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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

November 19, 2020
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No one goes through a football season without losing multiple players to injury. It’s the nature of the game. Only luck can see a team come out unscathed.

Notre Dame hasn’t had horrible injury luck outside of the wide receiver position, but they did get dealt a big blow when they found out starting center Jarrett Patterson would be out with a foot injury. It’s likely that he will not be able to return this season.

Patterson had played well like every starter on the offensive line in 2020. He’s been one of the better centers in college football and PFF had him with the best grade in the ACC at his position. There was a strong chance he was going to be selected to be first team All-ACC.

No matter who replaces him, it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll be as good as Patterson. The important thing will be finding the person to insert who won’t allow the line as a whole to take a step back. That’s where things get interesting for Jeff Quinn and Notre Dame.

The bye week gives Quinn a chance to look at different groups. The easiest transition would be for backup Zeke Correll to be the next man in so the line can maintain continuity at the other spots. But easiest isn’t always best. All we need for evidence of that was seeing Quinn shuffle Aaron Banks from left guard to left tackle after Liam Eichenberg was out during the Florida State game.

Banks moved over and Dillan Gibbons came in at left guard. He did a fine job there in his abbreviated time. If Correll is best and if he’s ready to play a bigger role, then he’ll be the guy. If not, then there are two other potential scenarios I could see play out.

Both of them involve “sixth man” Josh Lugg.

The first would be Lugg playing center. All anyone needs to know about that is Notre Dame gave him reps last year in practice at that spot. That doesn’t mean he will be the center, but it means that Notre Dame has taken a look at him there before.

I have no idea when the last time he took reps there, but if they liked him enough at that spot, it’s something that has the chance to be revisited.

The other scenario is closer to the Banks and Gibbons shuffle that happened against FSU. This would be Robert Hainsey moving to center and Lugg taking over at right tackle.

When Hainsey went down last season, Lugg filled in and surprised with his level of play. It’s a natural fit for him and he is probably in line to play right tackle in 2020 when Hainsey graduates. It’s not difficult to speculate this could happen, especially because center might be the spot Hainsey has to play in the NFL given his measurables.

It’s more theory than anything else at this point, though. We have no idea if Hainsey has taken reps at center in the past or if there is enough time for him to jump in and excel on the fly.

A bye week helps, but it’s not a full off-season to train and get used to everything. Hainsey is smart enough to play the position. Is that enough? I don’t know the answer to that.

These are intriguing options. Correll stepping in gives Notre Dame a sneak preview of 2021. If he plays well, it opens up the possibility of moving Patterson to another spot next fall. For Hainsey, it gives NFL scouts a look at what may be his projected position in pro football.

Intriguing might not mean good. We’ll have to wait and see on that. I don’t believe that Patterson’s injury is going to derail a great season from the offensive line, but there will definitely be an adjustment period. The good news is that Notre Dame won’t play a great defense again until the ACC Championship game (provided they win out).

The new center will have some time to get acclimated before the level of competition goes up significantly. Things aren’t going to look as good in protection right away with whoever it is. Notre Dame fans should hope that, like at wide receiver, things will eventually get on track to where everyone feels good about the replacement.

2. Total yards is not something that’s particularly valuable when evaluating college football teams, but the difference in rushing yards per game for Notre Dame compared to the rushing yards they allow is too remarkable not to mention.

Notre Dame is +148.4 in rushing yards per game.

North Carolina, who averages the exact same amount of rushing yards per game as Notre Dame, is +77.7. Georgia, who has had a dominant run defense with similar per carry and per game numbers to Notre Dame, is +90.7.

The Irish beat Clemson by winning the battle up front on both sides of the ball. The identity of Notre Dame football in 2020 is more than just winning up front, but if you were forced to say who they are using only one statistic, being +148.4 in rushing yards seems like a good way to show who the team is.

3. When it comes to run defense, it all starts with Notre Dame creating negative plays. The Irish lead the country in Stuff Rate (runs tackled for zero yards or less) with 32.6%. So basically one out of every three runs goes absolutely nowhere against Clark Lea’s defense. No other team is above 30%.

The defensive tackles are a huge part of this as I highlighted in my Boston College FDL this week, but it’s really a team statistic. It’s all of the pieces fitting together and defenders swarming to the football.

