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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

July 28, 2022

Ohio State is favored to not just beat Notre Dame, but beat them down. At least that’s one way to interpret when a team is a greater than two touchdown favorite.

The line has moved recently from 13.5 to 15.5. It may move some more before we get to kick off in September.

The Buckeyes are no stranger to losing games when they are a heavy favorite, though. Just last season it was a 15 point spread against Oregon and OSU lost at home. They were favored by 12 against Purdue in 2018 and got blown out in that matchup. The previous season they were three touchdown favorites over Iowa and were embarrassed by the Hawkeyes.

Those were notable, but these are different circumstances. I believe this Ohio State team is better than those teams and they aren’t going to take Notre Dame lightly as an opponent. It also has to be pointed out that despite OSU not winning a national championship since the 2014 season, they’ve only lost 10 games total since 2015.

ESPN’s Cole Cubelic recently tweeted about the quarterbacks who have beaten OSU during that time span and it’s a bit all over the map in terms of talent.

There are four future first round picks on that list, but the other six guys wouldn’t be considered close to elite players. If the thinking is that Tyler Buchner has to be transcendent in this game to beat them, you’d be on the wrong track. It will be as much about him limiting mistakes as it will be him having monster numbers (as 23 touchdowns compared to three interceptions for those quarterbacks would suggest).

I know I’ve been preaching the entire offseason about how good the Notre Dame offense will have to outscore an explosive group for OSU, but only one of those teams who have taken them down since ‘15 has won in a shootout. Oregon’s defense is the only one who allowed them to average more than 6.1 yards per play and every single defense that beat them held them under 30 points (they averaged 19.7 in those losses).

Notre Dame’s defense has to play exceptionally well to win the game and they have to limit the big plays. The OSU offense was one of the best in the country at producing big plays from scrimmage with 42 plays of 30-yards or more last season (fifth in the country), but in the 10 losses they only averaged 1.4.

In their two losses against Oregon and Michigan last season they had one each. In the Rose Bowl against Utah when the Utes were trying to outscore them, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba had five receptions of 30-yards or more all by himself.

Notre Dame is going to have to move the ball, not turn the ball over, be efficient in the red zone, and there are things they can do on offense to slow the pace of the game down as well. A great game from Buchner and the Notre Dame offensive line can go a long way in helping them get the W.

It will be the defense preventing big plays and keeping them out of the end zone as much as possible that will matter the most, though. Keep them under 30 and the Irish can come out on top.

2. How good is Notre Dame recruiting on the defensive side of the ball? Pretty freaking good.

They have 17 4 or 5-star signees/commits in this and the previous recruiting cycle. At the moment that tops Alabama (16). Insert eyeball emojis there, if you will. Any time you are doing something as well as Alabama is doing with recruiting, that’s something that should be praised.

How good is Georgia recruiting on the defensive side of the ball? Better than pretty freaking good.

They have 23 (!) 4 or 5-star signees/commits in this the previous recruiting cycle. That includes three ISD Fab 50 players from the 2023 class and five from the 2022 class.

Notre Dame’s defense is on the verge of taking it up another level. Georgia’s defense, which had eight players drafted in the spring including five in the first round, is very likely going to stay at the incredibly high-level they are already playing at.

3. It’s one thing to have all that talent and it’s another thing to coach the players to play as a national championship defense. Kirby Smart may not be the best game manager, but he and his staff can coach ‘em up on the defensive side of the ball as good as anyone.

They play fundamentally sound defense and the players play well within their system. That’s been a recipe for success on the defensive side of the ball at Notre Dame as well after the opposite of that with Brian VanGorder.

I have been beating the drum on the “stars/recruiting matters” front in recent weeks, but don’t get it twisted that I believe it isn’t equal to the value of coaching. This snippet from a recent interview with Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says a lot in less than a minute on why it’s important.

(Apologies to everyone on the speed of the audio, it’s playing at 1.5x speed)

He’s talking about the NFL, but what he is saying applies to college football as well. Recruiting is critically important to college football. It doesn’t matter one bit if the coaching/teaching is poor. There is plenty of evidence of that with USC going 5-7 in 2018 despite having a top-five roster of raw recruited talent according to the 247 team talent composite. Florida State went 5-7 that year as well and were also in the top-five in terms of talent. Those programs had no business being that bad given what they had to work with on the roster.

