Notre Dame capped off a rollercoaster season on Monday with a rollercoaster performance against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Playing without four suspended players and missing one of their top wide outs, Notre Dame pulled off a miraculous last minute win with a circus catch that will be remembered in Notre Dame history for a long, long time. The Irish snapped their January bowl losing streak at nine and their losing streak in the state of Florida at six in the process.
Let’s crack open the post game 6-pack.
1. This Was a Very Big Win for Notre Dame
Winning 10 games for the second time in three years is a big deal for Notre Dame given they won just four games a year ago. Beating Michigan State, USC, NC State, and LSU in the same season is big. It would have been pretty nice to be able to include Miami, Stanford, and Georgia in that mix too obviously, but let’s not take for granted that all of those teams I listed that the Irish did beat won at least 9 games this year: USC (11), NC State (9), LSU (9), and Michigan State (10).
Now, there is still work to do for Notre Dame to get to the playoffs obviously, but winning the 10th game was big for Notre Dame and it should help them really close out this recruiting class strong. There are still a few spots open and if they can fill them with Nicholas Petite-Frere and Julius Irvin and then really anyone else this will be the best class from top to bottom of the Kelly era.
Winning the bowl game should pay off in the off-season as well. The team now heads into the off-season being able to look back at how far they’ve come since last January and trust the process.
2. It Wouldn’t Be the Brian Kelly Era Without Some QB Controversy
It looked like Brandon Wimbush was going to have a pretty good day the way he started the game with a nice downfield pass to Equanimeous St. Brown on the first play of the game and then breaking a long run on the second drive of the game. Every time the Irish moved the ball with Wimbush in the game though, something would happen to stall the drive. With no points on the board and just two minutes left in the game though, Brian Kelly turned to Ian Book because Notre Dame had to pass. Wimbush never came back in the game.
Ian Book wasn’t the second coming of Joe Montana on Monday but he was efficient and once he settled in he looked in command of the offense. Book led Notre Dame on two fourth quarter touchdown drives including the game winner to Miles Boykin on one of the most ridiculous catches in Notre Dame history.
We are now headed for a full on quarterback competition in the spring and it’s not crazy to wonder if we’ve seen Wimbush throw his last pass as the starter for Notre Dame. Book made throws and reads that Wimbush just hasn’t shown the ability to make yet. Book also, however, made some decisions that make you realize why he was the backup like his 3rd quarter interception. Add in Avery Davis and incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec and the quarterback position is anything but settled for Notre Dame heading into the off-season.
3. Notre Dame will be fine at wide receiver next year
Speaking of Miles Boykin, the Notre Dame receiving corps should be fine next year even without Kevin Stepherson (assuming he is dismissed) and Equanimeous St. Brown (should he choose to leave for the NFL). Boykin had three catches for 102 yards and that touchdown against one of the best secondaries in the country. Michael Young scored the first touchdown of his career today as well and could be Notre Dame’s starting slot receiver in September.
Notre Dame played today without three of its top four receivers and when it mattered most, they were still able to move the ball through the air. Boykin specifically made two catches in traffic – we haven’t seen much of that this season. Based on what we saw from Boykin today, if the starting receivers for the Irish when they play Michigan are Boykin, Claypool, and Young; no one should be worried. Facing the LSU defense, the last three completions of the game went to Miles Boykin, Chris Finke, and Michael Young.
4. Will Dexter Williams Ever Play More?
Dexter Williams didn’t get his first carry of the game until there was just over 11 minutes left in the game. He ran back to back plays picking up 36 yards including a 31 yarder that highlighted his athleticism. The next play, however, highlighted his struggles in pass protection as he did not do much to slow down the LSU pass rush resulting in an intentional grounding penalty on Ian Book. We didn’t see Williams get another touch in the game.
Even with his struggles in pass protection, it is really mind boggling that Williams does not get more carries or touches in the pass game. He’s an electric athlete who can add a lot to this offense. Hopefully he uses this off-season to focus on that aspect of his game if that is all that’s holding him back. If Josh Adams leaves for the NFL as expected, Dexter Williams should be a focal point of the offense next year.
5. The Safety Position Needs an Overhaul in the Off-Season
The Notre Dame defense played a pretty game on Monday, but the safety position as a whole had a rough afternoon just as they have all season long. The position did not produce a single interception this year and could have changed that today with better ball skills. Jalen Elliott was in position to make a couple big plays but he just wasn’t able to make them. Elliott also allowed a few third and long pass completions when it looked like he could have just knocked the ball away.
With the struggles on the back end of the secondary, Notre Dame turned to freshman Jordan Genmark Heath for some extended action in the fourth quarter. Genmark Heath looked solid in his action and will be in the mix next year.
Brian Kelly already said that Alohi Gilman would have started this year if the NCAA would have granted his eligibility and the Irish are adding the best safety they have recruited in a decade in Derrik Allen and there is talk that Houston Griffith could play safety too. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if both safety positions have new starters the next time Notre Dame plays a game.
6. Special Teams Gaffs Cost the Irish Again
On the positive, Justin Yoon kicked a 46 and 49 yard field goal in conditions that were anything but ideal. Just ask LSU’s kickers who missed two much more makeable attempts. On the negative, Notre Dame turned the ball over on a punt again when a gunner – in this case Isaiah Robertson – let the ball hit his foot. LSU went on to score their first touchdown of the day with that lifeline. We have seen entirely too many turnovers in the return game this year and all have come back to haunt Notre Dame.
Brian Polian has done a pretty good job with the special teams this year considering how much of a train wreck they were last year, but he still has a lot of work to do this off-season. The return game has also not been a factor for Notre Dame at all this year after CJ Sanders was electric the past two seasons.
Parting Shot #1: Tevon Coney Was An Absolute Animal
Technically this is the 7th point of the 6-pack post, but it was worth mentioning. Coney was an animal with 17 tackles today. Start praying now that the game wasn’t enough to push him to the NFL because Notre Dame really needs him back next year to build on this season. Notre Dame can’t replace both he and Morgan with the talent and experience they will have on hand and Coney will be an All American if he comes back for 2018.
Parting Shot #2: What the Heck Was Orgeron Thinking Kicking?
I still can’t believe that Ed Orgeron decided to kick the field goal with the ball just inches from the goal line with just over two minutes remaining. Thankfully he did because Derrius Guice was running pretty well in the 4th quarter and it allowed Notre Dame to win the game with a touchdown which they ultimately did. Thanks for the late Christmas present Coach O!