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This week's Rakes report:
1) It is hard to overstate how bad of a football team the Lobos were, which makes evaluating things kind of tricky. After another uninspiring first quarter the Irish clicked in and did exactly what you’re supposed to do against a team that bad: Average 9 yards per snap and win by 52, the most points scored in a home opener since 1932 against Haskell and the most points scored in a game since a 1977 victory over Georgia Tech. I am going to hedge and qualify to account for competition as we go through this but please add as much “but remember, this was against New Mexico” as it takes to season the commentary to your liking.
2) Let’s start on the sunniest note, which is Kyle Hamilton opening the scoring with a pick six, a true freshman putting up the first points of the season at Notre Dame Stadium by corralling a deflected pass (what hands!) and trucking into the end zone (what athleticism!). He’s just so good already and it’s fun to imagine what sort of legendary monster he can turn into by the time he finishes his three years on campus. The pass defense was excellent all game, holding New Mexico to 10 completions on 29 attempts with Shaun Crawford and Jalen Elliott also snagging picks. Elliott and Alohi Gilman were much better than the opener, but I have to imagine they spend stolen moments gazing wistfully at photos of Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, who made life much much easier for them last year. Not that this secondary has gone against the best competition, but the Irish currently lead the nation in opponent completion percentage at 38.6, two ticks ahead of Memphis in second and five percentage points better than the third-place Badgers.
3) Up front, things were a little tougher but there were flashes: Daelin Hayes looks like the best defensive lineman on the team, assisting on the Hamilton pick and generally terrorizing the Lobo backfield. Asmar Bilal played maybe the best game of his career, Bo Bauer was very mean in a good way and Jayson Ademilola was a force in the middle. Still, the Lobos ran for 212 yards and 4.6 yards per carry as some of the linebackers took adventurous routes to the ball.
However, I do think those rushing numbers are a little inflated by the end-of-first-half touchdown drive (it’s not good to totally lose focus up 35-0 but it’s also kind of understandable) and the fourth quarter ultra-garbage time. Here’s how it breaks down:
First quarter: 10 rushes for 37 yards
Second quarter: 14 rushes for 99 yards
Second quarter if you take out the last drive which included a blatant hold on the touchdown: 10 rushes for 24 yards
Third quarter: 8 rushes for 18 yards (this is taking out the lost yardage on the botched field goal – not giving the front seven credit for that but good hustle by TaRiq Bracy)
Fourth quarter: 13 rushes for 86 yards
So, while it looked rough at times, New Mexico really didn’t get much going on the ground until they were up against the reserves late, save for the one first-half score. That said, being sneakily solid against a team with as little talent as New Mexico is not going to cut it going forward as it will take a superhuman effort to contain Georgia’s ground attack, which has been churning through the opposition with ease through three games.
4) On offense, things were real ugly for the first four drives, averaging under four yards per play and only scoring on that agonizing goal-to-go situation where they couldn’t get a push against New Mexico’s undersized front. However, after Avery Davis’ touchdown run*, things started to click for both Chip Long and Ian Book. Book made a number of quality throws (a few to Claypool, to Tremble, to Keys, the second touchdown to McKinley) after a miserable first quarter and started to look like the guy we’re going to need to win the more difficult games on the schedule. Everything about Saturday night is going to be tougher than the pristine conditions he worked in this weekend, but this is a step in the right direction.
* Yes, that’s in the books as a pass, but we’re all adults here.
Really exciting stuff from the receivers on Saturday. Chase Claypool looked like a beast again, and was joined in that regard by Javon McKinley, who had one of the wildest touchdowns you will see. While it is possible McKinley’s great afternoon was a one-time-only-against-the-Lobos thing, I will remind you he was a blue-chippy recruit, coming in at 114th in the composite, so there is talent if he’d like to continue to impersonate Miles Boykin. Lawrence Keys continues to do cool stuff, Tommy Tremble had a nice catch and while Braden Lenzy was going against New Mexico backups he flashed both a Will Fuller tribute on the deep bomb and a Golden Tate tribute on the touchdown, which you truly love to see. Add Cole Kmet (who should be set for Athens) and Michael Young (eventually) back into the mix and make sure Long keeps calling The Good Plays and Book should have plenty of options.
5) Running game? Less hopeful. Jahmir Smith sat out with a sprained toe (he’s questionable for Saturday) and there was nothing going on the ground, as the offensive line didn’t get much of a push and the tailbacks didn’t make anything out of nothing. Will a Tony Jones, Jr.-driven power game work against Georgia? Can Davis add a little boost, considering he couldn’t do much last year? Will we see more Keys and Lenzy, just to stress the defense? Can Kyren Williams have a breakout? I don’t know the answer to any of these, and the Bulldogs might be so good it doesn’t matter but hopefully Jafar Armstrong can make It back for the second half of the season because he’s sorely missed right now.
6) Solid special teams work again by the new guys. Jay Bramblett did well on his three punts while Jonathan Doerer made his first field goal attempt (although did he?! That looked so close) and was good on kickoffs save for one trickling out of bounds. Also, bonus points for Keys’ nice return to open the game and no busts by the coverage teams. As it is for every other unit on the team, Saturday night is the big test but hey look at that we’re through 16.7 percent of the way through the regular season with clean work in the special teams department despite the departures of Yoon and Newsome.
7) Winning is Hard/Schadenfreude Round Up: This was an odd weekend with no ranked-on-ranked games but don’t worry, there was still plenty of carnage. They weren’t ranked but let’s start with our friends on Chestnut Hill, as Boston College was a three-touchdown home favorite against Kansas and got ~doubled up~, 48-24. Kansas hadn’t won a road game against a Power 5 team since 2008!!! If you’re thinking, “Wait, if Boston College is that bad, what does that mean for Virginia Tech, a team they beat in Week One?”, well, it means Virginia Tech needed to rally to beat Furman. It seems that Duke and Louisville might be competing for the crown of second-best ACC team the Irish face this year, just as we all predicted a few weeks ago.
