Notre Dame went on the road for the first time this season on Saturday and did so with a new starting quarterback. Brian Kelly made the switch to Ian Book this week and the moved ended up jump starting a Notre Dame offense that has largely been stuck in neutral since last October. The Irish blew out Wake Forest 56-27 to improve to 4-0 on the season and set up a potential top 10 showdown next weekend when Stanford comes to town. A lot happened today so lets crack open the post game sixer.
1. The switch to Ian Book started slowed, but worked out
Notre Dame didn’t score on the first drive of the game for the first time this year. Then the second drive ended on a failed 4th down conversion. Drive number three ended with a Michael Young fumble. Things weren’t looking good early and Notre Dame actually trailed for the first time this season momentarily.
Once the Irish trailed 3-0, Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense woke up and didn’t look back. Book led Notre Dame to 56 points – the most any Notre Dame team has scored on the road during the Brian Kelly era – and accounted for five touchdowns in the process. Book tossed a pair of scores – one to Chase Claypool and another to Brock Wright – and he ran for three more.
The difference this week was that Ian Book was able to run the offense that Brian Kelly and Chip Long clearly want to run. The same offense that they tried to get Brandon Wimbush to run even though he isn’t suited for it. Book got the ball out quick and accurate after the slow start and ten different Notre Dame receivers caught a pass.
Book was able to make the throws that Wimbush just struggled with. Prime example was the wide receiver screen to Michael Young in the 2nd quarter. Brandon Wimbush hasn’t been able to get those screens to work since last year. On this play though, Book got the ball out quick and accurately to Young who got a block and scampered 66 yards.
On the day Book was 25 of 34 for 325 yards and did not turn the ball over. Wake Forest’s defense is not very good at all, but everything Ian Book did today was very encouraging.
2. Notre Dame looked like a top 10 team for the first time since week 1
Notre Dame has not looked like the #8 team in the country the last two weeks. Single possession wins over Ball State and Vanderbilt did not make the Irish look like a top 10 team. Today though, Notre Dame jumped out in front of Wake Forest early in the third quarter and kept their foot on the gas. I’m sure some will complain about the late scores that Wake scored but with the heat and the number of plays the defense played today, getting the entire second team in the game was huge.
There is still plenty of work for Notre Dame to do, but today was the first time since the final whistle sounded against Michigan that Notre Dame looked like they could legitimately be a playoff contender. The last two weeks Notre Dame may have won – which at the end of the day is the most important – but they didn’t look like a real top 10 team in the process.
Today, Notre Dame looked like a top 10 team. A much tougher test is on the horizon next weekend, but the progress shown today is extremely encouraging.
3. Notre Dame returned a punt for a change
Chris Finke came within inches of returning a punt for a touchdown today when he ripped off a 52 yard return in the second quarter. Notre Dame set up a return for Finke for a change and the results speak for themselves. Special teams were a nightmare the first two weeks of the season, but they have improved drastically the last two weeks. Last week Notre Dame made a big kick return with Michael Young’s 48 yard return and this week it was Finke’s 52 yard punt return.
The return was Notre Dame’s longest return since Greg Bryant’s 61 yarder against Louisville in 2014. Ironically, both returns came up just short of touchdowns. Seeing Notre Dame make a play on a punt return though was fun to watch.
4. The Irish defense was huge in the 1st quarter
When the Notre Dame offense sputtered out of the gate as Book got his footing under him, the defense stepped up and bailed them out. Never was that more evident than after Michael Young’s fumble. Wake Forest’s uptempo offense already had forced Notre Dame to play a lot of plays in the first quarter at the time, but the Irish defense stepped up and held the Demon Deacons to a field goal.
Wake Forest’s offense can put a lot of pressure on a defense, but the Irish defense was up to the task early on and kept Wake off the scoreboard until Book and the offense got rolling.
5. Jafar Armstrong made some nice strides this week
After being the feature back the first two weeks of the season Jafar Armstrong took a backseat to Tony Jones Jr last week. He didn’t get a ton of carries today, but the carries he got he made the most of. More importantly, when Armstrong did get the ball, he looked much more comfortable as a running back than he did in previous weeks.
Armstrong got Notre Dame’s scoring started with a 30 yard touchdown run. He nearly topped 100 yards despite only getting 8 carries with 98 thanks to that 30 yarder and a 28 and 20 yard run later in the game.
Notre Dame will be getting Dexter Williams back next week so it will be interesting to see what Armstrong’s role will be moving forward, but his improvement this week was very evident.
6. Wake Forest is a really bad defense but this was a great win
Wake Forest’s defense is really bad so the offensive improvement should be taken with a grain of salt, but it should not be completely discredited either. Notre Dame did what you are supposed to do to bad teams today – they scored a lot of points on them. They did to Wake Forest what they should have done to Ball State and should have done to Vanderbilt but didn’t.
Notre Dame hasn’t scored this many points in a true road game since 2003 when they scored 57 against Stanford. The Notre Dame defense held Wake Forest to just under 400 yards after they had put up more than 500 yards in each of their first three games of the season.
We got to see the Notre Dame reserves for the first time this season including the collegiate debut of freshman Phil Jurkovec. After all of the plays Notre Dame played the last few weeks, getting the first team defense off the field with Stanford coming to town next week was huge for Notre Dame.
After the last two weeks seeing Notre Dame dominate an opponent is an encouraging development and should give Irish fans some hope that this team can continue to get better. Next week will be very telling regardless of what Stanford does tonight against Oregon but for this week at least, Notre Dame beat up on a weak opponent and showed signs of life on the offensive side of the ball for the first time of the year.