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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

October 15, 2020
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When it’s Notre Dame football, people have to worry about something. So even though they won a game by 16 where they just had a top-five yards per play performance of the Brian Kelly era against Power 5 competition, I guess this week it’s time to worry about the defense.

For some, I mean. Not me. I’m not going to put too much stock into a game that was below the standard where Notre Dame was missing three starters and didn’t have three of their five best corners practicing until Thursday. I can’t put much stock into any of what we’ve seen from the defense so far because any grade that would be given would have to be an “incomplete”.

When you’ve missed so many players and have missed so much practice time, it’s practically impossible to play at an elite level. That’s a big reason why you are seeing so many high scoring games across the country.

Even with all of the things going against them, Clark Lea’s defense has had a Havoc Rate of 23.5%. Anything above 20% would have them finish easily in the top-10 in the country and likely top-five. Notre Dame is eighth in Stuff Rate (opponent runs tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage). They are 12th in Sack Rate and that’s with them missing on at least three sacks against Florida State which would have been sacks against almost any other quarterback.

They are also only allowing other teams to convert on 18.2% of 3rd downs (second), which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s only three games in so no one should hand them a crown for those achievements. When I see those numbers and consider Lea’s track record at Notre Dame, though, I don’t see any reason to be concerned that this defense won’t continue to be really good (again).

Worried about personnel? Some guys you may be worried about might not be playing that much in a few weeks. Worried about technique or tackling? Chances are you’ll be less worried once the team can practice without having to take extended breaks.

Even with all of the things going against them, Clark Lea’s defense has had a Havoc Rate of 23.5%. Anything above 20% would have them finish easily in the top-10 in the country and likely top-five. Notre Dame is eighth in Stuff Rate (opponent runs tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage). They are 12th in Sack Rate and that’s with them missing on at least three sacks against Florida State which would have been sacks against almost any other quarterback.

The meat of the schedule is coming up for Notre Dame. Louisville will present new challenges this week and there’s at least a few more offenses that have shown they can put points up on the board left to go.

Perhaps next week might be time to worry, but I’d be surprised if the defense doesn’t play better this week than it did against Florida State.

2. Here’s another thing to like about what we’ve seen from Notre Dame’s defense so far. They are resilient. They are tied for fifth in the country in red zone touchdown percentage.

On Florida State’s two longest drives of the game, one 12 play drive and one 13 play drive, they allowed only three points.

Things may not be as sharp as they need to be, but the defense always plays hard and doesn’t concede anything. That is going to matter a lot when they play teams where holding them to three will be hugely important.

3. I know everyone who covers college football loves to tell you how much they liked so and so as a recruit when the guy starts ballin’ out in college, but here’s me saying I was unconvinced Bo Bauer was going to be a contributor at Notre Dame when he signed.

There were things I liked about him as a prospect. I liked how he diagnosed and attacked versus the run (he’s doing that well right now) and I really liked his skills as a blitzer (he’s checking that box too).

I had questions about him as an athlete and in coverage, but the way he is being used on 3rd downs is taking advantage of his strengths without putting him in a position to potentially expose his weaknesses. He’s been good in the base defense as well.

He’s surprised me with how his strengths have gotten better and how his overall game has improved. I thought he might get passed by a younger linebacker on the depth chart this season and only be a factor on special teams.

I was wrong. Bauer looks like an ascending right now.

4. I think if anyone was wondering about multiple tight ends being a base formation on offense, they know by now that two tight ends is the norm for this Notre Dame team.

They’ve run the ball 23 times out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end). They’ve run it a combined 58 times out of 12 or 13 personnel (43 times with two tight ends).

They are averaging 7.6 YPC out of 11 and 8.09 out of 12 so one tight end or more seem to all be working out pretty well.

5. Yep, it’s three games and it’s not against the ‘70s Steel Curtain, but Notre Dame has averaged nine runs of 10+ yards per game so far. We’ll see if they can keep up the pace, but they averaged 7.5 per game with Josh Adams and that Joe Moore Award winning 2017 offensive line.

If the running game pops off close to double digit 10+ yard runs against Pitt, they’ve given up only 13 in five games, then that would be a pretty good sign that they may find some success against Clemson as well.

6. Quenton Nelson, Zack Martin, and Ronnie Stanley were All-Pro last season in the NFL. That’s special to have three players from the same college program all make first team All-Pro and those guys are all recognized by those who watch offensive line play closely as some of the best in the sport.

But they play a position that doesn’t exactly generate highlights. Sure, O-line Twitter will dig up Nelson pancaking a guy and that will get shared, but rarely do players like them get mentioned on Football Night in America when they are recapping all of the games and none of them are on anyone’s fantasy team so the casual fan doesn’t really know them. They aren’t switching the Red Zone feed to showcase a great reach block.

Just about everyone watching the NFL last weekend heard the name Chase Claypool. That’s bound to happen when a rookie scores four touchdowns. He’s been very good to start the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and his role is expanding. It looks like many people are going to keep learning what many Notre Dame fans knew last year: Claypool has the chance to be a star.

If that happens, I think it would be huge for Notre Dame. They’ve had some skill position players become high draft picks in recent years. They’ve had players like Will Fuller and Golden Tate have some brilliant flashes. They haven’t had a receiver or a running back become a full blown star in the NFL in a long time.

Maybe it’s an overreaction to one game, but I don’t believe it is. The team has raved about Claypool since he was drafted and the Steelers are known for hitting it out of the park with receivers. They sure look like they did again and that would be a great thing for Notre Dame.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt recruiting when they need to land someone like Claypool. They could use a few of them if they want to win a national championship.

 
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