Notre Dame gets back to action on Friday when it heads to North Carolina to take on the 6-2 Tar Heels. Notre Dame has three regular season games remaining, and two could be especially challenging. The Irish would then likely get a rematch against Clemson in the ACC title game.
Running the table is the goal, and it’s an achievable one. In order to make that happen, the Irish offense must become more consistent, shore up some key areas and build on aspects of the offense that have been strong in recent games.
If the Irish can not take a step back in any area and achieve the five points below it will play good enough for the team to run the table.
1. BOOK MUST CONTINUE CURRENT PACE
Through the first four games of the season, quarterback Ian Book averaged 178.5 passing yards per game, 7.6 yards per attempt, 12.3 yards per completion and had a pedestrian quarterback rating of 133.91. Notre Dame averaged 31.5 offensive points per game during that stretch against opponents that have a combined 8-25 record.
In the last four games, Book averaged 276.0 passing yards per game, 9.0 yards per attempt, 14.5 yards per completion and he had a quarterback rating of 159.95. The Irish offense has averaged 38.5 points per game in those contests against opponents with a combined 18-14 record.
Beyond the numbers, Book’s play has been outstanding in three of the last four games. He’s been as aggressive attacking with his arm as I’ve ever seen him, his playmaking in the pocket has been outstanding and he’s become a great chain mover with his legs. When he plays with the confidence we’ve seen in recent weeks you can see it spreading throughout the entire offense.
Simply put, if Book continues playing like he has in recent games, especially the last two, the Irish offense will be very, very hard to beat. If that happens and the four points below also happen, then Notre Dame should be able to play with, and beat, anyone.
2. RED ZONE OFFENSE NEEDS SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT
Notre Dame ranks 75th in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage, and that is coming after a game in which the Irish went 6-8 on touchdowns in the red zone. The Irish scored touchdowns on just three of their six red zone trips against Clemson, and that allowed the Tigers to hang in a game that Notre Dame largely dominated.
If Notre Dame wants to beat high-scoring opponents like North Carolina and Wake Forest, Clemson with Trevor Lawrence, and either Alabama or Ohio State in the College Football Playoff it needs to start turning more red zone trips into touchdowns.
Being more assertive with the ground game is step one, building a pass attack that better complements the run game is step two and devising more red zone specific and more red zone effective pass concepts from the 12-20 yard line is step three.
3. CLEAN UP TURNOVERS
Notre Dame turned the ball over just three times in the first five games, but in the last three games it has turned it over five times. That includes a pair of lost fumbles in the red zone and two more fumbles that gave the Boston College offense very short fields.
Notre Dame absolutely must shore up the turnover issues that have plagued it in recent games. The Irish will not be able to keep winning week after week against high-powered offenses if that continues.
4. SHORE UP THE CENTER POSITION
Losing center Jarrett Patterson is certainly a big blow for Notre Dame, but not one that should keep the Irish from having a dominant offensive line, or keep it from putting a championship caliber offense on the field.
Notre Dame will need to figure out a plan without Patterson and shore up that position. If they do the offense will keep rolling. If center becomes an issue it could create enough problems with the run game and protection to stall the offense.
5. EXPAND THE WEAPONS
One of the benefits of a bye week this late in the season is you get extra time to do some self-scouting as a staff. Hopefully the staff sees that there are weapons that aren’t being used, or at least not being used enough.
Wideouts Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek are established as quality parts of the pass offense, and McKinley is starting to play like a go-to weapon. Kyren Williams is thriving in the run game (minus the fumbles) and Michael Mayer is arguably the nation’s best freshman tight end. Slot receiver Avery Davis is also becoming a much more integral part of the offense.
There are weapons I’d like to see incorporated to an even greater degree to either help complement the weapons above, or to add even more juice to the offense, which will need it against the better teams remaining on the schedule (and in the playoff).
Getting Tommy Tremble more involved in the offense is an absolute must. Tremble has caught just seven passes in the last six games. He’s far too talented of an athlete and pass catcher to be relegated to blocking duties as much as he is. We saw in the first half against Clemson how good he can be, and it’s not a surprise that the offense sputtered for much of the second half as Tremble was once again an afterthought in the offense.
Getting freshman running back Chris Tyree a bit more involved would be ideal as well. Getting him a few more touches in the run game would benefit the offense and also take some of the pounding off Williams, who has put the ball on the ground in two of the last three games. Getting Tyree more involved in the pass game (seams, angles, wheels, screens) is something the staff must do as well.
The best part about Notre Dame’s 8-0 start is it is not playing its best ball yet. There is still another level for this team, something head coach Brian Kelly has mentioned multiple times in the last two weeks. These are areas where the offense can get to that level.
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