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Across the Aisle: Notre Dame Edition

Insert Leprechaun Pun here

Vanderbilt v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I got to sit down with Patrick Sullivan over at One Foot Down, and be sure to check out their end of the coverage as well, including a Q&A I did over on their site. Without any further ado let’s jump into this!

BSD: What’s been the biggest difference about this team since Wake played them last year?

One Foot Down: It’s definitely the offense’s efficiency and explosiveness (or lack thereof, this year). From last year’s top-10 rushing offense, ND lost All-Americans at LG and LT in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, RB Josh Adams (3,201 yards, 20 TD in ND career), RB Deon McIntosh (368 yds, 5 TD), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (1,484 yards, 13 TD), and WR Kevin Stepherson (821 yards, 10 TD), not to mention starting TE Durham Smythe. Furthermore, would-be starting RB Dexter Williams (641 yards, 8 TD) is suspended for the first 4 games of this season -- his experience and game-breaking speed are sorely missed in this offense.

The Irish are still a decent running team thanks to guys like C Sam Mustipher and LG Alex Bars up front and guys like Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong and Brandon Wimbush in the backfield, but losing all that talent from last year’s rushing juggernaut of an offense, along with the two most explosive receivers on the roster, has absolutely left ND with fewer weapons and much less of an ability to score at-will, which explains how ND has struggled to score more than 24 this year and has REALLY struggled to score in the second half, once defenses figure out the Irish offensive game plan.

BSD: Who do you look for to make an impact in this game on each side of the ball?

OFD: Offense: Jafar Armstrong and Chase Claypool

I think Armstrong will be key both in the running game and with his ability to lineup at wideout (he is a converted WR) and serve as a fast, versatile receiver for Wimbush and Book to rely on underneath the secondary. The Wake DBs have shown to be a weakness so far this year.

Claypool I think will have a couple big plays in this one, especially if Book is out there slinging it around - he’s due for a good game and the Wake secondary is ripe for Claypool to exploit it with his size and leaping ability (some of you may recall he did this last year against Wake Forest to the tune of 9 rec, 180 yards, and a TD).

Defense: Jerry Tillery, Te’von Coney, and Julian Love.

Tillery is a monster in the middle, so I expect him to be in freshman Sam Hartman’s grill early and often in this one. Wake’s interior offensive linemen better bring their A-games.

Coney will be flying all over the field making tackles, per usual, and could have a big play or two rushing the passer thanks to his speed and athleticism.

Love is a veteran with a propensity for breaking up passes, but hasn’t gotten an INT this year. He had 3 last year (2 pick-sixes) and seems due for one or two soon -- what better time than against a freshman QB who could be feeling a little pressure to do too much now that his competition for the starting role, Kendall Hinton, has returned.

BSD: What’s to be expected out of Brandon Wimbush both in this game and this year?

OFD: This is an interesting question, because Brian Kelly said he would “play the hot hand” this week between Wimbush and backup QB Ian Book, and that both would see the field. So, if Book is effective when he’s out there, the answer to this question, in Saturday’s context, could be “not that much.”

However, no matter what, expect Wimbush to make a few plays on the ground, as he’s still an ultra-dangerous runner. Going forward, it really depends how he’s able to throw the ball. He did alright last week against Vanderbilt, but if he continues to be inconsistent and Book cleans up some of the turnover tendencies he has, we could see Ian Book running the ND offense mostly on his own by the end of the year.

Personally, I still think Wimbush is the Irish’s best option at QB for the rest of 2018 because of his legs and ability to turn a broken pocket into a big play, but his passing and decision-making haven’t improved enough for me to say I’m confident Kelly thinks he is the full-season answer at the QB position. BK wants to sling it, and Book is certainly a guy who’s decisive and unafraid to do so.

BSD: A late addition here, but can you tell us a little about Ian Book given recent news?

OFD: Yessir!

Ian Book is a junior from California who has backed up Brandon Wimbush since the beginning of last season. He was a 3-star QB prospect who was originally committed to Mike Leach at Washington State, so you know he can sling it around a bit. In relief for Wimbush last season, Book had some nice moments but also made some really bad throws that got picked off - he finished last year as a 61% passer with 456 yards and 4 TD (and also with 4 INT). Additionally, although he’s no Wimbush, Book can run a bit -- he managed to run for 207 yards on 5.6 yards per carry in his limited 2017 playing time.

