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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

November 12, 2020
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Do you smell that? That mix of fresh air combined with wood on a fire and barbecue on the grill? That’s what a win over Clemson smells like.

Not many other programs know that smell. In the last 38 games it’s only LSU and Notre Dame. That’s how rare it is to beat a program that has it rolling like Clemson. It’s not something that happens very often so it deserves to be celebrated.

More than just celebrating it, Notre Dame has to be able to take advantage of it. The first and most important way they can do that is to win out the rest of the regular season so they can get to the ACC Championship game. On top of that, though, they need to use this win to help in recruiting.

As Desus and Mero say, the brand is strong. It always has been with Notre Dame. Right now it’s stronger than it has been in a very long time. The coaching staff needs to jump on that and make sure that’s sold to as many prospective recruits as possible.

ISD’s Matt Freeman mentioned a couple of days ago that Notre Dame’s staff has certainly been active trying to finish the 2021 class and this result can only help that. An even bigger deal will be trying to ride this wave with the 2022 class. Some of those early offers might not have listened to them earlier, but this kind of win could make an elite recruit a little bit more open to it.

No one is going to make a decision to play for Notre Dame based off of one game. But what this kind of win, combined with going 40-6 over the last three and a half seasons, can do is get someone to take a closer look at what’s going on with the program currently.

This win was not a fluke. Anyone who watched it knows. For anyone who didn’t, take advantage and let them know about what Notre Dame is doing right now.

No one could argue that it isn’t a great time for them to recruit. It may give a small boost to the undecided or the prospects commited elsehwhere who are wavering in 2021. More importantly, it may give Notre Dame a foot in the door with some elite prospects in the next couple of cycles who might not have given the program as long of a look without that kind of win.

2. Of course they should be talking about this win with all recruits, but what happened in this game should be a major point of emphasis to the offensive and defensive linemen the staff has targeted.

They don’t even have to say much to lay out what is going on up front with the Irish. The staff can let Dabo Swinney do it for them.

“They just out-played us. That simple...it’s a simple game. They won the line of scrimmage.”

They should put that on a graphic. It’s not hyperbole. It’s fact and the numbers back it up.

No opponent had held Clemson under 50 yards rushing since 2011 before Saturday night. The last team to rush for over 200 yards against Clemson was Alabama in 2017.

The Irish won the game up front on both sides of the ball in a big way.

3. With so many players rising to the occasion, it’s easy to forget that one player was taken out of the lineup after getting beat. TaRiq Bracy got dusted for a 53-yard touchdown. He was replaced after that by freshman Clarence Lewis.

We’ll see if that was more of an in the moment thing or if this the start of Lewis taking the field corner job from Bracy, but it’s worth noting that Mike Mickens had a true freshman take over a starting job at Cincinnati halfway through last season.

Ahmad Gardner burst onto the scene and ended up having a fantastic finish. He’s now one of the top corners in the country.

It’s way too early to assert anything like that with Lewis. He’s only played just over 100 snaps in coverage and been targeted 13 times. He flashed in a big way against South Florida with three pass breakups, but we don’t know how he’ll do against a solid Boston College receiver group and a better than solid North Carolina one.

I know that Notre Dame needs someone to step up at corner and it doesn’t matter if it’s Lewis, Bracy, or someone else. The position was an area of concern heading into the season and we really didn’t have any conclusions on it until Clemson did what they just did.

Everyone can agree that they need better play when they play against better receivers. They’ll face them against North Carolina, likely against Clemson in the ACC Championship game, and against playoff competition if Notre Dame qualifies.

4. Notre Dame played well to beat Clemson, but I do think they have a higher ceiling than what they showed. Maybe that’s unrealistic in terms of shutting down Travis Etienne the way they did or the protection holding up so well or Ian Book playing what I would say was his best game at Notre Dame.

But when you think about some things they gave up in the passing game, the way they rushed the passer, and Tommy Rees not trying nearly as much trickery to create big plays compared to Clemson, I do think there is more they can do to play better even if Clemson gets healthy for the next showdown.

The pass rush certainly can help those corners and some of it can be helped by players improving over the next few weeks. We only have to look at last season where Ade Ogundeji took off down the stretch with his sack and tackle for loss numbers shooting up.

The same could happen right now and it may even happen with Ogundeji again. 3.5 sacks doesn’t truly reflect his level of play. He leads the team in total pressures and hits on the quarterback. His breakout game may be on its way and then things could keep rising from there.

In addition to players taking a step, I do think there should be more five man pressure against Clemson if the two teams meet again. It’s not just Brent Venables who will change things up if they see each other again. Clark Lea isn’t going to roll out the exact same thing we saw from him and he’s someone who has proven to learn a lot when his defense makes mistakes.

5. Maybe he’s not a WR1. For the record, I don’t think Notre Dame has a WR1. All I know is that Javon McKinley has shown enough to prove he can be a big play guy in the passing game.

In the last two years he’s averaging 21.1 yards per reception (on 30 catches). That’s enough a sample size against good competition to show that he isn’t just a guy who can dominate against weaker teams.

In 2019 Notre Dame found a good thing when they ran 4 verts with Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet on the same side of the formation. I think they found their 2020 version of that with McKinley and Michael Mayer.

6. It’s pretty clear that there are some bitter feelings from Notre Dame fans about Phil Jurkovec. I don’t know if it’s because they want to defend Ian Book or if they just don’t like when anyone chooses to leave rather than take the hard road, but I don’t believe those hard feelings are shared by the guys who played with Jurkovec.

Players transfer all the time and while some guys do it for reasons that might upset fans, most players do it because they are unhappy. It sounds like Jurkovec was really unhappy with this situation at Notre Dame and is feeling much better about his chance to play at Boston College.

I’d bet that most, if not all, of the players at Notre Dame are happy for him.

So if you’re thinking that Notre Dame players will be extra motivated to beat Jurkovec because he bailed on them, it’s a fair bet that it is not the case. They’ll be motivated to beat him, but it won’t be this revenge angle that people want it to be.

I’m sure we’re going to see the Irish pass rush get after Jurkovec. No one in the country has been pressured more than him. He’s been sacked 22 times this season and has been hit an additional 54 times.

He’s going to get hit a lot in this game. Just don’t expect there to be a little extra on those hits even if some Notre Dame fans wouldn’t mind seeing it.

 
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