Midweek Musings

Bryan Driskell

Thoughts on Notre Dame football, its recruiting efforts and college football.

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION OR FOOL’S GOLD?

Coming into the season the expectation was that Notre Dame’s offense would be one of the best, if not the best, of the Brian Kelly era. The Irish were returning their starting quarterback, four starting offensive linemen, a talented group of pass catchers and quality experience at running back.

Injuries are the go-to for why things never panned out, but it is much deeper than that. By the end of the second game of the 2015 season, for example, Notre Dame had lost its starting quarterback, starting running back and starting tight end were all lost for the season. Yet that was the best offense of the Kelly era.

We’ll get into those factors more in the offseason, and there will likely be a great deal of disagreement. One thing I believe we can all agree on is that Notre Dame has been quite good on offense the last two weeks, and with two weak defenses left on the schedule the Irish offense is poised for a strong finish to the 2019 campaign.

Notre Dame averaged 41.5 points over its last two contests. It averaged 439.5 yards of offense and 6.9 yards per play in wins over Duke and Navy. It is one of the better stretches of football we’ve seen this season, but it’s not unique.

Notre Dame averaged 50.5 points, 507.0 yards and 7.8 yards per play in back-to-back wins over Louisville and New Mexico to start the season. The Irish averaged 41.0 points, 523.0 yards and 7.4 yards per play in back-to-back wins over Bowling Green and USC.

One difference is the quality of the defense over the last two games. Louisville ranks 82nd in defensive efficiency according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index, New Mexico ranks No. 121 and Bowling Green ranks No. 118. USC (No. 39) is the only one of those four opponents to rank in the Top 50 in defensive efficiency.

Duke (No. 38) and Navy (No. 44) both rank in the Top 50 in defensive efficiency. While neither is a juggernaut defensively, they are good enough to respect how much Notre Dame dominated both opponents.

So was the last two games yet another flash of the potential this offense has always possessed, or will it be the start of the unit going through a longer stretch of excellent play? Could it be the corner we’ve expected the offense to turn all season?

It’s a fair question, because Notre Dame averaged just 22.5 points, 321.5 yards and 5.2 yards per play in the two games that followed wins over Louisville and New Mexico (Georgia, Virginia). It averaged just 17.5 points, 311.0 yards and 4.1 yards per play in the two games that followed strong performances over Bowling Green and USC (Michigan, Virginia Tech).

Three of those four opponents ranked in the Top 50 in defensive efficiency, but that won’t be the case in the next two games. Boston College ranks No. 106 in defensive efficiency and Stanford ranks 86th.

I fully expect Notre Dame to steamroll its next two opponents. Boston College ranks 98th in scoring defense, 116th in yards allowed per play and 128th (out of 130 teams) in total defense. Stanford ranks 77th in scoring defense, 95th in total defense and 104th in yards allowed per play.

What will we truly learn about the offense in the next two games?

Well, we won’t know if the offense has truly arrived, because that won’t happen until this offense performs well against an actual good defense. Notre Dame played two defenses that ranked in the Top 35 in defensive efficiency this season, and the Irish went 0-2 in those two games (Georgia, Michigan). The offense averaged just 15.5 points, 250.5 yards and 4.1 yards per play.

But Notre Dame hasn’t been sharp at times this season against defenses that aren’t elite as well. The offense struggled against a Virginia defense that ranks 40th in the country, and despite its numbers against Louisville, it relied on big plays and wasn’t overly sharp. The same is true of Notre Dame’s performance against Virginia Tech’s abysmal defense, a game in which the offense only scored 21 points.

So if Notre Dame adds onto its recent performances and dominates Boston College and Stanford it will be a sign the offense is at least heading in the right direction to some degree.

TOP 10 COLLEGE PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

Sporting News has been releasing a number of Top 10’s of all-time, and I was asked to be a voter for the Top 10 players of all-time list. Now that was a challenge for sure! So many great players, and the criteria was you could pick any player from any era.

It took me a few days of research to come up with my list, but I finally came up with it and sent it in last week. I had a few criteria I imposed for my own rankings, with one being that I stayed with players that played after the 1940’s. For me, it’s impossible to compare players like Leon Hart, Johnny Lujack, Red Granger, Bronco Nagurski, Sammy Baugh, etc with players from the last 50 years or so.

I also told myself I wouldn’t do what seems to happen with other all-time lists, and that’s not to assume that only quarterbacks and running backs can be the greatest of all-time. For me, that’s a numbers bias. Let’s be honest, a running back rushing for over 5,000 career yards looks a lot more impressive than a defensive lineman with 50 career sacks. But I care more about impact and not pure production.

