Notre Dame Fighting Irish 5-1 (Ranked 8th in AP poll)

Last Result: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 30 USC Trojans 27

Two weeks ago, the Fighting Irish defeated the Trojans in a close contest to extend their home winning streak to 15 games. Though the game was close, Notre Dame never relinquished the lead after a 97-yard touchdown drive to put them up 7-3 with 8:37 left in the 2nd quarter.

Offensively, the Irish struggled early, having to punt on their opening three possessions. However, they quickly turned it around and scored points on six of their last seven drives, before heading into victory formation. 

The Irish offense, which ranks 12th in points scored per game at 39.2, ultimately had another solid night. Notre Dame’s offense was led by junior running back Tony Jones Jr. who rushed a career high 25 times for a career high 176 yards with 7.0 yards per carry. 

Though the Irish running game was effective, the pass game performed well below its standards. Quarterback Ian Book threw for his worst completion percentage of the season at 53% (17-for-32) and the least amount of passing yards at 165 in a regular season game, since taking over for the Irish under center four games into last season. 

Thankfully for the Notre Dame, they were able to still be effective on offense, as they established the run game, which was helped by Book’s 49 yards on the ground and a 51-yard touchdown run on an end-around by sophomore wide out Branden Lenzy, which added to the 308 yards Notre Dame finished with on the ground. 

The Irish offense found a different way to be effective against USC, as it was the first time since the opener that Notre Dame ran for more yards than they threw.

On defense the Irish played a fantastic first half, allowing just three points on the Trojans first six drives. However, as the game wore on the Irish defense, unlike its offense, got worse. They allowed USC to score on all of its second-half drives, including three touchdowns on the Trojans final three drives of the game. 

Though they struggled late in the game against USC, the Notre Dame defense has played solid through the first six games, giving up just 16.8 points per game, which ranks 13th best in college football. In fact, the 27 points and 426 yards the Trojans got offensively in South Bend was the most the Irish have allowed all season.

Notre Dame was also helped by their kicker Jonathan Doerer who went 3-for-3 on field goals from 43, 45 and 52 yards away in the game.

Notre Dame Record in the Last Five Years

2019: 5-1 (Currently Ranked 8th in AP poll)

2018: 12-1 (Lost in Semifinals of CFP)

2017: 10-3 (Finished 11th in AP poll)

2016: 4-8

2015: 10-3 (Finished 11th in AP poll)

How have the Irish Faired vs Ranked Opponents in Recent Years?

Since the 2015 season, Notre Dame’s record vs Top 25 opponents is 10-10. However, their home and road splits in the last five years against ranked opponents is drastically different, just like the Wolverines. 

In their last 20 games the Irish have played against Top 25 teams, they are 6-2 at home, 2-6 on the road and 2-2 in neutral site games. 

In fact, Notre Dame has not defeated a team ranked higher than No. 21 Temple on the road since 2012, while they have won five of their last six games at home against Top 20 opponents.

This season, the Irish are 1-1 against ranked opponents. Notre Dame’s only loss of the season came against No. 3 Georgia 23-17 in Athens. The Irish were up at the half 10-7, but still played most of the second half from behind and came up short on their final drive, as they were unable to convert a 4th-and-8 at Georgia’s 38-yard line. 

The Irish quickly bounced back and beat No. 18 Virginia 35-20 at home the following week.

Notre Dame has no ranked opponents left on their schedule besides the Wolverines, meaning if the Irish want to have any chance of keeping their College Football Playoff hopes alive, they will have to do something they have not done since 2012: beat a top 20 opponent on the road.

Two Players to Watch Offense

Tony Jones Jr., Junior, Running Back

The 5-11, 224-pound halfback from Saint Petersburg, Fla., has been Notre Dame’s best offensive player recently. Jones has rushed for over 100 yards four times in the first six games of the season and has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last three games. 

Though Jones has had some outstanding games, he has been a complete non-factor in others, as he has had a game with six carries for 17 yards against New Mexico State and a game with nine carries for 21 yards against Georgia. 

On the season, Jones' numbers are still solid despite those two performances, as he has carried the ball 80 times for 557 yards with 7.0 yards per carry and four touchdowns. 

The redshirt junior back has also been very good at taking care of the football; the Irish running backs have not fumbled since November 21, 2015, meaning the Notre Dame backs have not fumbled in 1,247 rush attempts, which is the longest active streak in the FBS.

Ian Book, Senior, Quarterback

The quarterback out of El Dorado Hills, Calif., has been solid for the Irish again this season, throwing for 1,419 yards and 14 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 63.2. The 6-0, 212-pound quarterback does not make miraculous plays; however, he is steady for the Irish, as he is relatively turnover free, only having two interceptions this season, and hits open receivers consistently. 

Book’s ball control is a big reason why the Irish rank 3rd in college football in turnovers, having just 4. The Irish quarterback can also make some plays with his legs, he has rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns already this season. 

Two Players to Watch (Defense)

Alohi Gilman, Junior, Safety

Gilman is one of Notre Dame’s most experienced players on defense, as he has started 31 games in his college career. The 5-10 210 pound safety from Laie, Hawaii leads the Irish in tackles with 38. Gilman also has an interception and forced fumble on the season, which has helped the Irish to the 3rd largest turnover margin in college football at +10. 

The junior safety for the Irish started his collegiate career playing at Navy, before deciding to transfer to Notre Dame after his freshman season. Gilman was also an important piece on Notre Dame’s team last year, as he had 94 tackles on the season, including 18 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal game against Clemson.

Julian Okwara, Senior, Defensive End

Okwara is one of four Irish defensive linemen that have at least two sacks this season. Notre Dame’s depth up front is one of the main reasons they average three sacks per game, which ranks 18th best in college football. 

The 6-4, 248-pound Okwara is the best defensive lineman the Irish have. The senior out of Charlotte, N.C., leads Notre Dame with four sacks and two forced fumbles. 

Okwara led the Irish in sacks last season with eight and also recorded an interception in the opener against the Wolverines.