The Fighting Irish football team managed to not only move to 9-0 with a 10 point win over the home Wildcats, they showed themselves better than Michigan once again.
There has been a movement from certain sports writers, namely Dan Wolken of USA Today and Ralph Russo of AP sports to opine that while Notre Dame beat Michigan head to head (pretty key metric in my opinion), the Wolverines have shown themselves better in recent weeks. Fortunately, we now have a common opponent to compare against!
The Wolverines played at Northwestern earlier in the season, falling behind 17-0, and ultimately prevailing 20-17. The Irish of course never trailed, were up multiple scores in the third quarter, and ultimately won by double digits. Not that this will convince those writers, after all their eye test tells them all they need to know, but it’s fun to point out the Notre Dame football team continues to do things better than the Michigan football team in 2018.
- Notre Dame remains at #6 in the S&P+ rankings. Northwestern entered the game 64th and they fell to 68th.
- The Irish gained ground in both of their offensive and defensive ratings in S&P following their 10 point win. They rose to 3rd overall defensively, where they were previously 6th, and 27th offensively, up from 34th last week. Have to think they’d be a top 15 offense had Book been playing since game one.
- Notre Dame’s upcoming opponent Florida State comes in at 75th, 102nd on offense, 39th on defense. Last week S&P projected an 87% win probability against the Seminoles, with a 19 point spread. Have to think those numbers have only risen since Notre Dame’s win and Florida State’s loss on Saturday.
It’s always nice to write an article on Thursday on the areas where Notre Dame can better utilize a player on offense, and then said player has their best game of the season two plays later. I cannot confirm that Brian Kelly and Chip Long are loyal readers of this site, but I can’t refute it either, especially after what Claypool showed on Saturday.
He finished with eight receptions for 130 yards, good enough for 16+ yards a catch. It featured a thirty yard gain with Notre Dame backed up to their own goal line, which led to a fifty yard touchdown pass to Michael Young a couple plays later to put the Irish up two scores. Notable on that catch was the matchup, against one of the top corners in the nation, in a one on one matchup. That’s the beauty of Claypool; he’s good enough and physical enough to best anyone in single coverage, no matter the player. Hopefully this is something the Irish continue to exploit, as they look to develop a one-two punch at wide receiver with Miles Boykin, who continues his stellar play.
Not a ton of volume for Young, but they were finally able to get the sophomore speedster over the top of a defense for a long touchdown. These opportunities were available all game against Navy, but not exploited, to the chagrin of many. The Irish took their shot on Saturday and it paid off. They’ve been lacking on explosive plays in the passing game this year, and this illustrates how important they can be. Moving the ball methodically is nice too, but taking your time getting into the end zone can leave you vulnerable to getting the ball to first and goal at the five and couple mistakes later having second and goal from the 20. The emergence of Young, and Claypool, as deep threats only helps a player like Book because it opens up the intermediate areas of the field, where the junior signal caller excels.
Jordan Genmark Heath
Genmark Heath filled in for Drue Tranquill for the majority of the contest, with Tranquill coming in on a lot of third downs. The sophomore contributed six tackles, and like his linebacker mate Drew White the week before, he provided unspectacular, but solid play. This is an important development not just for this season, but next as well, as Genmark Heath will be a key player on defense with Tranquill departing.
Building depth is always a good thing, and as was true last week, sometimes being a dependable body out there is all you need.
Let’s be clear, the secondary was pretty good on Saturday. Northwestern threw 29 passes and gained 141 yards. That’s paltry, especially when that’s all they had. So, no panic here. But, they continue to have trouble with their nickel package, and trying to find the right combination of players when they go five defensive backs.
They moved Julian Love inside at one point while bringing in Donte Vaughn, and Vaughn was again picked on. They used Houston Griffith at times inside, and brought him on a couple of blitzes, but those never came close to getting home. Griffith also gave up a 27 yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14 in the fourth quarter, although a decent case could be made he needed to get some safety help on that play.
There are some teams coming up, mainly Syracuse and USC, who can really exploit the troubles of the Irish nickel defense, and following game nine it’s getting to the point where this group might just be what it’s going to be.
Special teams can be an asset for some programs. A net positive. It can also just be neutral. Nothing spectacular, but it’s not hurting you either. For Notre Dame it’s a liability. It gave Michigan life. It gave Pittsburgh a chance. And now it gave Northwestern a chance. It’s unacceptable, there is no other way to say it. If it keeps up, it will cost them a game, whether in the regular season, or in the playoffs. It’s unbecoming of a team of their caliber. Brian Kelly needs to step in. Chip Long runs the offense, Clark Lea runs the defense, and they run them well. Polian isn’t running a good special teams unit, that’s where Kelly needs to spend his time.