Could Offensive Continuity Make The Difference For Notre Dame In 2019?

There is a tendency to assume following a 12-1 season that everything went right. You need injury breaks, breaks in games, just good luck in general. At least when it came to the offense, though, it was anything but smooth sailing.

Notre Dame’s offensive MVP, Ian Book, didn’t start till week 4. Their most explosive weapon, Dexter Williams, didn’t play in any games till week 5, and in that same week they lost their best offensive lineman for the season to injury. Platoon running back Jafar Armstrong missed multiple weeks with knee and ankle issues, backup tight end Cole Kmet dealt with a severe high ankle sprain for the majority of the season, and in the middle of all that Ian Book reportedly played the final three weeks with cracked ribs and damaged kidney’s to the point where he was spitting blood.

Obviously, there is going to be attrition like this in any football season, nature of the sport. But, when you consider Notre Dame prepared for the season without the quarterback and running back battery that changed their fortunes, it leaves one to wonder what it could mean for the offense to be intact the entire offseason.

Last Season’s Hectic Start

The focus of the Notre Dame offensive staff last season was to find a way to beat Michigan in the opener. They knew Dexter Williams was not going to be available and that their starting running back had never played in college football game, and had become a running back a few months prior. This wasn’t about building the best offense for the season, it was about finding a way to win a game. And wouldn’t you know, it worked. They got their performance out of Brandon Wimbush and Jafar Armstrong, who accounted for every touchdown in the game, and they sent Michigan home with an L.

But, what we all saw the following two weeks against Ball St and Vanderbilt was a collective “now what?” from the offense. The performances were inconsistent and was not going to be sustainable over the course of the season. The move was made to Book in week four, Williams entered the lineup the week after, and things exploded from there. That, however, is not the way you’d want to build an offense on a year to year basis.

Ian Book’s Offense

While it feels like Ian Book has been in charge of the offense for a while, this is the first offseason where he entered as the clear starter, prepared–physically and mentally–to be the starter, and the offense was crafted to fit his game. As good as the coaches are, it’s one thing to fit an offense around a player on a week to week basis. It’s quite another to have months and months to mold it around a quarterback, his skill set, and the skill sets of the players around him.

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A lot of people are bullish on what Ian Book can be in 2019, Pete Sampson of The Athletic being one of them, and are predicting very big things for the offense as a whole. As in, best offense of the Kelly era type stuff. If that does indeed come to fruition, the continuity of the offense, not just in terms of  the personnel, but also the staff, should not be undersold.

Reportedly, Book has embraced his role as the leader of the offense–captain or not–has rebuilt his body to withstand the rigors of the season, and has improved from an arm strength standpoint. It’s one thing to prepare to be the starter in the event the actual starter goes down, and clearly Book did a good job of that. It’s another thing to know it’s your offense and what it takes physically to do the job.

The Surrounding Personnel

The offense is losing key players such as Williams, Miles Boykin, and Alize Mack, but none of their replacements is what you’d call “new”. Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. played a lot last season and have played with Book. All three starters at receiver and also the top two tight ends have seen extensive action. The are weapons aplenty.

The question is whether Notre Dame can get the most of the talent available to them. The template of what the offense wants to be is what we saw against Wake Forest last season, Ian Book’s first start. He spread the ball around to lots of different receivers, utilized the backs out of the back field, the tight ends, it was all working. Of course, Wake Forest was a terrible defensive team and we didn’t see that type of offensive output the rest of the season. The key of course is getting the offense to the point where that’s the standard on most weeks, not only against the worst teams.

As previously stated, the weapons are there. The starting receiver trio can get open against anyone, Kmet is an enormous athlete with the pedigree to boot, and Jafar Armstrong is a dream player in an offense with Ian Book running it. The question is will Book have the understanding to get the ball accurately to the right player, play after play? And again, that’s where the continuity comes in, an entire offseason getting ready to answer that question. Notre Dame can’t be anything they want to be without a leap from Book, not with the defense likely stepping back some this year, luckily everything is in place to ensure that happens. Now, all that’s left is to do it.

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  1. Thank you SO SO SO much for not using that dreaded word “Consistency” in your headline. You know BK worked politics in MA b/c that’s a big word that is too vague to mean anything specific. Again, thank you for NOT using “Consistency.” Amen.

