You know how when you’re dating someone and despite how cool they are and how much fun you have together, something is missing? It feels weird to break-up because there really isn’t anything wrong, but you know there is a better fit out there for you? And then you meet “the one” and everything that wasn’t there before, is there now, and it all becomes clear.
Well, that was the experience watching Notre Dame play football with Ian Book at quarterback on Saturday. It wasn’t just what was obvious, like the difference in stat line, or the overall efficiency of the offense. It was the check downs to the backs for gains of eight. The wide receiver screen thrown on time and accurately. Or the RPO they could finally run. It was a peak into what the offense could be and what the team could ultimately become.
Four weeks into the football season, the 2018 Notre Dame team found the person who completes them.
Obviously Book, who completed 74% of his 34 passes for 325 yards, 9.6 yards per attempt and two scores. 1o players caught a pass, with six completions coming to tight end Alize Mack, who enjoyed his most prominent game in a long time (more on him in a second). He also showed his ability to successfully execute the zone read, keeping the ball near the goal line for three scores of his own, and running for 43 yards on 10 attempts. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Wimbush, but he may be more effective play to play running the ball, because of his superior decision making. Knowing when he can hurt the defense on the ground in some ways makes him more of a threat. Some key games and matchups await for Book, but he effectively ended any sort of discussion of a controversy against Wake. It’s his job.
Mack has recorded six receptions in two times in his Notre Dame career–last season against North Carolina (Ian Book start), and yesterday against Wake Forest (Ian Book start). It seems those two have got a little thing going, and activating the Notre Dame tight end position, which has been mostly dormant over the last couple of years, would be a huge development for the Irish offense. Particularly impressive was the seam route early against Wake, where Book floated a ball over the linebackers to a streaking Mack, who held onto the pass despite taking a big shot from the safety. Mack has missed on those opportunities in the past, held onto this one. Hopefully this leads to him becoming a big part of the offense against Stanford and through the season.
Trevor Ruhland And The Offensive Line
The lesser talked about new face on the offense was also very impressive in his starting debut. Ruhland replaced Tommy Kraemer at right guard, who was apparently dealing with an ankle injury, and showed excellent athleticism on pulls and was very effective as a pass blocker. Kraemer has had an up and down start to the season and has had trouble with his movement. Not sure how the coaches are going to play this going forward, but Ruhland made a strong case for a rotation at the position, and with Book being more of a passer, could this be Ruhland’s job going forward?
As for the line itself, they were in crisis two weeks ago with their dumpster fire performance against Ball State. In the last two contests, 486 rushing yards, 5.5 a carry, seven rushing touchdowns, one sack in 62 passing attempts. You may say to yourself, “well yeah against Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.” Both of those defenses are better than Ball State’s. They have made the necessary adjustments.
Brian Kelly and Chip Long
Changing quarterbacks can be hard. Changing quarterbacks while 3-0 and ranked #8 in the nation is even harder. But, they obviously knew what was missing with their offense and felt Ian Book could bring it out. They were right. I don’t like playing the “Brandon Wimbush wouldn’t have made those plays” card, because who knows what he would have done, but it’s hard to see a 566 yard, 7.5 yards a play road performance out of him. There is no evidence to suggest a performance like that was on the way.
These two pushed the right button at the right time, then devised a plan that set their offensive team up to perform well. If Kelly is wrong here, he’s fully in the cross-hairs of all of his detractors, and there are a lot of them. Full credit to him and the staff.
Houston Griffith and Kevin Austin
Two freshmen who saw the field a ton against the Demon Deacans, and that doesn’t figure to change any time soon.
Griffith got his first official start for Notre Dame this week at nickel and continues to show progress, this week against Wake Forest’s stellar receiver Greg Dortsch. He entered the game leading the country in all-purpose yards at 224 a game and Griffith helped limit him to 109. Dortsch finished with six receptions for 56 yards, something the Irish coaches would sign up for every single time. The thing about Griffith that makes him so intriguing in the slot is how aggressive he his. He tackles with a ferociousness that is refreshing. His future is more than bright.
Austin saw numerous opportunities at receiver today, finishing with 2 catches for 35 yards, a negated nifty sideline catch for about 12 yards on the games first possession, and a drawn pass interference penalty on a deep post in which he had his man beaten. His arrow continues to point up and I’d expect to see him get more and more chances as the season moves into the second half.
Nope. Don’t feel like nit-picking this week, there will be plenty of that to come later.