Kevin Stepherson

Associated Press

Things We Learned: Without a passing game, Notre Dame is not *there* yet

103 Comments

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Seven years ago, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team began the season with eight consecutive wins before falling to No. 17 Kentucky in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. Then a freshman seeing his first collegiate action, point guard Eric Atkins was asked what he learned about the Irish in the loss.

“I learned that we won’t be undefeated this year,” he replied.

It was tongue-in-cheek, it was the only answer he offered, and it was accurate.

In No. 3 Notre Dame’s 41-8 loss at No. 7 Miami on Saturday, we learned the Irish will not be going to the College Football Playoff this season. So long, dreams of New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles and a balmy afternoon at the Rose Bowl. You made life tolerable for a few weeks.

Notre Dame won’t be in the Playoff because its struggling passing game could be hidden for only so long. It will adjust its view to finishing in the CFP selection committee’s top 12 because the one-dimensional offense could not stand up against a defense featuring speed. It will spend the next few weeks discussing abstract concepts such as pride, what we’ve built and tradition because sometimes a buzzsaw awaits you, and sometimes that buzzsaw comes complete with a raucous fan base ready to throw a rager.

At some point, the Irish were going to need to pass successfully and efficiently. They couldn’t.

Since the overhand nadir of the Boston College rout, Notre Dame’s aerial attack has gradually progressed. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush was beginning to look like he could look the part. To paraphrase ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, Wimbush was a month away from being a month away.

That timetable could have been quick enough. He would have been rounding into form just in time to face an SEC defense in a national semifinal. (Sigh, Pasadena, you will haunt dreams for weeks, won’t you?)

His difficulties were exacerbated by his receivers’ drops. Even those, though, spoke of better things to come. Surely talents like junior Equanimeous St. Brown and sophomores Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson would not keep losing track of sure-catches for long. Perhaps they won’t, but they did at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Irish needed the passing game to keep Miami honest. Sooner or later, that would be the case. With that time arrived, the passing game was not ready at all, not even a little bit.

Wimbush and sophomore Ian Book combined to finish 13-of-27 for 152 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Both St. Brown and Claypool each had at least one notable drop. Go ahead and point out the first-quarter pass to St. Brown was off-target high. It was, but it still went off his hands to the Hurricane defender. That qualifies as both receiver and quarterback error.

Add in the five sacks allowed for 21 yards, and Notre Dame spent 32 plays to gain 131 yards, an average of 4.09 yards per snap, with 19 of those going for zero yards, negative yards or a change of possession in Miami’s favor.

“It’s a full-team responsibility,” Irish fifth-year left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “Interceptions and turnovers are a part of the game. There’s no one man. It’s a team effort. It doesn’t matter who is turning the ball over.

“I can probably protect better on those interceptions. I know the rest of the [offensive line] would say the same.”

McGlinchey is correct, but the onus does not lie on him. It lies with a passing game that was still far from developed-enough to handle an elite defense.

That passing game allowed the Hurricanes to showcase their strength, a strength nearly unstoppable from a personnel standpoint in college football.

This argument has been made here before. It will likely be made again, though perhaps one day it will be from the other side of the coin.

Miami knew not to worry too much about Notre Dame’s passing game, so it keyed on the ground attack, led by junior running back Josh Adams and the formidable offensive line in front of him. It very well may be the best offensive line in the country, but when the defense knows what is coming, even the best offensive line cannot counter the anticipation. Combine that anticipation with natural speed and the defensive front wins the battle.

Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams struggled to outrace Miami to the edge Saturday, finishing with only 40 yards on 16 carries. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Very good defensive lines beat great offensive lines. It is that simple. In this instance, it was a motivated and very good defensive line.

“Early on it looked like we were going to have a good day in that regard,” Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said. “They were struggling blocking our guys. We do have some quickness, for sure, but we’ve got some pretty big boys inside there, too.

“… They were challenged because of the reputation of Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines. They’re big, strong physical people and they took the challenge to try to move them a little bit.”

Notre Dame rushed for 140 yards on 31 carries (sacks adjusted), an average of 4.52 yards per carry. That would seem to be plenty, even if well below the norms heading into the weekend. That is a generous average when considering 13 of those 31 carries went for two yards or fewer or even lost yardage. That inconsistent ability to gain a push forced the Irish away from the run game to the untrustworthy passing game.

