What a difference a week makes in terms of perception. Last week at this time we were all wondering how Notre Dame could use its next three games to tune up for Stanford. Now we’re wondering if the Irish will make it to Stanford unscathed much less how they’ll handle the Cardinal.
Last week’s sobering performance against Ball State calls into question much of what we thought about the Irish as they prepare to host Vanderbilt this weekend in what is now a crucial early season contest.
What Worries Me this Week
Everything offensively. Notre Dame’s offensive struggles last week are well documented at this point so there isn’t much point to completely rehashing them here, but suffice to say that the Notre Dame offense has me worried. All phases of the offense struggled last week. The line had a lot of issues (more on that soon), the backs missed lanes on the few occasions there were some, the receivers didn’t help Wimbush much, and we all know Wimbush struggled as well.
Right now, Notre Dame has nothing to hang its hat on offensively and that is scary entering week three. Notre Dame has to find out who they are offensively tomorrow. And the fact that its week three and we still don’t know is very worrisome.
But most especially the offensive line. The offensive line’s struggles warranted their own section because the offensive woes really start with the line as Greg pointed out yesterday. If the line was opening holes they did a year ago, Notre Dame beats Ball State by 30 or 40 like they should have. Instead, Ball State’s defensive line pushed around the Notre Dame offensive live. Let that sink in for just a second.
Is Ball State’s d-line bigger or stronger than Notre Dame’s o-line? Of course not. Are they more talented? Nope. They played with a ton more confidence and fire though and that is the biggest worry with the offensive line. For all of the experience Notre Dame returned, the offensive line looks unsure of itself through two games.
Now, it’s not time to freak out on new OL coach Jeff Quinn either. He’s been coaching offensive lines a long time and coaching was not the concern with that hire originally – recruiting was. Quinn already showed us he can recruit at an elite level so let’s see how he responds to his offensive line looking as bad as it has.
The game plan. There’s always one game a year where you look at Notre Dame’s game plan and think what the heck were they thinking? Like when they threw the ball 40 times in a hurricane or when they asked Brandon Wimbush to be a pocket passer and took away his threat of running the football.
All week long Kelly has said there was no effort made to keep Wimbush in the pocket, but watching the game it was clear as day that they were trying to protect Wimbush after the beating he took against Michigan. Doing that had a domino effect that made the offense look utterly lost.
Until we see an offensive game plan that makes sense and highlights Wimbush’s skills, it is safe to worry about Chip Long since this is his second year now.
A hangover from all of the snaps last week. I don’t think we have to worry at all about an emotional hangover as you’ll soon see, but I do worry about all of the snaps from last week having a physical hangover this week. I think we’ll actually see more rotation at a lot of positions this weekend. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Tevon Coney or Drue Tranquill got a few more breathers this week after the defense played 97 freaking snaps to Ball State.
The David Shaw Factor. Some Notre Dame fans don’t want to admit it, but David Shaw kind of owns Brian Kelly and as a member of the David Shaw Coaching Tree, Derek Mason’s connection to Shaw does worry me. I’m sure Mason had a call or two with his old boss this week and Shaw clearly knows what it takes to beat the Irish. Shaw is 5-2 against Notre Dame and Brian Kelly.
What Doesn’t Worry Me this Week
The Notre Dame defense. Even with all of the snaps though, the defense doesn’t have me worried at all. All signs are pointing to Clark Lea having the Irish defense progressing towards being an elite defense in his first year as a defensive coordinator. Even with being on the field for 97 snaps last week the defense won the game for the Irish last week. There will be other weeks this year that we say that as well because the defense has the looks of being one of the best in the nation.
Another emotional let down. Notre Dame will come out fired up this week. I was worried about the let down last week but never imaged it was be as profound as it was. That won’t be the case this week. The players know that everyone is now questioning just how good this team is and I think we will see them respond in a very positive way. Julian Love even admitted this week that they overlooked Ball State and it’s not something that they will do again.
Players to Watch
- Robert Hainsey & Liam Eichenberg – These two specifically have struggled the most on the offensive line. There is some chatter that Hainsey might be hurt more than the staff is letting on, but whatever the case he has struggled mightily through two games.
- Brandon Wimbush – Obvious one, but how he responds to last week is crucial. Last year Wimbush let bad games linger. After Miami he wasn’t the same quarterback again. If he lets last week linger, he may end up on the sideline.
- Khalid Kareem – He was a wrecking ball in week one and then a bit quieter last week. Look for him to get back on track this week .
- Nick Coleman – With how well Notre Dame’s corners have played and then how great Jalen Elliott was a week ago, Vanderbilt is going to be looking for someone to target and that person could be Coleman in the slot.
- Miles Boykin – He had his first 100 yard game a week ago and Notre Dame needs someone to step up to get the passing game going. Boykin took a step forward to being that true #1 WR last week. Let’s see if he can build on that.
How’d I Do Last Week
About as good as Notre Dame did on the field. I need to be careful what I wish for as well. Last week I wrote that I hoped Notre Dame would attempt to work on their passing game against Ball State and use it as an opportunity to work out some kinks. Well Kelly and Long took that to the extreme now didn’t that. Obviously though I, like everyone else, did not see Ball State giving Notre Dame any problems after how good the Irish looked against Michigan.
After two weeks, I don’t know exactly what kind of team we’re dealing with. I don’t think the ceiling is as high anymore as I did two weeks ago, but I also don’t think last week’s struggles are any indicator that we’re headed for any sort of disaster season either. Vanderbilt is a really good opponent for Notre Dame this week because it’s a foe they should handle but also one that is a legit threat.
I think we’ll see an inspired Irish squad come out and play a great first quarter before they settle in sort of like we saw against Michigan. There were just too many problems on offense last week to assume they all get fixed in just one week. I still see Notre Dame winning this one but not nearly as comfortably as I did in August when I did my season prediction post. At that time I had Notre Dame 42-10. This week I am not that optimistic.
Notre Dame 27, Vanderbilt 13