So here was my list:

1. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia — The Bulldogs went 20-13-1 in the three years prior to Walker’s arrival and 24-8-4 in the three years after he left. During his three seasons in Athens the Bulldogs went 33-3 and won the 1980 national championship. Walker rushed for 5,259 yards and scored 49 rushing touchdowns in just three seasons, and do any research of those Georgia teams and you’ll see that he was as close to a one-man show as you’ll ever find. If he would have stayed for his senior season and matched his career average for yards he would have finished with 7,012 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns. Walker won the 1982 Heisman Trophy.

2. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh — Dorsett finished his career as college football’s all-time leading rusher, racking up 6,526 career yards and 59 touchdowns on the ground to go with 415 receiving yards. Dorsett rushed for at least 1,004 yards and 11 scores in each of his four seasons, capping his career in 1976 with 2,150 yards and 22 touchdowns. Oh, and Pitt won the national title that year. The Panthers went 13-29 in the four years prior to Dorsett’s arrival and went 33-13-1 during his career. Dorsett won the 1976 Heisman Trophy.

*** Side note: Notre Dame and Pitt are the only teams to have a defender win both the Maxwell and Walter Camp Award. Green and Manti Te’o comprise that list.

3. Hugh Green, DE, Pittsburgh — Green was a three-time first-team All-American and a sack master for the Panthers. He finished his career with 53 sacks and had at least 11 sacks in each of his four seasons. Considering how different pass game were back then it only adds to how impressive those numbers are. Green had a total of 52 non-sack tackles for loss, forced 24 fumbles and led Pitt to a 39-8-1 record, including three Top 10 finishes. He won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award after the 1980 season, which goes to the national player of the year. Green is one of only three defensive players to ever win the Walter Camp and one of three defensive players to win the Maxwell Award.

*** Side note: Notre Dame and Pitt are the only teams to have a defender win both the Maxwell and Walter Camp Award. Green and Manti Te’o comprise that list.

4. Orlando Pace, OL, Ohio State — Pace is the best offensive lineman I’ve ever seen, and there had to be an offensive lineman on this list. Pace was a two-time unanimous All-American, twice won the Lombardi Award (1995, 1996), won the Outland Trophy (1996) and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1996, the only time I’m aware of that an offensive lineman accomplished that. To put his two-time Lombardi victory into context, since he won his second in 1996 not a single offensive lineman has won the award.

5. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State — The only pushback I got with having Sanders in this list is that while most agree he had the greatest individual season of all-time (2,628 rushing yards, 3,249 all-purpose yards, 39 total touchdowns), he only rushed for over 1,000 yards once in his career. He served as the backup to Thurman Thomas the two-years prior, but Sanders was still dominant. During his sophomore season he had 1,347 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns, including two kick returns and two punt returns. Sanders won the 1988 Heisman Trophy.

6. Ross Browner, DE, Notre Dame — I never saw Ross Browner play live, obviously, and growing up he was rarely discussed in the “All-Time Notre Dame Great” conversations that I read about or heard about. When I started writing for Blue & Gold Illustrated that changed, and the great Lou Somogyi schooled me on Browner’s greatness. When I did my homework on Browner I was puzzled how someone so dominant could be so overlooked. Browner was part of two national title teams at Notre Dame (1973, 1977) and the Irish went 39-7 in seasons he played. He was a two-time All-American (1976, 1977), won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award after the 1977 season, is the only player in history to win the UPI Lineman of the Year Award twice (1976, 1977). Browner finished with an astonishing 340 tackles and according to Somogyi, Browner unofficially had 77 tackles for loss and about 50 sacks. Since 1970, Browner, Green and Manti Te’o are the only defensive players to win the Maxwell Award.

7. Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan — Woodson was a tremendous college player that impacted the game in so many ways. His 1997 season was an all-time great for a defender. Woodson won the Walter Camp Award, Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy, Thorpe Award and was a two-time All-American. Oh, and he won the Heisman Trophy in 1997, registering seven interceptions on defense while catching 11 passes for 231 yards. Woodson caught two passes for touchdowns, had a touchdown run and returned a punt for a touchdown.

8. Dick Butkus, LB, Illinois — Butkus was an All-Big Ten player as both a linebacker and offensive lineman. Think about that, because you won’t ever see that again. He was a two-time All-American (1963, 1964), won the UPI Lineman of the Year award (1964) and twice finished in the top six of Heisman Trophy voting. Butkus finished third in 1964. He had 145 and 132 tackles in his final two seasons.

9. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida — Tebow led Florida to the 2008 national championship, beating at the time an Oklahoma team that had arguably the best offense of all-time. Tebow passed for 231 yards and rushed for 109 yards in the game. He finished his career with 9,285 passing yards and 88 touchdowns while getting picked off just 16 times. Tebow added 2,947 rushing yards and broke Herschel Walker’s all-time SEC touchdown record by reaching the end zone 57 times. During his 2007 Heisman Trophy winning season, Tebow passed for 3,286 yards, rushed for 895 yards and accounted for 55 touchdowns (32 passing, 23 rushing) while getting picked off just six times. Tebow had a 35-6 record as a starting quarterback.

10. Ed Reed, S, Miami — With all due respect to Sean Taylor, Deion Sanders and every other great defensive back from a Florida college, Ed Reed is the best in my book. Reed was a dominant playmaker, but he was also a winner and a leader. He was the ring leader for a 2001 Miami defense that was truly dominant. Miami allowed just 9.8 points per game that season, and held eight of its 12 opponents to single digits. Reed was a two-time consensus All-American (2000, 2001) that finished his career with 21 interceptions, four of which he returned for touchdowns.

So, what is your Top 10 list? Let me know in the comments section below.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book had his best game of the season in the team's 52-20 victory over Navy.

FILM TO WATCH

Notre Dame's 2020 offensive class is loaded with skill players, which I've written about quite a bit. Often overlooked is offensive tackle Tosh Baker, one of the nation's top blockers. The 6-8, 275-pound athletic tackle is ranked as the No. 42 overall player in the country according to 247Sports and No. 44 according to Rivals.

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Comments (16)
No. 1-10
jameskroner3
jameskroner3

Been occupied for the past few days so catching up. But what a great, well thought out list. I can almost guarantee you there are at least 4 guys that won’t make anyone else’s list, and #1 would be Browner. Lou is the reason too why I have researched him and can’t figure out why he is so neglected by the CFB world. To say that about a ND player is unheard of.

thomasna33
thomasna33

That is honestly a great all-time top 10 list. I love me some Ed Reed. So many great college players that it would be really hard to put that list together. Ndamukong Suh had quite possibly the most dominant year for DT ever. In history of CFB. In 2009, Suh finished the season with 85 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 1 FF, 3 blocked kicks, 10 Passes broken up, 19 QB hurries, and 1 INT. That is jaw dropping.

Matt0315
Matt0315

I don't know what to make of the offense during the Ian Book era. They dominate bad teams but play rather poorly against good teams. I guess we won't truly see what they are until they face Wisconsin next year

DifferentDick
DifferentDick

Tim Tebow over Tommie Frazier?

Hmm... get that it may be a tough choice. Both were incredible, but.

gairish
gairish

Great choices, Bryan. Totally agree on Walker as No. 1. Georgia was not expected to do anything in Walker's 1st year. They were losing to Tennessee in the 2nd half when Walker went in for the 1st time. He ran over Bill Bates on one of his first carries for a score. Bates, as you know, played years for the Cowboys. I thought Walker was without a doubt, the best player in college his freshman year when he led GA over ND in the Sugar bowl for the natty. His junior year I believe he rushed about 38 times against a good Florida D and won the game single handedly. Really never have seen a player who seemed so much better than everyone else. For perspective, I live in GA, but am completely an ND alum/fan.

Fitz1105
Fitz1105

I really enjoy these articles. Hard to keep Suh off the list, but there’s so many great players

Kcndmis97
Kcndmis97

What about Suh? He was incredibly dominant in college, virtually unblockable.

Chris_Moss
Chris_Moss

Charles Woodson & Barry Sanders rank #1 on my list. Everyone else is a distant 2nd. Randy Moss belongs in the top 10 as well.

Fedman 1946
Fedman 1946

I attended my first ND game in 1954. During the 65 years that I have followed ND, Ross Browner is hands down the single greatest player that I have seen. He was the most dominate player on the field in every game he played for ND. Unless a fan was fortunate enough to see Browner play for the Irish, it is hard to explain just how good Browner was.

I can not recall the number of times that I read about an Irish game in the Sunday South Bend Tribune, and heard the opposing coach explain his teams loss to Notre Dame by saying "We simply could not block Browner."

jsully0101
jsully0101

If you had to predict who will be a higher draft pick in the future; who would you pick: Tosh Baker or Blake Fisher?


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