In the season’s first nine games, Notre Dame averaged 44.67 carries per game. Sticking with the ground game for another 14 rushes Saturday would have likely produced another six fruitless plays.

“They just were able to control the game a little bit,” McGlinchey said. “They got around on the perimeter very well, a lot better than a lot of the teams that we’ve played.”

Even an elite left tackle like Irish fifth-year lineman Mike McGlinchey can do only so much against a top-flight defensive front. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That is what speed and quickness do. A very good front allows a defense to focus on the field’s 53-yard width, not its 120-yard length. McGlinchey might handle his block just fine, but no one will then block the linebacker racing around the edge set by the end engaged with McGlinchey. This leads to two-yard losses on running plays and four-yard sacks on passes.

McGlinchey is a special talent. Senior left guard Quenton Nelson is even more so. Senior center Sam Mustipher has been having an outstanding season, as has senior right guard Alex Bars. The right tackle combination of sophomore Tommy Kraemer and freshman Robert Hainsey has fared far better than anyone would have expected it to this year. Miami’s success does not eliminate all that offensive line has done to date this fall.

It does, however, highlight the gap between Notre Dame and the top of the country as well as the desperate need for a dangerous passing game to make an opposing coordinator at least ponder using a nickel package with the safeties far from the line of scrimmage.

None of this was helped by Hard Rock Stadium’s atmosphere.

Let’s make this clear: The Irish offense’s inability to sustain a drive and four turnovers cost Notre Dame the game.

The Irish defense did not start real well, though. It was not done any favors by the offense’s charitable donations to the Miami Fund. (That is not a real non-profit organization, but it is a step toward working Human Fund into a story in this space.)

By the end of the night, the Miami student section was likely the rowdiest party in south Florida. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Everyone around Notre Dame will deny this until the day they die, but the loud and energetic crowd may have gotten into the heads of some of the young defenders. Three sophomores started in the secondary and another got the nod on the defensive line. Linebacker Te’von Coney may be a junior — and led the team in tackles for the fourth consecutive game — but he has only been seeing major minutes for two months now. The same can be said of tackle Jonathan Bonner with a senior distinction.

None of these players had ever competed in an atmosphere like Saturday’s. Frankly, the Hurricanes fans should be applauded.

Naturally, they were so upbeat because Miami is good, really good.

The Hurricanes had apparently been playing down to their schedule to date. For the second consecutive week, they rose to a challenge, and then some.

Feel free to sound your the-world-is-ending alarms, however unnecessary they are. Notre Dame lost to a top-five program for the second time this season. That fact alone is not cause for panic. It was a complete and utter blowout, yes, but much of that traces to the turnovers rather than systematic failures.

Claypool’s drops perhaps a harbinger of Notre Dame success to come

Getty Images
77 Comments

Chase Claypool would not even grant the hypothetical’s premise. He knew how many yards he ended up with in Notre Dame’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest last weekend. He knew he caught nine passes and found the end zone once to gain 180 yards.

He would not speculate how much gaudier those numbers could have been if he had not dropped a likely 57-yard touchdown along the sideline early in the third quarter. Quick math would remove his 27-yard reception (as well as another drop, albeit a tougher ball to snag) later on the same drive and realize Claypool came oh-so-close to a nine-catch, 210-yard, two-touchdown afternoon.

“If I didn’t drop those passes, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the other big gains,” Claypool countered. “I don’t think of it as a negative for dropping two passes. Obviously I need to work on that, but I don’t think of it as I could have had more yards. Maybe I would have had less yards.”

To be clear, Claypool was appropriately self-critical for the drops. That is part of why he would not acknowledge the possible statistical boosts. He just wasn’t so critical as to let the missed opportunities define his day. His fellow receivers made sure of that much.

“I was beating myself up on the sideline, and every single receiver said, you’re good, it’s going to come to you,” Claypool said. “… We’re kind of a family, so to have that security knowing that they have your back, it’s easy to come back from something like that.”

