they got embarrassed in the NC game. Have your blood pressure pills handy. You’ll need them this year. If they are having nailbiters against Ball State and Vandy it’s going to be a stress filled year for Irish fans. At this point I expect WF to go down to the wire. Then we’ll see what they are made of against Stanford. Lose a close game their and we may be looking at 10-2 or 9-3 with possible losses to USC and VT. Loose badly and we can be looking at 8-4 or worse. Of course we have to get past WF first and that’s no guarantee at this point.

    As for seeing Jurkovec this season. I think that took a major hit. If they can’t get enough of a cushion against Ball State or Vandy to put him in, I don’t see it happening going forward. If BW has to be replaced it will be with Book. He has given the Irish what they needed when they needed it most and he will get his chance if BW needs to be pulled.

    I will give the coaches credit for one thing, and that’s their judicious use of Book so far. For the most part they had good plays called for him and he executed them well.

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    1. david 1 year ago

      Greg would be the first to tell you not to worry about Whole Foods.

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  3. Bruce G Curme 1 year ago

    C-Dog! Good to hear from you again. Your post is right on target. Plus, Stanford and VT both have top drawer defenses, so those two teams change the equation a little bit…they might not need 24-28 points on the board to win the game (like Georgia last year, who won with only twenty points).

    But you also may be right about a “break out”…the road game at Wake Forest would be a good time for it…and two weeks overdue. The playcalling this week was improved over Ball State…a good mix of running and passing for BW…but you are right about not always taking what the “D” is giving. We all know Stanford will do it to us, just like they did with their TEs in 2015.

    This is not all on the coaches though. There is a definite difference in intensity with some players (though not always the same players) after we get a decent lead. That’s a no-no. Focus, Fight, Finish, Repeat…I have yet to see it for 60 minutes from the entire team.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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  4. C-Dog 1 year ago

    Player attitudes are great. That despite a poorly called offensive game which caused the defense to be on the field too much

    The offensive call series by series looked more like a spring game experiement than a live game strategy.

    The mix series by series didn’t seem to account for what the defense gives. There was also no adjustment. Boykin could have had a huge day if they had mixed some comeback patterns in his routes.

    They now have running plays that they can mix in but they’ll need to figure out how to mix up the play book so the defense can’t predict what’s coming. That’s on the coaches.

    This team is ready to break out. But the coaching staff needs to simply improve game day strategy and also start adjusting to what the opponent is giving. Otherwise Stanford and VTech will beat the Irish.

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    1. ChrisJ 1 year ago

      C-Dog,

      I remember Wimbush underthrowing Boykin twice on go routes. I’m not sure if those underthrows were by design or just bad passes but either way, Boykin is terrible at adjusting to them, at least in that game he was. When a defender is locked onto you on a go route and he is only looking at you and not playing the ball, you as the receiver have every possible advantage over the defender of adjusting to where the ball is at and making a play. Boykin did not recognize the passes were short early enough in the route to stop and come back to the ball. He just kept running thinking the ball would get to where he was running and basically had to work around the defender to make the catch. If he simply stops his route a half second earlier and comes back to the ball, one of two things happens. He either gets a PI because the defender will just run him over or he will make the catch because the defender will run right by which if he makes the catch, then he also has a chance to run after the catch. This is where a guy like Golden Tate was incredible because he was able to make this type of adjustment anywhere and playing centerfield in baseball really helped out. Unfortunately we don’t have anyone like Tate in this aspect where they can adjust well to a ball in the air and get themselves in the right position.

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  5. Bruce G Curme 1 year ago

    I know you all don’t like BK, and now you don’t like BW either…but what the hell is wrong with Ian Book?

    And for those who were saying “8-4 at best”…exactly which 4 teams on our schedule will score the 24-28 points against our defense needed to beat us? I was asking that same question 6 months ago and never got any answer. Time for you boys to name names here, because it just is not adding up for me. Enlighten me on this please. Name names or shut up about it already. Hey, what is BW’s record as a starter anyway? Does he even have four losses yet over the past two seasons? I mean he has about 15 starts, doesn’t he? And some of you want to bench BK, skip Ian, and start a true freshman? Surely you jest Mrs. Feynman.

    As for “never being anything better than a 50% passer”…well son, do the math in your head…if you can’t do that, push the pencil and divide it out…failing that, get a calculator…if, as I suspect, you can’t even do the math with a calculator, find some third grader to do it for you, you idiot.

    No, I am not satisfied with the way we have played. Jumping out to an early lead, then having one unit or another take the rest of the day off is certainly not “winning” football and it needs to change, and change quickly. But that we have a huge target on our backs that draws a big fat red circle on everybody’s schedule, as well as special practice time every week until they play us, AIN’T GONNA CHANGE, so get over it.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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    1. david 1 year ago

      You appear to be defensive, very sensitive, and angry.

      ND is not a complete, sound football team.
      Vanderbilt isn’t terrible, but is also not great.
      If Vanderbilt could beat this team (and it’s pretty obvious they could have), then anyone left on the schedule can.
      And I can see a couple of them almost certainly whipping this ND team like a rented mule.

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      1. Bruce G Curme 1 year ago

        Well David, at least I’m angry. BW has raised his completion percentage 5 points this year. Now to be dismissive of that is one thing…I get that, because 55% still isn’t that good in modern football. But to post a blatant LIE by saying that he’ll never be a be any better than 50% is not dismissive, it’s simply not fair, and not accurate. It is, however, in this fact free world you’ve created, quite PRESIDENTIAL. And that does make me angry. Any kid who works his ass off, and takes a beating or three, DESERVES a truthful assessment. I know- sounds like some alien language to you guys. Oh well.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      2. George 1 year ago

        Now we’re boasting about a QB who’s ranked NINETY SIXTH in completion percentage. WOW. College football fans nationwide are beyond jealous.

