Notre Dame finally broke out a bit on offense against a quality opponent, well, at least a quality defense.
Pitt came into last weekend's game with the nation's best run defense, and one of the better all-around defenses in the nation. The Irish scored 38 offensive points, went over 400 yards despite several short fields, and dominated the Panthers on third-down.
With Clemson looming, the key this weekend against a very poor Georgia Tech defense is building on that success and carrying over some real momentum (aka confidence) into the matchup against the #1 Tigers.
Here are the things I want to see in the game that will make me feel like Notre Dame is doing just that:
1. Get Book Comfortable Early - This game should be a rout, and the biggest key to making that happen is also the biggest key in regards to building momentum on offense. That key is getting Ian Book rolling early.
The Irish quarterback made some big plays against Pitt, and he showed impressive competitiveness and playmaking ability. He was also off-target way too much and was late with some important reads. That was good enough to beat Pitt and will be good enough to thrash Georgia Tech, but his game needs to be better to beat Clemson.
If Notre Dame comes out of this game with Book playing with the same competitiveness, willingness to attack and free-lancing style that we saw against Pitt, and then combining that with more precision and better decision making I believe this offense can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
2. Re-establish The Ground Attack - I was impressed with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees' willingness to not abandon the run against Pitt. The numbers weren't sexy by any means, but the fact the Irish kept hammering the Panthers set up the pass game for success, and it also established a mindset.
The key against Georgia Tech will be getting the ground attack back on track from a success standpoint. This is a game where the ground game should be dominant, and the numbers and level of play should be top-notch.
Notre Dame needs to establish an early physicality against the Yellow Jackets, the execution needs to be at a high level, and the backs need to turn the open holes into big gains.
3. Nuance The Pass Game - I wrote recently that Notre Dame's pass offense, from a philosophical and schematic standpoint needs to be tailored to the specific skills of the players on the 2020 offense. That's been there at times, but not nearly enough.
Against Georgia Tech, I want to see Rees and the rest of the offensive staff do a better job of nuancing the pass game in a way that shows me they understand who their best players are, what those players do best, and that they can build a pass game around those skills.
How they use the wideouts is key to that, and altering the routes they use for the wideouts is key. How the tight ends and backs are utilized will also be important. Feeding those two positions is a must, and expanding how they are used within the offense - from both a formational/alignment standpoint and a route utilization standpoint - is a must.
4. Expand The Arsenal - Here's a fact I think most of us can agree on. Notre Dame's most dynamic athletes on the roster, with one exception (Tommy Tremble), are freshmen and sophomores. We've seen Notre Dame build around sophomore running back Kyren Williams, and that should continue, but now it's time to expand the arsenal.
Getting Chris Tyree more involved is a must. Tyree's usage has been far too sporadic. His usage in the pass game has been almost non-existent. A case could be made that we need to see more of Tyree, the player who is clearly the most explosive player on the roster.
That doesn't necessarily mean less of Williams. Number one, one concern I have is that Williams is going to wear down later in the year after going from not playing in 2019 to averaging 20 touches per game in 2020. More Tyree, especially in a game like this (bad opponent, a week before Clemson) means less wear and tear on Williams.
But beyond that, Tyree and Williams are capable of playing together. Both are talented pass catchers, and both need to utilized more in the pass game. Not designing ways to get Tyree the ball in space at least three or four times a game seems like a waste, and not having him run at least or two vertical routes does the same. We are talking about the fastest recruit in the 2020 class, and a guy that forces defenses to respect his speed .... but that only works if you do things as a staff that put his speed on display.
Imagine if teams have to start game planning for Williams as a runner, Tyree as a runner, and both of them as key parts of the pass game.
I'd like to see greater use of Michael Mayer and Tremble together, and there is simply no excuse not to get at least one of the talented true freshmen (Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts) into this game in the first half, and to get him some targets.
It's time for Notre Dame to recognize that their best players are the youngest players, which means they won't know the entire offense, and that means the staff needs to tailor what they do around that reality, and just figure out ways to get them the ball.
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