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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

June 25, 2020

Talking about non-football things like how Notre Dame will deal with the health and safety of players, staff, and students during the pandemic is not fun. It’s also unavoidable and a reality of the current situation, which is why Mike and I discuss it every week on Power Hour.

Something that is much more fun are the questions ISD subscribers submit every week that are football-related. I greatly appreciate those and I’m happy to talk about that kind of stuff all day long.

There have been some really great questions in recent weeks and these two questions from redmack was another.

In your opinion what single player on offense has to have an outstanding season for ND to be better offensively than they were last year.
In your opinion what single defensive player has to have an outstanding season for ND to be better defensively than they were last year?

On the podcast I mentioned Kevin Austin on offense, but I just as easily could have said Liam Eichenberg. He plays a critically important position and appears poised to be a high pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He also is going to face a gauntlet of great pass rushers this fall and if he plays close to the level of his predecessors (Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, and Mike McGlinchey), it would be huge for Notre Dame’s offensive success.

My defensive player was more general than specific. If Notre Dame has a disruptive pass rusher emerge, like Jerry Tillery in 2018, that would go a long way in making the defense even better than it was last season (8th in yards per play, 5th in FEI).

The one problem with this is that there is not an obvious answer as to who that defensive lineman would be. This may not be a bad problem, though, because there are plenty of options.

We could see multiple defensive linemen make a big leap with their play. If either Daelin Hayes or Ade Ogundeji had a monster season, no one would be surprised. If the players behind them in the rotation did the same, it might be surprising, but no one would be shocked if Ovie Oghoufo or Isaiah Foskey jumped the line and became great players.

The same goes inside where the young backups at defensive tackle might force the hand of Mike Elston to give them more snaps. Jacob Lacey and Howard Cross might be a future starting duo and also be too good to not steal snaps in 2020. Jayson Ademilola could be poised to have a Sheldon Day like jump in production as well.

Maybe the best answer to redmack’s original question is that one single defender isn’t going to make a huge difference for Notre Dame because if it’s three or four guys who have an outstanding season on the defensive line, then the defense is really going to jump to a level that gives them a chance to run the table.

The 2018 team had three defensive linemen with double digit tackles for loss (Tillery, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Okwara). That’s the only time that has happened at Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly era. I think we may see that again in 2020.

When it comes to overall talent and depth, I believe this has the potential to be the best defensive line Notre Dame has had in the last decade.

2. It’s easy to say that Notre Dame players have been smart and that having only one player test positive, when so many other programs are in the double digits, is a good sign for football this fall. Hopefully the mistakes made by LSU players going to a night club and Kansas State players having a house party is something that they can use as an example of what not to do as well.

But even if Notre Dame players are consistently smart with their decisions to not put themselves in jeopardy of contracting Covid-19, does it matter if other programs are less careful?

If Notre Dame is set to play Clemson, but Clemson’s players aren’t smart during their bye week and come back with a bunch of positive tests, that’s the kind of thing that would put that game in jeopardy of being played.

(That’s it. That’s my one Covid-19 thought that has been gnawing at me. Back to football.)

3. I know Pitt has been getting some pre-season love as a team who is capable of winning double digit games this season. It’s mostly because of their defense, which is going to be close to the level of the units Pat Narduzzi coached at Michigan State.

The defensive line is going to be nasty. The pass rush (51 sacks in 2019) will be formidable. It’s going to be tough to put points on the board against them.

Put me with the people who aren’t buying quarterback Kenny Pickett as someone who is going to make their offense go, though. He is going to be a three-year starter, so I guess that’s why there is so much optimism. But he’s been straight up bad against good defenses and Notre Dame should be in that category.

Against Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Miami last season he averaged 4.5, 4.0, and 4.6 yards per attempt. In 2018 he averaged 4.5 YPA against Notre Dame. Later that season they faced Clemson and he averaged 0.5 YPA. That’s not a typo.

When he doesn’t see it, and he hasn’t seen it against good defenses, it’s check down city with “Kenny Football” as the mayor. Unless he gets A LOT better, I can’t see Pitt being good enough on offense for Pitt to win that game.

4. I have mixed feelings about the announcement that there will be an Elite 11 this year.

It’s exciting for all of the players to get an opportunity and especially for Notre Dame fans to know that Tyler Buchner‍ will be involved.

It’s not going to be a typical event, though. I’m not sure about the receivers who will be there to help the quarterbacks compete and media access is going to be limited. Who knows what they will be doing for testing the athletes or family members as well. I have a lot of questions about how they will be able to make it successful while still hoping that it ends up working out for everyone.

The most disappointing thing for me is that they won’t be holding The Opening this year and may not have even if the circumstances were different. This has been trending this way for awhile since Nike became less involved and they cut the budget for it, which is unfortunate because it was a special event and a great opportunity for someone like me to see not only Notre Dame commits and targets, but the best recruits in the country that they competed against.

I have been to The Opening every year since 2014 and enjoyed it each time. I hope it comes back next year or some other time in the future. I’m unsure if that’s going to happen. 

5. It’s the time of year where I’m diving deeper into Notre Dame opponents, which is more difficult this time around because of the uncertainty of the schedule.

I have to go with assuming they will play it as is for now and that means Arkansas is going to travel to Notre Dame on September 12.

I knew that they brought in a new head coach, Sam Pittman, and have two new coordinators. I forgot that they had zero spring practices before things got shut down and they weren’t able to get in any work with the new staff.

Not that anyone would be picking Arkansas to pull off the upset, but I can’t think of a tougher situation for a new head coach to walk into and it’s only made worse with the fact that Pittman has never run his own program. Oh, they are relying on Florida transfer Feleipe Franks to be their quarterback as well.

With Navy replacing Malcolm Perry at quarterback, it’s a pretty ideal first couple of games for Notre Dame if the schedule stays the same.

6. I enjoyed this piece by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman about programs who might be one tweak away from becoming the next LSU. Georgia might actually be the only team who is truly a tweak away from winning a championship given the talent level they have throughout their roster, but what he wrote about Notre Dame shows how they can take a step forward with the changes to the staff on the offensive side of the ball.

Feldman hit on points we’ve discussed on ISD like communication being better with Tommy Rees as coordinator and what Feldman wrote about rushing attack shouldn’t be foreign to anyone who has watched Notre Dame football in recent years.

As good as ND has been up front, at times the Irish rushing attack has faded in the games they’ve lost over the past few seasons. Also, it’ll be interesting to see how they use dynamic freshman Chris Tyree. The 192-pounder has got burst unlike any back ND has had the past couple of seasons and is similar to another back Taylor was around at Stanford—Bryce Love.

I really believe Tyree is the key.

That might be unfair to put that on a freshman, especially when the guy he is compared to didn’t make a big impact right away. It also might be unfair that I’m on the record that he is going to lead the team in rushing. Expectations are high for him and partially because there isn’t as much expected from the returning backs already on the roster.

It’s a fact that even teams who are considered loaded at almost every position will sometimes rely on freshmen to help win a championship. Look no further than the last four years with Derek Stingley at LSU, Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross at Clemson, Tua Tagovailoa and Najee Harris at Alabama, and Dexter Lawrence for Clemson in 2016. The closest thing Notre Dame has had to that kind of freshman was Kyle Hamilton last year and he certainly did his part to elevate the defense.

I don’t see Notre Dame getting to where they want to go without Tyree being a big part of their success running the ball. As recent history has showed, needing that from a freshman is not a bad thing and if Tyree can provide some explosive plays, it changes the ceiling for the offense.

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