After the most-notable drop, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush kept the ball himself to gain 14 yards and a third-down conversion. Having reset the chains, he again looked for one of his receivers. This time junior Equanimeous St. Brown failed his quarterback. Wimbush then turned to sophomore running back Deon McIntosh to get back ahead of the chains before finally connecting with Claypool for the 27-yarder. Two more incompletions toward Claypool and the drive resulted in a 22-yard field goal.

“There were a lot of points that we left up on the board,” Wimbush said. “It’s scary and I say that every week, but one of these weeks we will connect and everything will be clicking.

“I’m not worried about those guys dropping balls. I’ve got to continue to give them opportunities to go make plays because those guys are playmakers.”

Claypool, specifically, has emerged as a playmaker. After last year’s breakout, St. Brown was widely-expected to be showcased this season. Sophomore Kevin Stepherson flashed enough speed in 2016, it was trusted he would quickly again once he got on the field. The physical Claypool, though, was only a tantalizing-but-unknown possibility.

“He’s a young guy that I wouldn’t say has got it all figured out yet,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “He’s learning every day, but he comes with a great attitude. He wants to get better.

“He’s definitely ascending. He’s not going to be a guy that plateaus out.”

At Boston College on Sept. 16, Claypool was Wimbush’s most-consistent option at receiver. That meant he caught two passes for eight yards. Such were the difficulties in the passing game, the struggles among the receivers and the impotent definition of success. The two catches did set up Claypool as someone Wimbush could trust, drops or not.

The results of that trust have progressively shown themselves. A week later Claypool pulled in four catches for 56 yards. After the dropped deep ball last Saturday, Wimbush still targeted Claypool five more times, completing three of them for 105 yards, most notably a 34-yard touchdown with Claypool using and needing every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame to cross the goal line.

“After I dropped that pass, there was no way I wasn’t scoring here, so I went for it,” Claypool said. “… I have to thank Brandon for trusting me after I dropped a couple passes and then going back to me on the next drives. Without [Wimbush and the Irish offensive line], I couldn’t have done it. It’s obviously big to have that big game moving forward, getting closer to the Playoffs.”

Indeed it is, and Notre Dame will likely need more of the same from Claypool going against Miami’s No. 3 passing efficiency defense tonight. The Hurricanes undoubtedly know the Irish will try to control the game with a running attack led by junior running back Josh Adams. Stopping that becomes much more difficult if also worried about Claypool and Stepherson.

Hence Wimbush’s continued promise of, “One of these weeks we will connect and everything will be clicking …”

As for Claypool’s dropped chance down the sideline a week ago, the cause behind it was rather natural. He was trying to get to that clicking stage a bit sooner than he should have.

“I knew if I caught it I would have a touchdown,” he said. “I was thinking, I catch this, I’m running right away to score. So I ran before I caught it, basically. It happens, I guess.”

It happened. If the difference in seven weeks is going from a two-catch, eight-yard day to a day when the postgame interview is spent denying charitable thought experiments to elevate yardage totals past 200 yards, then the trend indicates the tonight’s prime-time, top-10 contest will be another step forward in Notre Dame’s passing game.

Notre Dame gets what matters against Wake Forest: A win, 48-37

21 Comments

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Its first two offensive plays of Saturday’s second half netted Notre Dame a loss of one yard, yet those two plays turned a pyrrhic victory into a prototypical 48-37 victory over Wake Forest.

Sophomore running back Deon McIntosh’s four-yard gain was quickly negated by a false start penalty on fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Then junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush missed a deep connection with sophomore receiver Chase Claypool.

The dropped pass counted as a good thing. The deep shot showed Wimbush was still healthy, at least as far as football is concerned. Instead of the needed win costing Notre Dame its offensive keystone to a left hand injury, the sloppy victory fit in line with what has become a usual Irish offensive performance, though this one exceeded even those expanding norms.

“I’d say offensively, they’re certainly up there with the caliber of Clemson,” Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson said. “They’re a really good football team. They’ve beaten a lot of good teams. They beat us today and we’re a good team.”

The Irish rushed for 384 yards, led by Wimbush’s 114 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back and Heisman-hopeful Josh Adams took only five carries for 22 yards, sidelined for all but the first quarter after a hit to the head prompted concussion concerns. Kelly said Adams was cleared to return, but the exercised caution caused no harm. Notre Dame averaged 8.53 yards per carry. It gained a total of 710 yards. For now on, let’s just call that “a lot” of yards, because 710 is a somewhat difficult to fathom.

