1) I do not want to overplay Saturday’s domination of the Blue Devils, but I also do not want Notre Dame fans to just dismiss this out of hand and say that Duke was terrible so who cares if the Irish waxed them. The Vegas line on this game was just seven points and Notre Dame won by 31. Duke came into Saturday night with the 37th ranked defense in the SP+ and the 30th ranked defense in the FEI and the Irish offense could have pushed for 50 if it wanted. If we update the Top 25 Wins of the Brian Kelly Era this game is going to be nowhere near the list but after the debacle in Ann Arbor and the close call last week, it was nice to just put the boots to a legitimate team on the road.
2) Ian Book played his best game of the season against a Power 5 opponent, throwing for four scores and rushing for 149 yards. The numbers were fine but he just looked better, starting with the third down strike to Chris Finke on the first touchdown drive. He was much more decisive in the run game and perhaps most importantly there were multiple plays where he started to scramble, didn’t panic and directed some pass attempts downfield. They weren’t all completions (Chase Claypool should teach a seminar on sideline acrobatics) but he kept plays alive and gave his guys chances. Perhaps Notre Dame fans being so noxious that Book had to disable comments on his Instagram and stop checking Twitter was just the motivation he needed to get back on track*, because if he plays like this for the next three games there’s a really good chance the Irish finish 10-2.
* If you insult Notre Dame players on social media you are deeply, deeply diseased.
It was also nice to see Finke have a breakout game after a much-maligned senior season, pulling in 5 catches for 49 yards and two scores in addition to a 46-yard punt return and a 78-yard reception that would have likely resulted in a 28-0 margin wiped out by an iffy holding. Is he getting back to 2018 levels as well? That would be useful. Chase Claypool was great yet again (5 for 97 and a score) while George Takacs got his first career touchdown reception (although Brock Wright appeared to be slightly more open on the play). The sophomore running back duo of Jahmir Smith and C'Borius Flemister showed some flash, combining to go 83 yards on 13 carries (a little over 6 per) and a score on a night when neither Tony Jones nor Jafar Armstrong were particularly effective. This offense isn’t going to set any records but it has the potential to get the job done the rest of the way, particularly if they get Braden Lenzy back into the mix after he missed the trip to Durham for what Brian Kelly said was fatigue.
3) The Duke offense was pretty wretched coming into this game but they were completely immolated by the Irish front. The Blue Devils got a first down on their first play from scrimmage and followed that up with 15 plays and five punts, their second first down not coming until it was already 21-0. A lot of credit should go to the linebacking crew of Drew White, JOK and Asmar Bilal, who took down Duke’s rushing attack, although they had assistance from some great defensive line play. Alohi Gilman and Kyle Hamilton both had some key tackles when the game was still in doubt, Troy Pride had a pick and this really was just absolute destruction. Overall, Notre Dame held Duke to 3.2 yards per snap, keeping an ACC opponent under four yards per offensive play and doubling them up in first downs for the second straight game.
In brutal news, Julian Okwara injured his leg and is done for the season, ending his Notre Dame career. While Okwara didn’t put up absurd stats this year, I think we may discover going forward how much his mere presence on the field was affecting the game plan of the opposition. Plus, we’ll always have the Virginia game, which Okwara almost won single-handedly. It’s nice that the Irish came into the fall with good depth at defensive line but I much prefer a universe where two of the best three ends (Okwara and Daelin Hayes) don’t go down. Jack Lamb, who had done solid work as a passing down linebacker, is also out for the season. Injuries are really starting to pile up and now we see if the depth we thought this program had been building can persevere through four more games.
4) Jay Bramblett didn’t have the best night punting the ball, but he still has the immunity idol he earned with last week’s game-winning hold so that’s all we’ll say about his evening. Jonathan Doerer made a 34-yarder and is now a Jeri Ryan-esque 7-of-9 on field goals this season and remains perfect in all 37 extra point attempts. Notre Dame has scored on 92% of red zone appearances (good for 16th in the nation) and has an 81% touchdown rate (good for 6th). If you're wondering which team has the best touchdown rate and the 4th best scoring rate, well, you'll get to see them play the Irish on Saturday.
