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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

September 24, 2020

It was inevitable. There was no way Notre Dame was going to get through a season without a delay or postponement due to Covid-19. I assumed it would be their opponent that caused it, but that’s not what it looks like has happened.

Notre Dame is one of several programs who have had to reschedule games. By my count, it’s been over close to 20 FBS games so far and that number is sure to climb with the SEC just beginning play this weekend and the Big Ten starting their season a month from now. Considering we’re not through the first month of the season, that’s not exactly encouraging.

They aren’t scheduled to play again until Florida State visits on October 10. That’s a three week break between games and I really have no idea how that is going to impact what we see from the team in that game or the rest of the year.

Any momentum gained from the way they executed on offense is going to be difficult if not impossible to carry over into that game. Forget about them not practicing this week. Even if they get back to a normal schedule next week, it’s hard to say they will look the same as they did if the only competition is happening internally.

So what’s the solution to keep them sharp when they do get back to practice? I wonder if Brian Kelly might treat this like bowl game preparation by easing back into it before ramping things up the week of the FSU game. Or perhaps they can go back to a camp mentality and scrimmage to get players competing at a level that is necessary when they get back to games.

It might be smart to reach out to some other coaches to see what they have done while having extended breaks from playing games.

Memphis played on September 5, but isn’t scheduled to play again until October 3.  BYU is about to play their second game three weeks after their first. Virginia and Virginia Tech had games postponed games and have not played yet. Maybe someone at those programs has some advice on what has worked and what hasn’t during their time away from playing games.

This is all uncharted territory. I have to keep writing how unique this season is. I wish I could stop and things could just go on as scheduled. Maybe that will happen with this being the one blip during the season for Notre Dame. I hope so, but I’m not certain of that.

It’s impossible to be certain about anything in college football and we have to get used to that.

2. This will be my last thought on it because I do have football things I’d like to get into. Moving this game to December is the one do-over Notre Dame will have with only one other open week in November to fill in any other missed games. That week might not work for a Notre Dame opponent if another game has to be postponed. The next one could be a cancellation.

What will that mean with conference play if some teams end up playing more games than others? Who the heck knows. I’m sure it will be a mess to figure out if some teams play eight conference games and others play 10.

3. I really loved what I saw from Tommy Rees’ offense against South Florida, but I know that’s not how it’s going to look every week. When the defenses get better, it’s going to be a lot harder to execute at that same level and be more efficient. We’re not going to see a 68.2% split of running the football every week and the playbook, specifically the passing game, will have to expand.

They won’t be able to run the ball at will against Pitt or Clemson no matter how well things are working up front with the offensive line and the tight ends.

Clemson did give up over 5.0 yards per carry last season to Ohio State and LSU, but since 2015 opponents have only managed that two other times (Alabama in the 2016 national championship game and North Carolina State in 2015). Pitt gave up over 5.0 yards per carry only once last season and that wasn’t against Penn State when Journey Brown broke free for an 85-yard run. Outside of that one play PSU rushed for 2.64 YPC.

The obvious piece missing from Notre Dame’s offense so far is wide receiver production. If Notre Dame keeps using a lot of 12 and 13 personnel, though, play-action is going to become a bigger weapon for Rees to go to. Ian Book is averaging 11.6 yards per attempt through play-action through two games.

According to PFF, his percentage of play-action passes to total drop backs is 27.1%. I expect that number to rise quite a bit as we get later into the season.

4. Here’s another thing we’re going to see more of when they get back to playing football: Book running the football. He only has 35 yards rushing through two games (minus lost yardage for sacks). He had 618 last season.

Book won’t get back to over 500 in 2020, even if they manage to play 12 games. With a better group of backs he won’t need to.

His athleticism is a big part of his game. I’m sure Rees will add in some designed runs in certain weeks and we’ll see Book create yards outside of the framework of the play call too.

Right now I have him with 34 yards (one touchdown) when Book creates on his own.

5. The thing I have enjoyed watching the most with the running backs in the first two games are the forced missed tackles. Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, and C’Bo Flemister have combined for 22 of those.

Williams has 13 on his own. To put the impact of that into perspective, consider that Jafar Armstrong only has 15 forced missed tackles credited to him during his career at Notre Dame.

Let’s say Williams stays with that average and finishes with 71 on the season through 11 games. That’s 28 more than CJ Prosise had in 2015, 27 more than Josh Adams had in 2017, and 51 more than Dexter Williams had in 2018 (although he only played in nine games).

That’s a better per game average than LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire had last season and he was known as one of the most elusive runners in the nation.

It’s (very) early, but Williams looks like he may be one of the toughest runners to tackle in college football.

6. Since we’re all going to have some free time this weekend and if you’re looking to avoid going apple picking with your significant other, you might as well watch some football.

Louisville and Pitt play at noon on the ACC Network in a battle of an exciting offense (Louisville) against a potentially great defense (Pitt).

Mississippi State at LSU at 3:30 on CBS is going to be an interesting one to check out. If Mike Leach in the SEC wasn’t fun enough for you, LSU replacing virtually everyone on offense, including passing game coordinator Joe Brady, should make it a must-watch.

LSU is starting two freshmen on offense who are expected to be immediate difference-makers.

Florida State is going to be without head coach Mike Norvell for their game against Miami at 7:30 on ABC. FSU’s offense looked bad against Georgia Tech to open this season and I’m not sure how much better they will get before they visit Notre Dame.

It sucks to have two Notre Dame football weekends in a row and then have it taken away, but that’s college football in a pandemic. At least there are other games to enjoy while we wait and there are at least a few intriguing matchups to keep an eye on.

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