Most of them were necessary, though. After being held to 10 points and 242 yards in the first half, Wake Forest managed 27 points and 345 after halftime.

“Winning is hard, especially in November,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Anytime that you find a way to win football games when teams are executing at a high level, which Wake Forest executed their offense extremely well today, you’re pleased.”

Wimbush played a key role in the offensive showcase, adding 280 yards and a touchdown through the air to his rushing totals. All that was nearly rendered a footnote when just before halftime he took a hit at the end of a 28-yard run. Though he did not score, Wimbush remained down in the Notre Dame Stadium north end zone for a few minutes. From there he went straight up the tunnel to the locker room, emerging after the break with a padded glove protecting his non-throwing hand. A large bandage covered the hand in post-game interviews.

Wimbush said the injury did not bother him much in the second half, and it should not moving forward, either, then admitting taking snaps from center was difficult.

“But we don’t do that too much and we were able to do the things we do under center out of the gun or out of the pistol, so it didn’t affect much in terms of the throwing game,” Wimbush said. “Maybe handing it off, as well, but everything is good and I’ll be good to go next week.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
For the second consecutive game and the third time this season, sophomore cornerback Julian Love jumped a route and saw clear passage to the end zone in front of him. This time Love ended a Wake Forest drive early in the second quarter with the Irish leading 14-3. A touchdown would grant Notre Dame both a three-possession lead and an abundance of momentum.

Unfortunately for Love’s stats, Deacons senior quarterback John Wolford had an angle on him and knocked him out of bounds at the five-yard line. No matter, sophomore running back Tony Jones took the next snap into the end zone for the aforementioned lead and momentum.

It was one of Wolford’s few mistakes, finishing the day with 331 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-45 passing. As well as the Irish defense has played this season — and it has — Wolford knows the scheme well. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko spent the last three seasons in the same role at Wake Forest.

“Their quarterback was playing against this defense for three or four years now,” Irish senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill said afterward. “He’s obviously very experienced in that. His eyes were in the right place at every point in the game and ours weren’t necessarily.”

Despite the defensive lapses in the second half, forcing a miscue early and immediately capitalizing on it set Notre Dame toward the eventual win. Love is beginning to make a habit of such.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
The Irish defense had yet to relax when the Deacons marched 54 yards in three minutes midway through the third quarter. That was simply a good offense, and if it went the final 23 yards to the end zone, the Notre Dame lead would have been cut to 34-17 with six minutes left in the third quarter. Wake Forest might have started to wonder about the realm of possibility.

Instead, Irish senior defensive end Jay Hayes forced Wolford to rush a pass and then Love made a tackle in the backfield to bring up third-and-12. When the Deacons could not convert, they turned to their field goal unit.

Missing the field goal was an added bonus for Notre Dame. The real task had been to keep Wake Forest out of the end zone. The 24-point deficit was not going to be overcome in 21 minutes relying on field goals.

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
This could qualify as another overlooked point of the game. Tossing superlatives on it may seem out of place. One should not usually praise spin moves that lead to unnecessary fumbles and injured running backs.

Toward the end of the first quarter, Wimbush took to a scramble, attempting to make something happen with a mere 7-3 lead. As he spun from a tackle, Deacons linebacker Kalin McNeil poked away the ball. It bounced around for a moment. Somewhere in this sequence Adams took the hit that knocked him out for the day.

Irish senior left guard Quenton Nelson saw the ball, already on the ground having physically completed a block. He climbed over a Wake Forest defensive lineman to get to it.

Of course he did. Nelson does whatever he wants on a football field.

The drive resulted in only a Notre Dame field goal and a 10-3 lead, but that was far preferable to the Irish than gifting the Deacons a short-field and a chance at their second lead of the day.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
To produce 390 total yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters is to stake a claim to this space, and thus Wimbush did. He also received the game ball from Kelly.

“The narrative of him [not] being able to throw the football should change dramatically,” Kelly said. “He had a couple of drops out there or he would have easily thrown for close to 300 yards, so hopefully that has been put to rest.”