Southern Cal lost in overtime at BYU and now and now their next three games are Utah at home, at Washington and at Notre Dame. Uh, good luck? (Although credit to our independent brethren BYU, who get a chance to go 3-1 against the Power 5 at home versus Washington this weekend.) Now, you might be thinking, “Didn’t USC look good against Stanford last week?” and you’re correct, but we have another data point on the Cardinal and it’s them getting absolutely housed in Orlando by Central Florida, a sight so beautiful you could weep. It wasn’t all bad for the Pac-12, as Arizona State rallied to win at No. 18 Michigan State, who was a two-touchdown favorite and now Herm Edwards has defeated Mark Dantonio in consecutive seasons. Neat!
No. 9 Florida was down 21-10 at Kentucky but scored 19 straight points to break the Wildcats’ hearts. Really bad coaching at the end by Mark Stoops after his offense got down to the Florida 26, trailing by one with under two minutes remaining. Did he run it three times and let a freshman kicker try a field goal, which missed? Yes. Oddly that wasn’t the worst fourth quarter game management, as Pat Narduzzi opted to try a field goal from the Penn State goal line despite trailing by a touchdown late in the fourth. It missed, because the college football gods are real and just. On the previous drive, Narduzzi punted on 4th and 2 from the Penn State 48 after converting two third and longs to reach that point. If you’re a Pitt player or a Pitt fan, how can you even stomach this guy? What utter cowardice.
Other random stuff: 2-0 Maryland got up to No. 21 in the country just in time to go to Philadelphia and lose to Temple, 20-17, in a game I encourage you to seek out the play-by-play for because it was bonkers. 2-0 Illinois had a chance to continue their undefeated season but lost at home to Eastern Michigan (sorry, Mr. Tres). Florida State had a late lead at Virginia and collapsed, leaving them at 1-2 with the victory being an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe. Purdue got walloped at home by TCU and now Jeff Brohm is 3-6 since defeating Ohio State last year. Iowa State lost at home to Iowa in a tough one, a chance for a game-winning drive negated when the Cyclones muffed a late punt. Mississippi State, which was getting some SEC sleeper buzz, lost at home to Kansas State which is tough for Joe Moorhead with the league schedule upcoming. Our old pal Dave Doeren got blown out as a road favorite in Morgantown. Georgia Tech lost at home to the Citadel. 2-0 Colorado lost at home to Air Force. Minnesota had to rally late to beat Georgia Southern at home.
8) There won’t be a newsletter preview for Georgia because a) I am taking a midnight train (afternoon flight) down on Thursday and b) There isn’t much to say other than while it will take a herculean effort from the Irish to pull this off it’s not impossible. Both sides of the ball are going to have to be strong because the most important thing is to not let Georgia get comfortable, since they will be perfectly content to just hand the ball off and wind this thing down if the Irish offense isn’t scoring. There is a lot of pressure on our hosts as heavy favorites so Notre Dame’s goal should be to survive the first quarter, make a mark in the second and let the gravity of the moment aid them in the upset bid. As much as we’re used to the other shoe dropping as Notre Dame fans, in their last 18 games the Dawgs have blown two second half leads to Alabama, no-showed a Sugar Bowl and got trucked in Baton Rouge so their psyches aren’t exactly on lock. Georgia fans should be confident going into Saturday night but if Notre Dame can do something to shake that feeling they can knock the crowd into an existential crisis.
Book and Long are both going to have to have the games of their lives to not just let Jake Fromm and his cadre of tailbacks play keep away because there is no urgency to score. Book has to be better than he’s been the last three games. He can’t be sloppy on his RPO decisions or ignore easy yardage available via pre-snap reads. He will have to take shots and give his big receivers a chance to go up and get it and he will have to be accurate to let his slot receivers catch the ball on the run and potentially make a Dawg or two miss. The offensive line has to poke some holes and keep Book clean, the skill players have to protect the ball and Long will have to do a better job than he did the last time he went up against Kirby Smart. They’re going to need to be close to perfect.
On the other side, the run defense has not been great and there will definitely be some long D'Andre Swift jaunts coupled with annoying 8-play, 75-yard drives where Georgia doesn’t face anything tougher than a 3rd and 2, so accept that now. What has to happen to keep this interesting is Clark Lea and his defense have to hold on the 3rd and longs. The strength of this defense is supposed to be its pass rush and secondary so they need to generate some turnovers if not points to help out the offense against a tough defense. After an offseason of hype, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem have both been quiet through the first two games of their senior seasons but Saturday night is the perfect time for them to get loud. No reason to hold anything back: Crank up the havoc rate, take some chances and hope like hell the secondary can hold.
Regardless of how Saturday night goes, I want to take a moment to address what has happened since Georgia edged Notre Dame by a point in September 2017. The Irish have played 26 games and they’ve won 23 of them, including knocking out USC (twice), Michigan, LSU, Stanford, Sparty and Florida State. They have not lost at the Stadium, building the third longest home winning streak in the program’s history. They have completed an undefeated regular season and become one of just ten programs to make the playoff. The intention of this paragraph is not to read as a eulogy — the Irish are capable of putting another gaudy win total up this season even if they come up empty in Athens, and they haven’t come up empty yet — but it’s always nice to take a moment and reflect on what has been a great run of football.
Keep going. Go Irish. Beat Bulldogs. Become legend.
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