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    2. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      In 2017 his completion % was 49.5% according to my fancy calculator.

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      1. Bruce G Curme 1 year ago

        And if it was 2017, you’d be right Burgundy. It’s 2018 though…and he is at about 55% and has NEVER been below 54% this year. What’s the matter with you people? You use stats like the President on Puerta Rico, or the TEA/FREEDOM PARTY CAUCUS on lowering the deficits. You are blatant liars. Why?

        What Brandon will actually NEVER be is a 60% passer…barring an outlier game. Is it so hard for you to tell the truth? Why?

        Here, I have a simple truth telling practice exercise for you: Just click your heels together and say three times “Notre Dame is undefeated, Notre Dame is undefeated, Notre Dame is undefeated.” Maybe when you open your eyes, you won’t be in the Belk Bowl anymore.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    3. Mick 1 year ago

      I would say this: Wake is a game ND should handle comfortably. Unless BW elevates his game throwing I think Stanford is a likely loss. VTech could be a blowout of epic proportions. Pitt should be handled but I’ve seen horrible Pitt teams come to ND and play like it’s the national title game. Navy and Northwestern are both games the Irish should win but recent losses to both schools never rules out a loss. Fla. State looks bad but I cannot believe they don’t at least have a punchers chance. Syracuse looks frisky and the Yankee Stadium matchup raises all kinds of uncertainties as to how the Irish will show up emotionally. No win at USC is ever a given. Having said that, I see 11-1 as the ceiling (only VT a for sure loss) and 8-4 as worst case scenario. But are 5 losses possible? Absolutely from a team that barely hang on against a Ball State team that got housed by Indiana. I was dumb enough to convince myself that they (BState) were decent and bet them. Won’t make that mistake again. The optimist in me would like to see a winnable New Years 6 bowl game but there is still a part of me that wants to believe. I just cannot even fathom what might happen if BW had to throw against Alabama or Clemson. Just my thoughts. I will happily eat crow if I am wrong but 9-3 sounds like a pretty safe bet with what we have seen.

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  6. david 1 year ago

    The thing I liked the most was the trick play TCU almost pulled off against OSU. A cleverly hidden 2nd punt return man…TD was called back on a penalty, but the most creative play I’ve seen in years.

    Probably make the FBS highlight reel for the year.

    I see a good ND kick return made your Top 5 list…always nice for a Top 10 team to get one of those in a season.

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  7. pete calco 1 year ago

    Not start Jurkovic but pick your spots to get him some playing time.
    Why stay with a q.b. that is not progressing or playing well
    The definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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  8. Greg Kelly 1 year ago

    PJ Fleck

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  9. Greg Kelly 1 year ago

    Suddenly realized the Irish are on collision course with my local Minnesota Gophers for BCS Championship. Both are undefeated, playing tougher Competition than Savannah St. And a possible bonus to all you BK haters, maybe has clause in His contract like Holtz and leave if the Irish were to call.

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    1. david 1 year ago

      Operators are standing by.

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  10. Bob Rader 1 year ago

    If we’re talking about positives, how about the improved field discipline over past years? Far fewer false starts and other penalties, for that matter, no unsportsmanlike conduct, no time-outs caused by rampant confusion. Remember games in the past that actually began with a false start or a time-out because of delay in getting the play in? I’m happy to hear the sound of that dog not barking.

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  11. Jerry Payne 1 year ago

    I can not believe our receiving corp is getting so little respect. The only issue they have is a quarterback that cannot get them the ball on time, and where it needs to be placed for success.

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  12. Greg Kelly 1 year ago

    The secondary was getting torched all day long. Not entirely their fault. Due to our sporadic pass rush. Tillery did get one “ hello” to their QB. Gilman the big hero popping the ball loose looked bad in a lot of coverages against the larger tight end prototypes He will facing in coming games. Houston Griffith again belongs out there.

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  13. Eric 1 year ago

    I have this sinking feeling that we are just waiting to be blown out and that may happen at the Stanford game. BW is an excellent runner but that is easily defensed when he only completes 50% of his passes.

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  14. pete calco 1 year ago

    Young did look explosive on that kick return. Would also like to see more of Austin . Hopefully Dexter comes back.they need his speed.Im just not confident Notredame can have a great offense with Wimbush or book. I would give Jurkovic a look.

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    1. ndcrazymike 1 year ago

      Yes this offense is going nowhere fast! Time to get the young receivers and JURKOVIC started! Yes I know the team is 3-0 but anyone who thinks this is a playoff team is crazy. Watch every other college team the QB has a rifle arm the receivers are all burners and they can strike at anytime!! Sorry to say were not close to that, the defense is wearing down every game because the 2nd half offense is non-existent!!!!!

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      1. Cig 1 year ago

        So play a completely inexperienced freshman at QB? That’ll take pressure off the D? C’mon.

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      2. Andrew 1 year ago

        Cig don’t you know real football is exactly like NCAA 14, and Jurkovec was a high star ranking so he’s automatically good to come in and dominate?

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      3. ndcrazymike 1 year ago

        WHAT PRESSURE has been taken off the DEFENSE in any of these 3 games in the second half? How much worse can he b than the last 6 games of Wimbush, he cant throw the ball!!! They think so much of him they take him out on any first and goal opportunities they have!! CIG do you watch the games do you see him struggle week after week going thru his progressions!! I did not say he would dominate, and there not gonna put him in, but he is the most talented QB on the roster C’MON!! I watched this kid play in person 8 times in his senior year he has a cannon arm and runs like a deer!! Andrew go back to your video games and dominate.

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