Notre Dame is also sixth in the country in Havoc Rate (22.2%). The only Power 5 programs above them are Pitt (25.0%), Wisconsin (22.8% after two games), and Clemson (22.7%).

I don’t know if this is the evolution of the defense under Lea or not, but I think it’s at least partly about him adapting to his personnel. The 2018 defense, a very good group that finished top-10 in SP+ finished 71st in Stuff Rate (18.7%) and 41st in Havoc Rate (17.3%).

4. The Notre Dame pass rush has not been as good as it was last season, which makes the Havoc Rate even more remarkable in my opinion. That’s not to say it’s been bad, though. I don’t believe Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji are getting enough credit for how well they have rushed the passer from a pressure perspective.

Hayes has a pressure rate of 13.4%. Ogundeji is at 12.6%. That’s very good and comparable with the top edge duos in the ACC.

Duke’s Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph have rates of 13.7% and 17.1%. Pitt’s Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver are at 11.6% and 16.6%. Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche are at 13.6% and 9.3%. Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham doesn’t have a great pass rush partner opposite of him, but Basham is at 11.8%.

Everyone would like to see more sacks from Hayes and Ogundeji and the Notre Dame defense overall, but it’s worth noting that they could come in bunches over the next three weeks. North Carolina, Syracuse, and Wake Forest are 96th, 120th, and 117th in sack rate.

5. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with North Carolina stuff right now, but I’m excited about the matchup of the Tar Heels’ offense against Notre Dame’s defense.

UNC is 3rd in SP+. They are as explosive as any team in the country. They can beat teams running or passing with skill position talent that rivals almost any team in college football.

Coordinator Phil Long was an absolute home run hire from Mack Brown to run the offense too. In the last four seasons at Ole Miss and UNC, Longo’s offenses have ranked 9th, tied for 4th, 19th, and 4th in yards per play. He’s a great coach who has taken full advantage of some elite athletes he’s worked with.

Three teams have done well against Longo during the last four years: Clemson last season (4.6 YPP), and LSU and Alabama in 2018 (4.75 and 4.2).

While UNC’s production has been awesome, they have not played a good defense yet in 2020. They have been fortunate to miss out on playing Pitt and Clemson. They are yet to play Notre Dame and Miami. Those are all top-20 defenses in SP+.

Both programs have an open week before their showdown in Chapel Hill so two really good coordinators have extra time to prepare for a great matchup.

6. I have been evaluating college football recruits professionally for the past six years. I started giving out grades on Irish Sports Daily for the 2017 class when we moved over to our new site with F5.

Like everyone who does this, I’ve had some hits and some misses. No one bats 1.000. But I do work hard to be as accurate as possible with my projections so I must admit that I do get nervous when I end up giving out a much higher grade for a prospect than other sites.

There has been a few over the years and so far I’ve done pretty well with those evaluations, even if it’s too early to call on some of them.

I think the jury is still out on Paul Moala because of his injury this season and the fact that he hasn’t had a chance to start yet, but I do believe he can be a very good player and multi-year starter at Rover for the Irish before all is said and done. I gave him a 90 grade (4-star) and his average was 85.8. We’ll see if it works out for him after his injury.

I gave Drew White a 91 grade and his average was 88.1. 247Sports gave him an 89, but Rivals and ESPN had him as a low 3-star. I think that has worked out pretty well.

It’s way too early to call, but my grade of 90 on Clarence Lewis (average was 87.1) seems like a hit for me too.

The one I sweated the most when I gave him his grade was C’Bo Flemister. I also gave him a grade of 90. His average was 84.8. ESPN and Rivals pretty much gave him grades that made it seem like he could not play Power 5 football. 247Sports gave him a grade where he could play at that level, but probably not at a place like Notre Dame.

I’ve seen enough to know now that Flemister can not just play at Notre Dame, but play really well. He’s someone who could start at running for several Power 5 programs.

I’m sure this will come off as me bragging about getting it right with C’Bo (you can read my FDL on him when he committed here) and to some extent it is. But the main reason I’m doing it is because the sense of relief I have in knowing that I put myself out there with his grade and it worked out.

They don’t all work out. I can point out some whiffs I had as well.

This one did, though, and knowing how it has worked out so far gives me confidence to go out on a limb with prospects like him again in the future. Hopefully it gives everyone who subscribes to ISD confidence that we are here to give our own perspective and aren’t always falling in line with the rest of the industry.

 
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