5) Winning Is Hard/Schadenfreude Round Up: What a fun day of college football. Alabama vs. LSU lived up to the hype in every way, with the Tide falling at home to the Coach O/Joe Burrow show. (Thank you, USC, for going with Sark over O.) The teams were loaded with talent but I hope Notre Dame fans watched and saw some shoddy tackling, plenty of special teams errors and two offensive coordinators who weren’t interested in running the ball for the first half of the game. Alabama lost this game, which I remind you has to happen when two teams play per the current rules of college football.
Penn State lost at Minnesota and did a bunch of stuff you love to see (going for two in the third quarter, end zone fades on fourth and goal, refusing to cover Minnesota receivers) and James Franklin is now 1-7 on the road against ranked teams. Baylor needed a 51-yard field goal to force three overtimes to overcome TCU and remain undefeated while Oklahoma nearly blew a 21-point lead but survived an Iowa State two-point conversion attempt to stay in the playoff hunt.
Michigan State was up 28-3 against Illinois and had a three-touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter and lost at home, which is not ideal unless you’re an Illini fan because your team is now on a four-game winning streak and bowl eligible. Northwestern scored 22 points, their most in a Big Ten game so far this season but ah Purdue scored 24 and now the Wildcats are 1-8. (Shoutout Jeff Brohm for managing to pull his team out of what looked like a tailspin.) I would have absolutely made fun of Texas for losing at home to Kansas State so to be fair I will compliment for pulling out a gutty win against a good team. 7-1 Wake Forest took their No. 19 ranking into Blacksburg and got trucked 36-17 by the Hokies, who can still win the Coastal. Boston College lost at home to a Florida State team that just fired its coach.
Arkansas got blown out at home by Western Kentucky — who started a transfer from Arkansas that Chad Morris didn’t want as his quarterback — and now Morris is fired before the completion of his second season. Worth keeping an eye on this coaching search as the Razorbacks are Notre Dame’s home opener next year. Stanford was a road favorite at Colorado and lost, so they’re now 4-5. San Diego State was a 17.5-point home favorite against Nevada and lost. Boise needed overtime to beat Wyoming on the blue turf. South Carolina lost at home to Appalachian State, which raises the question of why is anyone scheduling Appalachian State in a November non-conference game. The Mountaineers have wins over both North and South Carolina and should play Wake in a bowl for the best non-Clemson team in the Carolinas title belt.
6) While Notre Dame quickly figured out the Duke defense, they did start with a three-and-out, which is not going to work against Saturday’s opponent. Navy comes into this game off a bye weekend at 7-1 and ranked in the Top 25, making them the toughest November opponent by ranking or nearly any computer metric you would like to use. This game will likely be miserable because almost all Navy games are miserable, but at least the Irish got some practice with run heavy attacks the last two weeks.
A small blessing of Drue Tranquill's injury last year in San Diego is that Drew White replaced him in spot duty and played quite well against the option, notching six tackles. Jalen Elliott had seven tackles, a forced fumble and a pick while Alohi Gilman was born for this. How will JOK and Bilal handle increased snaps? Is Kyle Hamilton ready? Can the defensive line reach the same level of disruption sans Jerry Tillery and Julian Okwara? A lot of questions, and come Saturday evening we’ll know how well the Bob Elliott Memorial Institute for Option Studies did in preparing its charges. An offense that seems to have found its legs will now have to prove it can be efficient because there likely won’t be that many drives for them to ply their trade.
Only three games left so be sure to enjoy them. While it’s unfortunate the Irish don’t have an opportunity to put another marquee win on the board between now and the end of the month there is still a lot to play for: A third-straight ten win season, a second-straight top ten finish, extending the home win streak into another year, the first win in Palo Alto since the David Grimes Robbery, keeping the streak going against Boston College, not allowing Ken Niumatalolo to feel joy and remaining one of only two teams to have not lost to an unranked opponent since the start of 2017 (along with the Crimson Tide). Keep putting up wins and we’ll see where the postseason takes us.
7) Oh, and happy birthday to my dad, who despite spending most of his life rooting against Notre Dame visited campus with me my senior year, got sucked in by hockey blowing out Michigan and Bengal Bouts the same way I did, helped make the sell to my mom and now owns maybe more Irish gear than I do. (This is me covering my bases in case the card I sent didn’t arrive in time.)
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. 7-2 is not bad but 8-2 would be a lot better, particularly with the annual problems presented by this next opponent. Go Irish, Beat Midshipmen.
If you’ve been forwarded this email and would like to receive future editions directly, you can sign up here.