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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

October 1, 2020

If all goes well, Notre Dame will be back with a full practice on Saturday. That’s two weeks since they last were in pads, which doesn’t happen very often in college football outside of a pandemic.

It will be three weeks in between games for them and I have actually dealt with something similar when I was a coach.

I coached high school football for a handful of years with my Dad, a long time high school football coach in Canada, and one season was especially challenging. I was the defensive coordinator and we had a very good squad. I thought it was a championship quality team before the season, but we had some obstacles that year and were unable to overcome them in the end. One of those obstacles was going about a month without playing a game.

There were games forfeited at the end of our regular season and that cost us a couple of weeks. Then we had a bye in the first round of the playoffs before playing our next game. We still practiced during that time and to say it was difficult to keep the focus of the players would be an understatement. I give them credit for not letting down with their effort during that month off, but it was extremely difficult to stay ready to play without a game to prepare for.

Our team ultimately won our first playoff game, but it was much closer than it should have been. It was a one score game that could have been won by three touchdowns. The next week we played a team that we were better than, but we were sloppy with execution and penalties and lost the game. A season that looked so promising at the start was over.

It’s easy to look back at that time now and think about how our team lost our edge during that break. It wasn’t that the players wanted to win any less or were working less hard. It wasn’t that the coaches weren’t working hard either. It’s just that we couldn’t get things humming again on offense.

At a time where we should have been hitting our stride, we had to come back and play at a high level in a playoff game. We couldn’t get to where we needed to be and that’s why our season ended in disappointment.

These are obviously different circumstances and playing a worse than expected Florida State team isn’t like jumping back into it against a physical team like Pitt or an explosive team like Louisville. The opponent should provide a small buffer that they wouldn’t have had against a better opponent. 

Notre Dame doesn’t have to be very sharp to beat Florida State based on what they’ve shown. They will have to be sharp to beat Louisville and Pitt right after, even though those programs aren’t juggernauts.

If Notre Dame is back and mostly healthy playing Florida State on October 10, I expect them to be rusty, but still able to take care of business. They have to shake off any rust in the next couple of weeks after and find the kind of edge they appeared to have against South Florida.

It’s as much about building confidence as anything else. That team I coached lost some confidence after struggling when we came back from a long layoff. Notre Dame needs to get back to playing confident again fairly quickly because they don’t have much time to figure things out before the schedule gets more difficult.

2. There isn’t much good about Notre Dame missing a chance to play a game this fall, especially because of the reason why they were unable to play. Maybe the only good thing for the coaches is it gives them a chance to watch other teams in the ACC when they would have been busy coaching or prepping for their own game.

If Notre Dame’s coaching staff spent most of the weekend watching other ACC teams, it’s a fair bet that they learned that this conference doesn’t have much quality offensive line play. I know it’s early in the season, but what I’ve seen from the O-lines in the conference hasn’t been pretty.

Wake Forest, Syracuse, Louisville, Florida State, and NC State are allowing nine tackles for loss per game or more. If you take the two ACC games Pitt has played, they’ve given up 9.5 TFLs per game as well. Boston College, supposedly one of the best lines in the conference, gave up nine against Duke.

Not all of that is on the line play, but it is an indication of how bad things are up front for at least half of the conference. Virginia Tech, Virginia, and North Carolina have all only played one game so far so I don’t want to lump them in with the bad lines yet, but UNC’s line certainly didn’t impress me with how they played against Syracuse.

I don’t think line play is going to be good at most programs this season, but it’s looked bad so far in the ACC from what I’ve seen. Very bad.

3. It’s so difficult to say how good Notre Dame is or could be, but watching more teams last week didn’t make me feel worse about the Irish. If anything it made me feel like Notre Dame does have a chance to be really good if they can get through this extended hiatus without losing too much momentum.

Clemson and Miami are the only two teams who look legit on offense and defense in the ACC. It’s only one week, but some of those SEC powers look like they’ve got things to figure out if they are going to be contenders. And the Big 12…(lolz insert laughing crying emojis here)

Clemson and Alabama aren’t locks to make the College Football Playoff quite yet, but who are we kidding? It will be shocking if they aren’t there. The other spots look completely up for grabs and Notre Dame should be in that mix if they don’t take a step back after this outbreak.

4. Way back in March, Matt Freeman and I worked together on an “ISD Sweet 16” where we seeded the most important players to Notre Dame’s 2020 season. It wasn’t the best or most outstanding. It was who we deemed as the most valuable.

This is how we had it ranked 1-16 at that time:

1. Ian Book

2. Kyle Hamilton

3. Ade Ogundeji

4. Liam Eichenberg

5. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

6. Robert Hainsey

7. Kevin Austin

8. Braden Lenzy

9. Daelin Hayes

10. TaRiq Bracy

11. Chris Tyree

12. Tommy Kraemer

13. Tommy Tremble

14. Myron Tagovailoa-Amost

15. Houston Griffith

16. Drew White

We only have had two games so far for Notre Dame this fall, but we’d certainly rank it differently now. While Book still might be the obvious number one due to his position, there would be quite a bit of shuffling behind him.

Tremble would be in the top-five today based on his usage in the running and passing game so far. Kyren Williams would be in there as well after not being ranked initially. It’s hard to argue against Hamilton, Ogundeji, Eichenberg, and Owusu-Koramoah being at the top with those guys as well.

If I was breaking it down into tiers of who the most important players on this year’s Notre Dame team are, all of those names would be in the top group with a pretty significant space between them and the rest of the players.

They would be important players in any year, but are even more important right now with what has happened with the roster. We’ve seen Hamitlon miss a game already due to injury and who knows if we’ll see these players miss time due to injury or from Covid-19. If any of these players miss a significant amount of time, it’s going to be difficult to see Notre Dame get to where they want to go this season.

5. A couple of weeks ago I thought it was realistic to expect Kevin Austin back and contributing by the time Notre Dame plays Pitt. Now? I don’t know what to expect because who knows how this may have affected his rehab.

As Mike mentioned on Power Hour, no one should be counting on Austin to come back and be the WR1 he was projected to be in his first game back. It’s probably going to take some time to get there and who knows if that can even happen by the time they face Clemson.

After watching Pitt a couple of times, I do think Notre Dame will need Austin to at least provide a spark winning a contested catch or two. Much like those Michigan State defenses Pat Narduzzi coached, testing the corners deep is an absolute necessity in order to move the football against Pitt. Even if it’s just once or twice on that day, a big play from Austin could end up meaning a lot in what should be a low scoring game.

6. Notre Dame was a bit spoiled when they had back to back years of Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool lining up as the boundary receiver. Those two together with Cole Kmet last year gave the offense the ability to win 50/50 balls at a more favorable rate and that’s such a huge thing for an offense.

Those guys are all gone now. Who are the replacements on the roster? Austin, if he can get on the field, and Michael Mayer are the only two that stand out. Jordan Johnson at some point is someone I believe can thrive in contested catch situations. As it currently stands right now, though, Notre Dame lacks the players who can make those catches.

That’s a problem.

That’s also why getting Deion Colzie‍ to re-commit to Notre Dame was so important. Notre Dame needs to land a big receiver who can do the kind of things he can do, stretch the field and win over the top of defensive backs, every single cycle.

I like Lorenzo Styles Jr.‍ more as a prospect, but Colzie might even be more valuable in this class for Notre Dame when you consider how much they needed someone with his body type and skill set.

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