As was chronicled yesterday, five of Notre Dame’s positional nine units have improved from last season. That’s the good news. The even better news is two of those are on the offensive and defensive lines, critical units in the game of football! So before we get to the units that have taken a step back, let’s soak in that the two areas any Notre Dame team needs to be strong in, they are very strong.
Also important to note that landing in the worse category doesn’t necessarily mean the position is a weakness, as will soon be shown. It just means the position overall has taken a step back, through depth or upside, etc. Alright, let’s rip off this band-aid.
As I alluded to, this position is clearly not a weakness. Last season, however, Notre Dame had two quarterbacks they knew could win football games. Brandon Wimbush beat Michigan and Florida State. Ian Book ran the table in the regular season. Notre Dame does not appear to have that luxury in 2019, and there is good reason to believe that they’ll need either Phil Jurkovec or Brandon Clark to come in and win a game for them, perhaps even as a starter.
In 2017, Ian Book replaced Brandon Wimbush as the starter against North Carolina due to an injury. In 2018, Wimbush filled in for Book against Florida State due to various midsection ailments. DeShone Kizer came off the bench for the final ten games of 2015 due to Malik Zaire injuring his ankle. You see where this is going.
Odds are the backup quarterback will play a vital role this season and based on what the spring showed, that’s a shaky proposition. And as DeShone Kizer showed, the difference between the spring and fall can be vast, so there are no conclusions here. But, as of now, it appears Notre Dame sits worse at QB compared to last season.
Jafar Armstrong, in our mind’s eye, is a very good and effective running back who could reach 1,500 total yards this season. In reality, he’s never rushed for 100 yards in a game, and his best statistical performances came against Notre Dame’s worst opponents. His ability is not the question, but being able to be the lead back week after week is. Now, play a little game with me and substitute Jafar Armstrong’s name for Dexter Williams heading into last season, and it all still fits. The point is, it can work out. This isn’t about Armstrong.
We know who Tony Jones is, for the most part. Behind him is a bunch of prognostications. Jahmir Smith looked good in a scrimmage, as did Kyren Williams. C’Bo Flemister is an intriguing player as well, but those three haven’t been tested on the real stage. Durability has been an issue for Armstrong, even in limited time, and no Williams is waiting in the wings this season.
There are steps back, and then there are Bob Beamon-esque leaps back. This position is going through the latter at the moment, and it is still not clear where they ultimately land. They are short on experience, long on athleticism, and high on question marks. There are math majors at Notre Dame building algorithms on the most effective linebacker trio this season who still don’t have the answer, let alone this blogger following the news.
It’s hard to imagine from all these questions comes a consistent and stable unit that can be counted on weekly, let alone at Georgia and Michigan. Then again, Clark Lea was trusted with this defense last season, and this is his position group, littered with players he has recruited, so he needs to make it workable. There is good reason to believe he will, and it won’t be the doomsday scenario you can talk yourself into if too much time is spent ruminating about it. But, last seasons unit it will not be.
This falls into the same category as linebacker. Notre Dame needs to replace a unanimous first-team All-American at one of their starting spots. This lends itself to taking a step back at the position the next season. Fortunately, they could conceivably have another one on the roster in Troy Pride, but it doesn’t look like they have someone of his caliber behind him. Is Shaun Crawford healthy? Is TaRiq Bracy physical enough? Where does Houston Griffith play? Can Donte Vaughn bounce back?
This unit isn’t quite a weakness, but also not a strength. It’s hard to know what they will be at the moment, but there is no doubt they will be made better by the pass rush that is no doubt coming upfront. So, it’s not quite linebacker, but it’s also far some certain.
The Kicking Game
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome are gone. We don’t know who will be kicking field goals and extra points in the fall; I think we know that freshman Jay Bramblett will be punting, but we don’t know how well. It’s very likely at least one game this season will come down to whether or not Notre Dame can consistently kick field goals and all there is at this point is uncertainty. If Jonathan Doerer can get there mentally, he has the leg to be a good kicker, but he’s had issues handling kickoffs, let alone a 43-yard field goal late in a tie game against Georgia. This is arguably the biggest weakness on the team right now, and every kick is likely to bring anxiety. Good times.