Kelly apparently did not want to play Wimbush in the second half. As much as Adams is the star of the Irish offense, Wimbush is the headache for opposing defensive coordinators. Kelly wanted to protect that asset.

“How many scrambles did he have?” Clawson asked rhetorically. “How many third-and-long scrambles did he have that we couldn’t tackle? … We’d get after the passer, get a little bit of a pass-rush, get them fleshed, but couldn’t get [him] on the ground.”

Wimbush insisted to Kelly he would play, and with that cushioned glove he did.

“I loved his grit, his toughness,” Kelly said. “Gets hit pretty hard, right before the half, and … he wanted to get back in the game. Put a pad on his hand and went back in the game and showed great grit and great leadership.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Josh Adams deserves to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion. He deserves it because he is a complete running back achieving great individual success this season. He deserves it also because Notre Dame’s offensive line is making that success quite possible. Consider the individual rushing totals Saturday:

Wimbush ran for 114 yards on 11 carries, adjusting for a sack.
Sophomore Deon McIntosh ran for 63 yards on nine carries.
Jones gained 59 yards on 10 rushes.
Sophomore quarterback Ian Book took three carries for 54 yards.
Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson had two end-arounds for 42 yards.
Junior Dexter Williams gained 33 yards on three carries.
And Adams managed 22 yards on five rushes before his injury.

“You could put a lot of running backs behind that offensive line and anybody will produce,” Wimbush said. “The rest of the backs did a great job of preparing throughout the week, and when they have the opportunity, they are able to take advantage of it, and obviously it’s a testament to up front continuing their dominance and opening up holes for the guys.”

QUOTE OF THE EVENING
“A little sloppy today, but the message is a win is a win.” — McGlinchey.

On a day where many of the nation’s elite did not do enough to issue such an abbreviated cliché, McGlinchey’s point rings strongly.

A win is a win is a [insert four-beat pause] win.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
8:46 — Wake Forest field goal. Mike Weaver 34 yards. Wake Forest 3, Notre Dame 0. (14 plays, 82 yards, 4:11)
6:26 — Notre Dame touchdown. Brandon Wimbush six-yard run. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Wake Forest 3. (7 plays, 48 yards, 2:20)

Second Quarter
14:18 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 34 yards. Notre Dame 10, Wake Forest 3. (9 plays, 70 yards, 3:38)
14:00 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tony Jones five-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Wake Forest 3. (1 play, 5 yards, 0:05)
10:13 — Wake Forest touchdown. John Wolford 20-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Wake Forest 10. (3 plays, 69 yards, 0:40)
8:38 — Notre Dame touchdown. Wimbush 50-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Wake Forest 10. (5 plays, 65 yards, 1:35)
0:22 —Notre Dame touchdown. Nic Weishar one-yard reception from Ian Book. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 10. (9 plays, 99 yards, 2:47)

Third Quarter
9:19 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 22 yards. Notre Dame 34, Wake Forest 10. (12 plays, 52 yards, 4:00)
2:54 — Wake Forest touchdown. Alex Bachman 30-yard reception from Wolford. Two-point try failed. Notre Dame 34, Wake Forest 16. (6 plays, 63 yards, 1:32)
2:04 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 34-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 41, Wake Forest 16. (4 plays, 78 yards, 0:50)
0:30 — Wake Forest touchdown. Matt Colburn 24-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 41, Wake Forest 23. (6 plays, 75 yards, 1:34)

Fourth Quarter
11:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Deon McIntosh two-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 23. (9 plays, 85 yards, 3:51)
8:45 — Wake Forest touchdown. Jack Freudenthal 11-yard reception from Wolford. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 30. (12 plays, 70 yards, 2:54)
0:51 — Wake Forest touchdown. Isaiah Robinson two-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 37. (14 plays, 90 yards, 4:36)

Things To Learn: Wake Forest offers a look into Notre Dame’s defensive future

Getty Images
33 Comments

Two-thirds of the way through an undeniably successful season, not much is left to be learned from a home game against a middling — on the rise, but still middling — ACC opponent. Notre Dame relies on a run-oriented offense to provide points while its defense causes enough mayhem to prevent them. The day an opponent scores more than 20 points against the Irish will be a day to note, a first for the season. If a team holds junior running back Josh Adams and the rest of Notre Dame’s rushing attack in check, it will be the first time in nearly two months.

