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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

December 3, 2020
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Right before the North Carolina game, PFF tweeted out a link to their top graded quarterbacks in the ACC.

They had Sam Howell at the top. Ian Book was all the way down at 9th.

USA Today’s Paul Myerberg had come out with a list of the top-10 quarterbacks in college football before the weekend as well. Book was not included in it and Brian Kelly referenced it in his post-game comments.

It’s pretty evident that even after Book has elevated his game over the last month, there is still a lack of respect for his play at Notre Dame. (For the record, I respect Myerberg and his opinions. He knows college football and I didn’t think it was a bad list even if I would have included Book if it was me.)

Book now has the big win on his resume after beating Clemson. He was fifth in the country in total offense per game in November and 15th overall against Power 5 competition this season. His numbers haven’t been prolific, but they’ve been very good when looking at the complete picture.

On top of that, he’s made so many winning plays and had highlight worthy moments. His place alongside the top quarterbacks in college football should be undeniable.

After the UNC game, Mack Brown didn’t deny the kind of player Book is. Brown said if Book wasn’t a contender for the Heisman, he should be. It’s understandable that he’d say that after Book had a few Johnny Manziel moments against his team. He’s been stacking up those types of plays over the last month with his ability to escape the rush. He’s now accumulated 581 yards and six touchdowns on plays where he had to improvise.

When you do that and you win like he has, that kind of talk should be happening.

I don’t think Book is a legitimate Heisman contender. The trophy is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football. In terms of being a winner, Book is only surpassed by Trevor Lawrence in college football. But the most outstanding player in the country? It would be tough to argue that there weren’t at least a handful of players that are more deserving of that label. If there were a top-10, though, Book should be on it.

The most valuable player in college football may be a different story. Even though Notre Dame’s greatest strength may be how the offense and defense compliment each other, it’s clear that Book is the most valuable piece for them.

If there were an MVP for FBS football, Book would absolutely deserve to be in the mix for that. Anyone who disagreed with that would be flat out wrong.

2. No Notre Dame fan wanted to see Derek Mason lose his job for completely selfish reasons. Everyone is aware of where Clark Lea went to school and where he’s from. They know that Vanderbilt is a program that would be stupid not to consider Lea for their head coaching vacancy.

Who knows what will happen there. His connection to the program helps him, but his profile being so similar to Mason’s doesn’t. If he had the same resume on the other side of the ball, I’m sure the job would be his.

I think Lea would be a great choice for just about any program. I’ll be surprised if he is not a success as a head coach when that time comes. Putting that aside, it is worth mentioning that this is one of the most unattractive coaching opportunities in Power 5 football. When the city is the biggest selling point about taking the job, that says a lot about the status of the football program.

When James Franklin won 24 games in three years at Vandy, the SEC East was a worse division than it is now. Florida and Georgia are on a different level now than they were then. Kentucky is more competent and so is Tennessee. And that’s just in the East, forget about Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and all of the other teams in the West that have a talent edge over Vandy.

They are always going to be one of the least talented teams in the conference. They can improve culture all they want, but they aren’t going to start recruiting top-20 classes annually no matter who the new coach is.

There is a ceiling for how good they can be. Even if they can win eight games a season, they aren’t going much further than that.

I know no Notre Dame fan wants to see Lea go, but it’s going to happen. Whether it’s in a couple of months or a couple of years, he’s going to be a head coach somewhere and has earned that opportunity. I hope that it’s an opportunity where he is set up to succeed rather than one where he’ll always be fighting to be above average.

3. Javon McKinley is one of the best big play wideouts in college football. That’s not something I ever expected to write. It’s true, though. That’s the player he has been for Notre Dame and it’s been huge with the absence of Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy from the lineup.

McKinley has eight receptions of 30 yards or more this season. That’s only one less than North Carolina’s Dyami Brown and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith. It’s two more than Boston College’s Zay Flowers and Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace. It’s three more than Clemson’s Amari Rodgers and four more than Louisville’s Tutu Atwell.

Look at those names and think about whether or not anyone would have expected McKinley to be mentioned in the same company as them as a big play threat.

I’m sure there are some other fifth year players who played at Notre Dame who have gone from barely contributing to a starring role. I can’t think of any recently who have come close to what McKinley is doing. It’s a remarkable story.

4. Kyren Williams is averaging 126.2 yards per game rushing and receiving. That edges out what Dexter Williams (125.3), Josh Adams (117.8), and CJ Prosise (121.5) did. And none of those backs blocked as well as Kyren has.

It’s not too early to project Williams as the best back Notre Dame has had in the last decade. All of those players put up those numbers in their final seasons. Williams has at least one more after this and as many as three (spoiler alert: he’s not going to be around for three).

It’s also about time that he deserves a push to be first team All-ACC. Travis Etienne is the only back in the conference who averages more total yards per game than Williams and he’s been every bit as productive as Javonte Williams (128.1), Michael Carter (124.0), Khalil Herbert (122.4), and Javian Hawkins (118.6 and now he’s opted out).

How many Notre Dame gets when the All-ACC teams are voted on will be interesting. They should have several and Williams has produced well enough that he deserves to be included.

5. I was trying to recall the last time Notre Dame had a linebacker who showed the same amount of violence as a blitzer that Marist Liufau showed against North Carolina and I struggled to think of someone. That’s the kind of play I’ve seen from defenders on other teams against Notre Dame backs and not often the other way around.

It takes more than being an explosive blitzer to be a great linebacker, but it can’t hurt. Liufau showed something special there and after rewatching those plays several times, it doesn’t stop being impressive.

If the season ended tomorrow, there would be a lot to be excited about with him and Jack Kiser both having three years of eligibility left after this season. They are competing against each other now along with Shayne Simon, but the odds of Liufau and Kiser being on the field at the same time later down the line feels like a good bet to make.

6. Notre Dame is already in the ACC Championship game. They are essentially in a week 17 scenario in the NFL where they have a bye set up before a first round playoff matchup.

That’s what the inevitable Clemson rematch is going to be. It’s a first round playoff matchup where Notre Dame will have a chance to take out the Tigers. But before they get there, they have Syracuse this weekend.

It’s a weird scenario with everything set in stone already. It’s even more strange because they are playing the worst team in the ACC. It would be like Kansas City getting the Jets or the Jaguars in week 17. In the NFL, that would mean sitting out a ton of players to keep them healthy for the playoffs.

Notre Dame is not going to go that far, but I don’t think it would be bad for Brian Kelly and his staff to treat this like week 17 if they get up big by halftime. If Notre Dame is winning by three scores after 30 minutes, I would seriously consider not playing Ian Book at all to close out the game. I would probably do the same with anyone who is banged up and others who are the most valuable to the team.

It’s the smart thing to do knowing what lies ahead. It’s senior day and Notre Dame is going to want to end this regular season the right way. They also have to think about what’s coming up next as well.

They need to be as close to 100% as possible when they see a healthier Clemson squad in a few weeks. That may mean taking precautions against Syracuse and I don’t think anyone would blame them if they did.

 
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