In terms of specific moments, he was very meh in going 17/31 for 146 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT as QB1 against UNC in 2017 (Wimbush was injured), and he replaced Wimbush in the debacle that was the 41-9 Miami loss, managing to one-up Wimbush’s turnovers with a pick-six of his own. He finished the year strong, though, taking over for Wimbush midway through the Citrus Bowl against a good LSU defense and going 14/19 for 164 yards, 2 TD (including the game winner to Miles Boykin), and 1 INT.

This year, he’s seen very limited action, but the Irish have managed to score on (I think) 4 of the 9 plays in which he’s taken a snap - 3 of them just on hand-offs, but he magic?!? Book’s only passes this season came against Vandy last week, when he went 3/3 for 13 yards and a 2-yard TD toss to TE Nic Weishar. Kelly has, for some reason, decided to try to make Book his red zone QB (surprising because Wimbush has always been INCREDIBLY effective in the red zone with his running ability). He’s done fine with the very little that’s been asked of him in that role, but hasn’t done much that Wimbush himself couldn’t do.

Overall, a lot of ND fans have been calling for Book because of Wimbush’s inconsistent passing, but Book’s career numbers (especially the INTs) don’t actually make him look like a much better choice throwing the football -- 63% completion, 469 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT. I chalk this up to fans always thinking the backup QB is the answer. Wimbush is still a much more dynamic runner, so I don’t think Book is the right guy to start and feature going forward, but we’ll see on Saturday if Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long think otherwise.

BSD: What realistic expectations did the ND faithful have coming into this season and how has the team lived up to this so far?

OFD: I think most people who were being realistic expected a very good defense, considering the experience and talent returning, and a middling offense, considering the experience and talent lost -- 8-4 or 9-3 (or maaaybe 10-2 if you’re the optimistic type) seemed like realistic predictions for this year.

So far, the defense has lived up to the hype, but the offense has been much worse than expected, with the offensive line (specifically, the tackles) being disappointing, Wimbush still struggling for consistency, and the offensive play-calling still seemingly oblivious to the strengths of Wimbush and co., which are NOT to sling it around the field.

This team can still definitely go 9-3 or 8-4 or even better, as teams like Florida State and USC are not nearly as good as expected, but considering the offense’s performance and that opponents can absolutely improve and have it put together by the time ND gets to them, the Irish could also end up under-performing vs. realistic expectations if they aren’t careful.

BSD: How big does the base/yourself think this game is relative to the rest of the schedule

OFD: To be completely honest, not very big. Michigan was the huge opener against a hated rival, Stanford and Virginia Tech are the back-to-back top-10 opponents in the middle of the schedule, and Florida State and USC have always been the storied programs looming at the end of the year.

Wake Forest is known by Irish fans as a solid program, considering the game last year and knowing ND took Mike Elko and Clark Lea from them, but compared to some of the bigger-name programs on the schedule, this Wake game is definitely not one the fans are pointing at as a “big game.”

Hopefully the players don’t think about it the same way, considering the scares against Ball State and Vanderbilt that have already occurred this year. If they’re caught looking ahead to Stanford, Wake is definitely good enough to beat them.

BSD: ND wins if they come out and do what?

OFD: Continue to play solid defense (Wake’s offense is probably the best they’ve faced to-date -- Greg Dortch scares the shit out of me) and play a clean game on offense, limiting turnovers and scoring touchdowns, not field goals, when in the red zone.

BSD: on the other hand what can they not do if they want to win this game?

OFD: Wimbush and Book can’t be out here giving the Demon Deacons turnovers that flip the field and make it hard on the ND defense to stop what is already an explosive Wake offense from scoring. The ND defense should do fine, but if they have to spend too much time out there and too often have to start series in Irish territory, Wake can definitely win this game.

Also, ND can’t be giving up big kick returns to noted returner extraordinaire Greg Dortch -- that could kill the Irish, and they’ve already shown some weakness there when they allowed a kickoff return TD against Michigan in Week 1.

BSD: Lastly, who wins, why, and score?

OFD: Notre Dame wins 28-20.

I think the ND defense will play well enough, and the Irish offense will be able to move the ball just enough against a not-great Demon Deacon defense, to be up a couple scores heading into the home stretch.

Wake will make it close and scare the Irish a bit, but ultimately the ND defense will shut the door and get out of Winston-Salem with a perfect record intact, ready to prep for a HUGE game at home against Stanford next weekend.

What do you guys think will happen? Who will Actually start for ND? Will it matter?

Talk about it in the comments!

As always, Go Deacs