There is little reason to expect Wake Forest to pull off either of those feats Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

If there is any reason to foresee that, it stems from a sense of familiarity. The Demon Deacons know the principles of the Irish defense thoroughly. They are familiar with Notre Dame’s scheme, its intent and the intricacies to its defensive approach. Wake Forest runs the same attacking design.

Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko held the same position with the Deacons from 2014 to 2016 before answering Brian Kelly’s call this past offseason. Amid staff turnover at Minnesota, Jay Sawvel left the Gophers to take Elko’s role in Winston-Salem, keeping much of Elko’s successful operation in place since the personnel was already both used to and ready for it.

“There’s a lot of similarity to the defense that we’ve seen in the past,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It’s still about personnel, and their personnel, in terms of the safeties and corners, is emerging.”

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson knows where the holes are in Elko’s scheme. That is, if there are any holes. He knows Elko’s tendencies. Likewise, Elko used to coach a defense against Deacons senior quarterback John Wolford in nearly every practice.

“It’s similar to two teams that play each other, know each other that well,” Kelly said. “It is a very similar kind of scenario.”

What could an Elko defense look like with years of learning his system and with players recruited specifically for it?
The answer to this pondering hinges on too many variables and involves too wide a scope to genuinely be answered in one Saturday afternoon, especially considering Wake Forest cannot claim the defensive dominance it did the last few seasons. However, a few nuggets may be gleaned.

The Deacons still focus on the same things Elko has Notre Dame keyed into. More specifically, Wake Forest controls the line of scrimmage by getting behind it as often as possible. The Irish boast one of the best offensive lines in the country, but the Deacons have 22 sacks this season as part of a nation-leading 74 tackles for loss (9.25 per game). If Wake Forest brings down Adams in the backfield, it will be a surprise because that has happened to the Heisman candidate so rarely this season. It could also be considered a positive sign for Notre Dame’s future under Elko.

That penetrating attack is led by senior defensive end Duke Ejiofor. Including 6.5 sacks, he has 14 tackles for loss this year, along with five more quarterback hurries. Ejiofor’s first season of action corresponded with Elko’s first season with the Deacons. The young pass-rusher notched two sacks and 12 tackles in 10 games. In Elko’s final season with Wake Forest, Ejiofor brought down the opposing quarterback 10.5 times and made 50 tackles in 13 games. Some of that progression was assuredly natural growth. Some of it likely tied to Elko, as well.

Perhaps this is reaching for a comparison, but Ejiofor arrived in college holding 216 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. As a fifth-year senior, he is now listed at 275 pounds and 6-foot-4.

Irish sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes (right, diving) has already emerged as a needed contributor this season, but much more promise could still be in his future. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Elko’s first season at Notre Dame corresponds with the first season of notable action for Irish sophomore defensive ends Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. None of them were as slight as Ejiofor coming out of high, but all could, even should, benefit from Elko’s coaching as Ejiofor did. (At 220 pounds, Okwara was most similar to Ejiofor, though boasting more length.)

If Ejiofor finds his way to sacking Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, do not bemoan the moment too much. It may be a precursor of good things to come for the Irish.

Speaking of Wimbush, can he complete a true deep ball?
Perhaps can is not the proper verb choice. Wimbush certainly has the arm strength for it; he has yet to find the touch for the task. Presuming this weekend is the blowout many expect, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long have thus far this season chosen to use such a situation for a drive or two of passing reps for the first-year starter. Taking a shot downfield when up 14 or even 21 would not be considered poor taste.

Wimbush did throw a 54-yard touchdown to junior receiver Miles Boykin against Miami (OH), but even that pass was half a stride behind Boykin, allowing the defender to catch up to him. If the line of scrimmage had been three yards further back, Boykin would have been down a yard short of the end zone even though he had more than a stride’s advantage on his defender.

At some point, Wimbush hitting sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson streaking down the field would serve to aid the quarterback’s confidence — it is a very difficult throw, seeing it succeed once may help the mental cause in the future — and it would put the threat on the radar of future opponents. Forcing Miami (FL) or Stanford to prepare for that vertical concern would further open up the field for Notre Dame’s offense.

