Midweek Musings: First Down Success Is The Key For Notre Dame

Thoughts about Notre Dame football, Irish recruiting and college football
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Thoughts about Notre Dame football, Irish recruiting and college football.


There are so many important aspects to the Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin matchup, and how well the Irish play in those aspects will certainly have a big impact in the game.

There is one area, however, that is of the utmost importance for Notre Dame on both sides of the ball. How well Notre Dame plays in this area, on offense and defense, will impact everything else that follows.

I'm talking about winning on first down. 

On offense, the Irish offense being successful on first down means the pass game is being efficient and the run game is finally finding some success, even if it's not an efficient Irish ground attack. Getting into second and medium to shorts, and third and shorts, puts Notre Dame in position to move the chains. 

If Notre Dame can have success on early downs it opens up the offense, and it keeps what has been an aggressive Wisconsin defense on its heels. It also puts them in position to take some shots in the game, and Notre Dame will need to hit some big plays in the pass game to win the game.

On defense, Notre Dame cannot allow the Wisconsin ground game to take control of this game. There are many different strategies defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman can deploy, but whatever game plan he goes with must be built around shutting down the run game, and winning on first down is a huge part of that success.

Wisconsin wants to avoid pass-heavy downs, which means Notre Dame has the advantage when it can put the Badgers in more and more of those situations. Head coach Brian Kelly compared Wisconsin to Navy due to its desire to control the line of scrimmage and to limit the opposition's possessions.

Success on first down on offense will help the Irish rack up points, and success on first down will allow the Irish defense to keep Wisconsin's points down. That is the key to victory for Notre Dame in what according to Vegas would be an upset.


Notre Dame picked up a commitment today from 2023 running back Sedrick Irvin Jr., which continues a strong start to the class for the Irish. Recruiting at running back has certainly picked up in recent seasons.

In the 2016-19 classes the Notre Dame staff landed just one four-star running back. Since Lance Taylor was hired prior to the 2019 season the Irish offense has really picked up running back recruiting. Taylor has played a role in Notre Dame landing four-star backs Chris Tyree (2020), Audric Estime (2021), Jadarian Price (2022) and now Irvin (2023).

Tyree ranked as the nation's No. 70 overall player in the 2020 class according to 247Sports.

Estime ranked as the nation's No. 243 overall player in the 2021 class.

Price ranks as the nation's No. 233 overall player in the 2022 class.

Irvin ranks as the nation's No. 177 overall player in the 2023 class.

Notre Dame also landed Logan Diggs in the 2021 class. Diggs graded out as a four-star recruit and a Top 150 caliber player on the Irish Breakdown board.

There is still room to get even better, but Taylor has done well to restock the Notre Dame running back depth chart.


Notre Dame isn't the only traditional power that hasn't quite lived up to expectations this season. The Irish, for all their struggles, are still undefeated. Clemson cannot say the same thing, and the Tigers needed a late goal line stand to stop 1-2 Georgia Tech from trying the game on Saturday.

Clemson dropped the opener to a Georgia team that was depleted by injuries, and its offense was abysmal. Much of that was credited to what looked like a stout Georgia defense. The Bulldogs continue to look really good on defense, but Clemson hasn't been very good on offense.

The Tigers have played two FBS teams this season and have scored just 17 points combined in those games and the offense has yet to top 300 yards of offense in those contests. Georgia Tech gave up more points to Kennesaw State (17) and Northern Illinois (22) than it did Clemson.

Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has more interceptions (2) than touchdown passes (1) in his first three games, and the run game has had a hard time getting going behind an offensive line that makes Notre Dame's unit look good.

Clemson's inability to protect the quarterback and lack of an after-the-catch weapon in the pass game (think Amari Rogers, Hunter Renfrow, Ray-Ray McCloud) has stalled the offense through three games.

I expect Clemson to right the ship at some point, but there are some legitimate holes being exposed right now, including how mediocre the offense can look when it doesn't have a mobile quarterback running the ship.


This tweet isn't actually from this week, it's from early September, but it's impressive and I wanted you to see it. It's of my No. 1 ranked commit in Notre Dame's 2022 class, Tobias Merriweather.


We talked about the recruiting comparison between the Notre Dame offense and the Wisconsin defense.

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Notre Dame 2023 Class Big Board


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