Notre Dame hits the road for the first time this season tomorrow with a trip to Winston Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Notre Dame is still searching for an offensive identity at the quarter point of the season and now it looks like there might be a quarterback change coming this weekend. There’s a lot more going on this week than originally thought, so let’s jump in.
What Worries Me This Week
Notre Dame’s handling of the quarterback position. Yesterday threw a fun little wrinkle into the storyline for this weekend’s game when news began circulating that Notre Dame was going to turn to Ian Book. Brian Kelly so far has only said that both of his quarterbacks will play, but it sure sounds like Book is getting the start.
What worries me here is how Kelly handles this. Sorry, but to date he has not shown that he can handle the quarterback position right since 2012. The disaster of 2016 was in large part because he couldn’t make a decision on the quarterback position and stick with it when it was clear who should have been starting. It divided the team and the season collapsed.
I don’t think that will happen this time around and there is a chance that he proves me wrong and suddenly he’s figured it out. There just isn’t any data right now that backs that up. If Book does start I hope that he gets at minimum a few drives to be given a fair shot at jump starting the offense before he gets pulled for Wimbush.
That said, I don’t think pulling Wimbush is the answer to begin with. Developing a game plan around Wimbush’s strengths and not calling plays he struggles with is.
Too many plays for the Notre Dame defense. Wake Forest’s uptempo offense could have Notre Dame on the field a lot this weekend just two weeks after the Irish defense had to play 97 snaps in Notre Dame’s win over Ball State. With Stanford on the horizon, it would be ideal to get the starters some rest this weekend, but that is something else we haven’t seen data to suggest it will happen.
Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill have played virtually every snap on defense this year. If they have to play 90+ snaps again and then take on Stanford and Virginia Tech on back to back weekends, all of those snaps will take their tole. Before that happens, Notre Dame has to get past Wake Forest to begin with and another 90+ snap day for the starting defense won’t be ideal.
Too much passing from Notre Dame. Earlier this week Alize Mack told the media that there was a lot of passing in practice this week suggesting the Irish are going to air it out this weekend. That would be a mistake. With that aforementioned uptempo Wake Forest offense, Notre Dame should rely on their running game to keep the Wake Forest offense off the field and utilize the clock. That isn’t about being scared of the Wake Forest offense either – it’s about protecting their own defense from having to play too many snaps again this weekend.
In an ideal world Notre Dame would run for 300 yards this weekend and attempt less than 20 passes. I’m worried we’ll see the Irish run for less than 200 yards and attempt more than 30 passes though. Would LOVE to be wrong here.
A lack of big plays from Notre Dame. Whatever offensive game plan the Irish employ this weekend, the lack of big plays for the offense has been concerning. Notre Dame will get Dexter Williams back next week, but that won’t help them tomorrow. Can they find some playmakers this weekend? Hopefully, but again until we see it, it’s something to watch.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
The offensive line. Last week was big for the offensive line because it had to boost their confidence heading into the rest of the season. The Ball State game film could not have been fun to breakdown but the offensive line as a whole responded very well against a solid defense last week. There is still a lot of work for Jeff Quinn to do with his line but what we saw last week was very encouraging and is more along the lines of what I expected us to see from the Notre Dame offensive line early on this season.
Wake Forest is not particularly strong defensively so the Notre Dame offensive line should get in another confidence booster this weekend before next week’s challenge of Stanford. If Notre Dame can’t build on last week’s performance it will be a major red flag, but I don’t see that happening.
Special teams. Another unit that responded in a big way last week was the Notre Dame special teams unit. Michael Young had a 48 yard kick return, Tyler Newsome had a historic day punting, Jonathan Doerer was booming touchbacks, and Justin Yoon was 3 of 4 on FGs. Now, Yoon should have been 4 of 4, but there was a bad snap on his missed 32 yarder that he pushed wide right. Still, given the special teams performances in week one and two, last was very encouraging.
Hopefully Brian Polian continues telling Doerer to just boom the ball out of the endzone on kicks because the Irish defense is good enough that the extra 5-10 yards of field position Notre Dame may be able to gain from a perfectly placed high kickoff isn’t worth the risk at this point.
Players to Watch this Week
- Ian Book / Brandon Wimbush – Obvious here but hopefully one of these two plays so well that we can put an end to any notion of a two quarterback system.
- Michael Young – He looked great on that 48 yard kick return last week. This might be the week he gets a look at wide receiver and maybe that playmaking ability shines through in the passing game too.
- Daelin Hayes / Khalid Kareem – Both have been quiet since week one. Notre Dame could use its pass rush to wake up after it’s been silent the last two weeks.
- Julian Love – I think he gets his first INT of the season this weekend and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got two.
- Houston Griffith – The frosh saw extensive action last week at the nickel spot. The arrow is pointing up here and his playing time will only increase.
How’d I Do Last Week?
Eh not terrible, but not great. I had Notre Dame 27-13 but the final ended Notre Dame 22-17. For a while it looked like the margin of victory would be two scores, but the Irish once again made a game much closer than it needed to be. I was worried about the game plan last week, and it still was a bit suspect.
Okay so after two back to back weeks of Notre Dame playing close games down to the wire against lesser opponents, this weekend will obviously come down to the wire again right? Maybe not. Getting on the road and playing away from home might be good for this team right now to get their focus back and take away all of the home game distractions. The quarterback situation now makes a prediction a bit tricky, but Wake Forest really isn’t very good. If this one is close, it’ll be clear that Notre Dame is just living on borrowed time.
I’ll go out on a limb here and pick Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 16