October 12, 2017
Now that half the football season is completed, we can review how the Irish have looked thus far and assess mid-term grades for the various components of the team. While much about the relative strength of this team is still unknown and we don’t yet have the context that will be provided by crucial games to be played yet this month, there are plenty of areas we can evaluate. Let’s break things down by position group….we’ll look at the offense and kicking today with the defense and remaining special teams on Friday.
This group deserves high praise for excellence in the running game and improvements in picking up stunts while in pass protection. The only minor blips are the missed block by Mike McGlinchey that ended the Georgia game and a few false start penalties, mostly from the right tackle rotation. The absence of holding calls against them is a very good sign.
McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and Sam Mustipher have delivered consistently strong performances, and the players on the right side have held their own as well. Of course, there have been blown assignments and missed blocks, but every line experiences them. The overall success rate for Notre Dame is well above average and one of the main reasons the Irish are 5-1. When you average 308 yards per game on the ground, 6.9 yards per attempt and have scored 23 rushing touchdowns in six games, that’s exceptional performance.
Josh Adams leads the way with 776 yards and an even nine yards per attempt, but the story does not end there. Dexter Williams, Tony Jones, Jr., and Deon McIntosh provide quality depth and each brings his own unique capabilities to the table. All have proven themselves capable of breaking long scoring runs, and I can recall only one significant pass protection breakdown by a running back to date. The best thing this group can do in the second half of the season is stay healthy.
Brandon Wimbush has been a dynamic weapon in the running game and has forced defenses to account for him on every play. Unfortunately, he is only a 52% passer whose mechanics are still a work in progress. The slow development of Wimbush in the passing game can in part be attributed to a new position coach and offensive coordinator, but another element in the equation is his primary receivers have not managed to get open with any degree of consistency. Conversely, Wimbush has not demonstrated the ability to remain poised in the pocket and find secondary targets, and many potential gains go unrealized.
As a backup, Ian Book has provided exactly what is needed. He will not win a game solely on the strength of his passing arm, but his decision-making ability and competitiveness have a positive impact. Book is 1-0 in his only start, in which he allowed the defense to dominate North Carolina by not putting them in an unfavorable position on the field.
Several players have made contributions, but no one can be considered a go-to receiver on third and eight. Equanimeous St. Brown (15 catches) was supposed to cover that role, but he has been alarmingly inconsistent. His best moments have occurred at the beginning of games when he has turned in a few long receptions, but he has also disappeared for long stretches and failed to fight for 50/50 balls. Chase Claypool (12 catches) is starting to emerge as a viable target and shown the most improvement since the beginning of the season. It also appears he has the best rapport with Wimbush on the field.
Others such as Cameron Smith (8), Chris Finke (4) and Miles Boykin (4) have pitched in, but consistency is an issue. Still, most of those explosive plays in the running game require solid downfield blocking by the wideouts, so something is obviously going right. Irish fans hope that Kevin Stepherson, who recently rejoined the team, can provide a much-needed spark in the second half.
Alize Mack leads the team with 17 receptions, although most are short tosses and he has yet to score a touchdown. Durham Smythe (6) and Nic Weishar (3) seem capable but just are not targeted in this offense. There have been a few missed blocks from this trio, but generally they are performing well in this regard. I’d like to see the Irish create more downfield opportunities for its tight ends, particularly for Mack. His plus size and speed are not being showcased and optimized.
Justin Yoon recovered from a rocky (0-2) first game to find his groove and hit six straight field goals over the next several weeks before hitting an upright against Miami of Ohio. Overall, Yoon is seven for ten and perfect inside 40 yards. He has not been asked to convert from 50 yards or longer yet, but he appears to have the leg strength to be successful. To date, there have been no observed issues with the holder and long snapper, which had been an irritant in recent seasons.