It’s true that a team without a ton of talent can’t win a national championship. It’s also true that the coaching better be really good as well or else a program won’t even sniff the College Football Playoff.

4. Keeping it with coaching, Tommy Rees looks like he’ll have another challenge to tackle this season with the depth chart at running back and wide receiver. If he wants to play a lot of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end), he can do it, but he might not be able to overdo it. The dreams of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) aren’t as likely to become reality either.

It’s probably a safe bet we’ll see quite a bit of 12 (one back, two tight ends) and that dips back into more of what we saw during the 2020 season. This year they don’t have Tommy Tremble as a blocker and Michael Mayer is too valuable as a receiver to have him play a similar role. If Notre Dame is going to play within more two tight end sets, it will matter how they use them.

Every former O-line wants these tight ends with their hand in the dirt so they can grunt like Tim “The Toolman” Taylor when they see screenshots on Twitter, but Notre Dame should be able to do a lot more than just that with the talent they have at tight end. Even without Mitchell Evans, they are still fairly loaded at the position.

We know Mayer can line up in the slot and win there. Cane Berrong is someone who could do some of that too. A 6’6” Eli Raridon is someone that Rees might want to get matched up against a 5’10” nickel back. I know everyone is thinking about Kevin Bauman playing that second tight end role as a blocker, but he was earning raves last August for what he was doing catching the ball.

Outside of Georgia, no team in the country will have as many weapons at the tight end position as Notre Dame and if the Irish have to play big because of depth at receiver or running back, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be playing big running the football. They can use these big tight ends to win matchups in the passing game as well.

5. I know one thing for certain about realignment: if Notre Dame ends up joining a conference, there is a zero percent chance that the ACC will be that conference.

I don’t care what the contracts say right now. I don’t care that it would be an easy transition for all of the other sports who already play in the ACC. There is no way they are ever joining the ACC because of where the ACC has put itself in a financial bind with a bad media rights contract.

These quotes from Jim Phillips, the commissioner of the ACC, and Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten, explain everything you need to know about why the ACC isn’t just lagging behind, but destined to melt away when it comes to college football while the Big Ten has turned into a super conference.

Phillips said “college athletics have never been elitist or singularly commercial”. Um, excuse me? There’s a team in his conference that has a slide, a bowling alley, a barber shop, and a lot more in their football facility.

He also runs a conference that previously stole teams away from the Big East, which marked the beginning of the end of its existence.

Was his mandate to keep things the status quo when he took this job? How college athletics should be and were at one time is no more, but that isn’t even new. That happened many, many years ago.

The deal for the ACC to align with Notre Dame was forward-thinking. The conference simply didn't evolve in a way to make it attractive for Notre Dame to seek full membership. Unless Phillips is just blowing smoke and secretly trying to make moves behind the scenes that are completely contradictory to what he’s saying, then he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who is going to lead them out of the predicament they are in.

6. Notre Dame has always had the best traditions. They had more success than any college football program in the twentieth century. They have iconic symbolism around the campus and coaches and players who were written about like they were mythical figures.

The football program is completely unique compared to any other in the country, but for the three decades that I have followed the program closely, they have rarely been considered cool or innovative.

They tried to be at times and failed miserably (let us never mention Freekbase again) and rather than mythical figures, the coaches morphed into a punchline (“Notre Dame is still paying Charlie Weis?”) or a meme before anyone knew what a meme was (insert purple faced Brian Kelly here).

Notre Dame won a lot of games in the last five years and been to the College Football Playoff twice. That made Irish fans happy, but at no point during the Kelly era was the program ever considered cool.

But now Fighting Irish Media can do things like this and have Marcus Freeman play along with it. Even the haters have to admit that this kind of thing is fun. The video has 2.4 million views at the time I’m writing this.

I loved the video and I know most Notre Dame fans did as well. People who aren’t Notre Dame fans seem to like it too.

A motivated Nick Saban would come in and say, “You know what’s really cool? Winning national championships.” And he’s right. There is no comeback for that.

Freeman has some work to do to be that cool, but while he’s putting in all of that work recruiting his butt off, it’s nice that him, Michael Mayer, Isaiah Foskey, Mike Golic, and Mike Golic Jr. can take part in something like this to add some excitement to something that wouldn’t normally gain that much attention outside of hardcore fans.

Well done to everyone who worked on the video. It was another off-season win for the Irish.

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