  2. Greg , your article and poster comments are pretty much on target of what’s on board for 2019 Irish season. I don’t have much to add to what needs to be done to reach elite status. We all are disappointed in a poor showing versus Clemson — and the putting up up only 3 points—has many fans thinking Irish are going backwards in reaching ELITE status. Can’t blame them for their end of season thoughts on the Irish. But , tis a new season — and a new seasoned QB at the helm. Ian Book will step up — improve his QB skills. It’s the coaching staff that needs to game plan to his strengths. Which are a mobile , pass out of the pocket designed plays — keep the chains moving. Book can hit anyone whose open. You want to get the offense moving ? Well , quit the hand offs to a RB on 1st/2nd downs — hence a 3rd and long. Hence — 3 and out and a punt. This is not Books game — it’s the coaches play calling —which was evident in 1st half versus Clemson — hoping repeated hand offs to Dexter — would spring him for that long open field run to pay dirt. Against Clemson D line ? So , the Irish coaching staff have a kid named Ian Book— to lead them to play offs — he’s the guy to set the tone on moving the chains. Go Irish.

  3. Book understands Kelly’s (and Long’s) offense. And with a year of game experience, Book should make fewer mistakes in general this year. And the offensive line has a good year of experience too.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  4. Last year was unusual, as the best returning OL, Bars, was lost, and Wimbush had to give way to Book.

    But this is Chip Long’s third year with the offense, Alexander’s third, Q.uinn’s second.

    This OL will be roughly half way between 17’s and 18’s and the depth is coming, as evident from seeing that Lugg can be a
    while Banks recovers from surgery.

    .As identified below, the key to the offense is Book. There is chatter about his productive offseason, and he is now the clear
    starter, but when I look at Lawrence and Jake Fromm, I’m not confident that Book can or has closed the gap. I’d love to eat crow
    on this one. The rest of the pieces are there, and so is the coaching staff.

    It’s Book who is the fulcrum for this offense.

    Luckily for Book and the OL the tiff with Clemson, and those incredible defensive linemen, was a great tutorial.

    He and they will never see anything like that again in his college career.

  5. It’s useless to argue history, I know, but I remain among the minority of a ND fans who believe that the reversal of the fumble recovery call on the kickoff following ND’s field goal changed the trajectory of the game. With the recovery, which should have been called in ND’s favor because only the point of the ball was over the sideline, not the ball touching the field, ND could have actually taken the lead. Even so, it wasn’t until Love left with an injury that Clemson was able to exploit the secondary. So give the QB playing with cracked ribs a break (away from his rib cage). Clemson the better team that day, clearly, but their offensive guard has acknowledged that ND was the toughest team they played last year.

  6. I agree Damian. I’m 62 years old and have been a diehard fan since 1964. As far as this year I agree Books play will be a huge factor in how good Notredame does. Another big factor is can Kelly game plan and coach at a high level week to week. I haven’t been impressed with Kelly and his staff in the big games as far as game plans in game decisions in game adjustments.

  7. You know, I’m done making predictions about ND football. You think you have them pinned down, that they’re going to have such and such a year, then they defy expectations. You expect a playoff year and they lose 4 games. Or you think not this year and they make the playoff. ND defies expectations it seems.

    It was great they made the playoffs last year. But then they had a very poor showing in the most important game of the year against Clemson. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from that game. Maybe it was too much to expect them to beat Clemson, the eventual champions. But I thought they were better than 3 measly points.

    At this point I see ND as an above average, even better then most CFB teams. I see them as a team that can beat 97 to 98% of the teams out there. Hell maybe even 99%. The problem for them (and the other 99%) is that the top 1% of the teams are so distanced from the rest of CFB that it seems almost insurmountable. What will it take for ND to break that ceiling? I think for ND it will take better offense for sure. The defense is definitely improved over the last 2 seasons. I think they are heading in the right direction and are almost where they need to be. But offense. That’s the big question.

    So for this season I will just take it game by game. I don’t have any pre-conceived expectations at this point. With the Irish under BK it doesn’t pay to really make any prognostications for the end of the season. I’ll hope they win every game of course. And I still continue to hold out hope for a NC. But expectations? Thanks, but I’ll wait.

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