These are the advantages afforded by 14-point first-half leads or 21-point advantages midway through the third quarter. Admittedly, if Wimbush and Stepherson were to connect on the route with a large lead in the fourth quarter, it could be considered poor sport, style points being overrated these days. (That is not a tongue-in-cheek comment. There is no tangible difference between five degrees below zero and 25 degrees below zero. There is no bettering of a win by running up the margin from 28 to 42 points.)

While discussing speed threats, how is Dexter Williams’ ankle?

It has been awhile since Notre Dame sophomore running back Dexter Williams’ right ankle allowed him to make a cut as decisive as this against Michigan State back on Sept. 23. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Junior running back Dexter Williams brings raw speed to the Irish running game, pure and simple. When removing his big-play capability, the viability of playing Williams decreases greatly. As long as he cannot trust his right ankle to provide that pop, Williams serves little purpose in the Irish running back rotation.

If Williams gets another eight carries this week, as he did in the 35-14 rout of North Carolina State, then that may be the necessary proof his ankle is ready for the season’s final quarter. He will be needed more against the Hurricanes’ defensive front than this weekend, so if he sees limited action, presume it is an attempt to gain further health before the test in Miami.

Lastly, when and where will chaos strike?
Some things are inevitable, Mr. Anderson. Anarchy will strike college football in November. It could happen in South Bend. It could be in Iowa City. Maybe it will wait a week to reappear in Jordan-Hare.

As a rule of thumb, if wanting Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, cheer for all Irish opponents and cheer against every higher-ranked Big 12 team. With that in mind, upsets in the following five games may not necessarily count as anarchy, but they would serve to help Notre Dame’s cause, nonetheless.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s best-case and worst-case CFP scenarios

— No. 7 Penn State at No. 24 Michigan State, 12 p.m. ET, FOX.
— No. 4 Clemson at No. 20 North Carolina State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
— No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. ET, FS1. (Cheering for the higher-ranked Big 12 team, Oklahoma, would not be an upset by the book, only by the ranking. Oklahoma State is favored by a field goal.)
— No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 10 Miami, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. (Unlike the game above, cheering for the Irish foe, Miami, would be cheering for an upset by the book, not by the ranking. Despite taking a lower rating on the road, Virginia Tech is a 2.5-point favorite.)
— No. 19 LSU at No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, CBS.

Notre Dame lands speedy CA receiver’s commitment

rivals.com
13 Comments

Notre Dame’s offense this season has relied on the running game. Its passing attack has been serviceable, at best. Yet the Irish success and the coaching staff behind it have impressed consensus three-star receiver Geordon Porter (Etiwanda High School; Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) enough for the California speedster to commit to Notre Dame on Wednesday.

“I like the coaching staff there and the good academics,” Porter told Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It’s a great school to get a degree from, and they’ve got a good balanced attack on offense with running the ball, play-action and all that good stuff.”

Porter chose the Irish over Arizona State and Utah, both of which he visited more recently than his trip to Notre Dame to watch the 20-19 loss against Georgia on Sept. 9. He also held offers from Alabama, Georgia and Washington State.

The No. 47 player in California and the No. 67 receiver in the country, per rivals.com, Porter excels in track, as well. As a junior, he ran a 10.61-second 100-meter dash. That interest may continue in college, but it did not seem to determine much of his recruitment. Rather, Porter expressed a distinct desire to use his speed to find his way to the NFL and wanted to join a program that would best aid in that endeavor.

Porter is the 18th commitment in the Irish class of 2018 and the third receiver, joining consensus four-star and mid-August commit Kevin Austin (North Broward H.S.; Coconut Creek, Fla.) and Rivals four-star and mid-February commit Micah Jones (Warren Township; Gurnee, Ill.). The trio will join a receiver depth chart laden with youth and lacking much of a future pecking order.

Current sophomores Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson will lead the way in 2018, along with current junior Equanimeous St. Brown, presuming he returns for his senior year. Junior Chris Finke has played well in limited time this season, but his eligibility will run out before any of the 2018 commitments are desperate for snaps.

Opportunities, and competition, will await Porter, Austin and Jones.