Thoughts on Notre Dame football, Fighting Irish recruiting and college football.
Irish Offense Is Heating Up
One of the more frustrating aspects of the 2021 season was Notre Dame's early season insistence on being a running team that was built around the offensive line, which was awful through the first half of the season.
One of the best parts about the season was the willingness of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and head coach Brian Kelly to reverse course midstream, something that is not easy to do. Instead of just trying to "get better" at what they were doing the Irish finally made the correct decision to build around what they were instead of what they wanted to be.
We saw immediate improvement coming out of the bye week as the Irish beat USC 31-16, and a week later the offense exploded for 44 points and 526 yards in the 44-34 win over North Carolina. There have still been some moments where was clear the offense was still trying to find the exact ideal formula (second half vs. USC, first quarter vs. Navy, second half vs. Virginia), but we've seen some brilliant moments. It all came together in the win over Georgia Tech, with the Irish offense scoring 38 points and racking up 354 yards in the first half.
Notre Dame's second half balance has been impressive. Committing to build around the pass game and starting to incorporate more variety with its tempo has resulted in quarterback Jack Coan heating up, and the willingness to attack the perimeter with the pass game and spread the field more from a formational standpoint has opened up more room in the run game.
Notre Dame averaged 27.5 offensive points per game in the first half of the season to go with 367.8 yards per game and 5.2 yards per play.
Notre Dame is going for 35.6 offensive points per game in the five second half of the season games to go with 455.2 yards and 7.1 yards per play.
In the last four games, Coan has completed 74.2% of his passes, has averaged an astounding 9.7 yards per attempt and has a passer rating of 178.08. For context, if those stats were his season-long numbers he would rank 3rd nationally in completion percentage, 8th in yards per attempt and 6th in passer rating.
Running back Kyren Williams has also benefitted from the changes, with the Irish star running back racking up 561 rushing yards (6.3 YPC) in the last five games. He's also hauled in 21 passes for another 139 yards.
Tight end Michael Mayer has been reignited and wide receiver Kevin Austin is playing his most consistent football of the season. Notre Dame is also getting important contributions from wideouts Lorenzo Styles and Braden Lenzy, and the Irish backfield is deep and loaded.
This is what the Irish offense should have been all season.
Yes, Notre Dame has played poor competition, but we are seeing that unit start to do what really good offenses are supposed to do against bad competition, they are dominating.
This weekend against Stanford we'll see if the Georgia Tech game was a sign of things to come, or more of a one-off. If it's a sign of things to come it could make Notre Dame very dangerous if it was to get into the College Football Playoff.
Strong 2022 Recruiting Finish Is A Major Question Mark
Notre Dame has had a very strong recruiting cycle in the 2022 class, but it always needed a strong finish to remain a Top 5 class. It doesn't appear the Irish will finish all that strong, and at this point they could be in danger of losing some commits.
According to Greg Biggins of 247Sports, talented wide receiver CJ Williams - who committed to Notre Dame in August - plans on officially visiting USC and UCLA in December, which comes after he made multiple unofficial trips to see the Trojans during the season. Williams told Biggins he was solid to the Irish, but when you take official visits you aren't all that solid.
The interest between wide receiver Amorion Walker and Michigan is well known, and Walker will be considered a risk of bailing until signing day. There are also rumblings that four-star linebacker commit Niuafe Tuihalamaka is also thinking about staying out West.
Notre Dame still has a good chance to land one of the best linemen in the country - guard Billy Schrauth - but the longer he remains uncommitted the more concerning that one becomes. Notre Dame has also faded fast with elite safety Xavier Nwankpa and talented defensive lineman Anthony Lucas.
This is still going to be a good class, but the Irish cannot afford to lose Williams and Tuihalamaka while also striking out on the talented players left on the board.
Big 12 Could Make Things Interesting
Notre Dame is in prime position to make the College Football Playoff for the third time in four seasons, but the Irish will need some help. They need two teams ahead of them to lose, but the Irish also have to look over their shoulder at the Big 12.
Notre Dame is ahead of all three of the Big 12 title contenders - Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma. All three are also within striking distance, with the Cowboys ranking 7th, the Bears ranking 8th and the Sooners ranking 10th.
A two-loss Baylor team isn't much of a threat to Notre Dame, but the winner of the Bedlam game this weekend could be a much more legitimate threat, especially if that winner is the Cowboys. Oklahoma State is clearly more respected by the committee and rank just one spot behind Notre Dame. Right now the Irish have a better resume, but Oklahoma State would have to beat the No. 10 and No. 8 teams to win the league title, which would jump their resume up quite a bit.
A case could be made that Oklahoma State needs to win impressively and not just win, as it's clear the committee hasn't been overly enamored with the Big 12 as a league this season. Oklahoma State also had non-conference wins of 7 points (Southwest Missouri State), 5 points (Tulsa) and 1 point (Boise State).
It's going to be a very, very interesting two weeks. There is a phrase that Notre Dame fans should learn to use the next two weeks .... "Go Baylor!"
Tweet Of The Week
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams has been brilliant this season, and as soon as the Irish line started playing competent football his numbers took off. He is a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, and Irish fans have a chance to vote for him.
Click on the link below and vote for Williams. You can vote once every 24 hours until Dec. 2.
Video Of The Week
Notre Dame moved up to 6th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. We broke down where things stand for the Irish and talked about a number of other playoff related topics. This is going to be a fun final two weekends of the season!
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