Sept. 18, 2017
By John Heisler
Notre Dame did what it needed to do in terms of taking care of business Saturday at Boston College. It took until into the third period to completely transpire, but the Irish became a big-play running team that ran the football within a single yard of doing it as well as any team in history had run it against Boston College in a single game. That's saying something.
- The Irish are a running machine. Consider these statistics after three weeks of football: --Notre Dame's Josh Adams ranks fifth nationally in rushing with 443 yards. --Brandon Wimbush ranks 23rd with 314 yards and the only quarterbacks ahead of him are his counterparts at Army and Navy. --Notre Dame is one of only two teams (Tulsa is the other) with two team rushing efforts of 400-plus yards. --Notre Dame's 515 rushing yards versus Boston College are the second-highest single-game team FBS total so far in 2017 (Georgia Tech had 535 in a game). --Wimbush has scored six touchdowns and the only FBS player with more is Oregon's Royce Freeman with nine. --Notre Dame ranks fifth nationally in rushing (330.7 yards per game). Keep in mind the all-time Irish single-season average in that category is 350.2 in 1973. Only once in the last 16 seasons (2015) has Notre Dame averaged even 200 rushing yards per game in a season. --Adams' 229 rushing yards versus Boston College are the fourth-highest individual total in the FBS in 2017 and the fourth best in Notre Dame history.
- Opposing defenses have a challenge in front of them. The Notre Dame coaches in the offseason talked more about being a power football team, including in the red zone, than in a number of years. It's early to suggest the Irish have established a true identity, but at this point running the football appears to be something Notre Dame can be consistently good at doing. It may not translate to 400 ground yards every week, but at least future opponents are going to have to start their game plans by figuring out how to stop the Irish from dominating the game the way they did against Temple and in Boston.
- Notre Dame's defense is working on its own identity. The Irish Saturday allowed TD drives of 85 and 75 yards, but beyond that the Eagles were held to next to nothing. Notre Dame on 12 Boston College possession permitted the Eagles to run five plays or fewer. On 13 possessions, Boston College held onto the football for 2:19 or less in terms of clock time. The only reason the Eagles won the time-of-possession number (with 30:25) was because of all the big rushing plays by Notre Dame (runs of 64 and 65 yards by Adams and a run of 65 by Wimbush totaled 194 just on those three attempts).
- Wimbush will and must improve. The Irish have been fortunate that their ground success has carried the day in the two Notre Dame victories. Brandon Wimbush and Brian Kelly both know a key to future team success is greater proficiency in the air. Said Kelly, "We have to get more efficient in throwing the football, catching the football. I thought our protection (against Boston College) was excellent. Our quarterback had time. We just have to be more accurate, and we have to coach it better. So add all those elements--we've got to coach it better, we've got to catch better and we've got to be more accurate. All those three things have to come together this week because we're going to have to be more efficient in the passing game. We don't have to throw for 300 yards, but we've got to hit receivers. Receivers have got to make some tough catches, and we've got to put Brandon in a position where we're featuring the things that he does well."
- Notre Dame leads the nation (with 19 other teams) and is perfect in red-zone efficiency. Granted it's September, but chalk this up to the Irish rushing intent and success down close. Notre Dame is 15 for 15 in red-zone play (11 rushing TDs which lead the nation, two passing TDs and two field goals). According to Kelly, that changes some of the defensive looks Notre Dame is seeing near the goal line: "We've been run-first down there, which was a commitment that we were going to make, and that has helped us. I think more than anything else, with the rushing game down there, we've been able to really draw defenses into being pretty clear on what their intent is, and so it's helped us in our play calling. I think maybe by our--maybe the right word would be insistence, persistence of wanting to run the football down there--we've taken away a lot of the exotic looks that we've gotten in the past and have a pretty good idea of what we're going to get." No other team in the country has 15 red-zone scores so far in 2017.