Keith Arnold

Irish offense ready for another stout defense

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A week after being held to their lowest yardage total of the season, Notre Dame travels to Boston to take on the nation’s best statistical defense. Yes, Boston College is a three-win team. But that’s courtesy of an imploded depth chart at quarterback and an offense that makes anemic sound like a compliment.

But the Eagles play defense. Stout, tough, aggressive defense. Giving up just 236 yards per game and under four yards a play, Boston College is giving up a relatively insane 2.1 yards per carry and just five rushing scores on the season, both numbers the best in the country.

The Irish will welcome C.J. Prosise back after missing last weekend. But after freshman Josh Adams was held to gains of less than two yards on 10 of his 17 carries last weekend, Prosise will have a major challenge as he looks to cross the 1,000 yard mark on the season this weekend.

Brian Kelly knows about the challenge the Eagles present. This is Notre Dame’s seventh Top 40 defense they’ll face this season and likely the best of the group. Boston College defensive coordinator Donnie Brown has built another dominant group, doing it behind productive players like Steven Daniels, Harold Landry and Matt Milano—largely anonymous to Irish fans until they’re wreaking havoc in Notre Dame’s backfield.

On Tuesday, Kelly talked about Notre Dame’s struggles against a good Wake Forest defense (a group that managed to beat the Eagles 3-0). And if you think the Irish looked at that game tape and immediately wanted to get into a rugged ground war this weekend, you obviously haven’t been following Brian Kelly for that long.

“I would say that we just have to be probably a little more aggressive. I thought we were a little conservative at times,” Kelly said, when asked about the offensive struggles last weekend. “Probably a little more aggressive in the areas where we’ve been pushing the ball vertically. So we’ll get back to being more aggressive offensively.”

That vertical passing game will have chances against a Boston College secondary that’s a bit beaten up. Cornerback Kamrin Moore is done for the year. True freshman Taj-Amir Torres will likely start, with corner Isaac Yiadom banged up as well.

That leaves the Irish hoping to find ways to get yardage in chunks, even if that’s been hard to do against the Eagles.

“I don’t think you can make a living with this team or win or score enough points just trying to stack three-yard runs against them. It’s going to be a long day,” Kelly said. “They would hope that that’s the way you kind of play the game. We’ve got to try to find explosive plays.”

Notre Dame remains No. 4 in CFB Playoff rankings

Bill Hancock
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Notre Dame remains ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff race, surviving a week where pundits expected two surging Big 12 teams to close the gap. Yet the Irish’s 21-point victory over Wake Forest—not to mention their body of work for the season—kept them comfortably above a narrowing pack behind the lead group.

The biggest win of the week belonged to No. 7 Oklahoma, who beat Baylor last weekend, the Bears falling from No. 6 down to No. 11. Stanford was the other big loser of the weekend, dropping from No. 7 to No. 11—now needing what might be divine intervention (not to mention a win over Notre Dame) to find its way into the final four. The Pac 12’s chances also went up in smoke when Utah lost to Arizona.

While Temple was bumped out of the Top 25 after getting beat by USF, Notre Dame’s victory over Navy looks better each week. The Midshipmen are up to No. 16, courtesy of an impressive strength of schedule and a lone loss to the Irish. Oregon’s victory allows the Big Ten to claim a non-conference Top 25 victory as a collective conference, No. 9 Michigan State’s best win of the season.

While the Irish will take on a three-win Boston College team, other Top 10 opponents play significant games this weekend. No. 1 Clemson gets their chance at Wake Forest. No. 2 Alabama is playing through a virtual bye week, a game against Charleston Southern essentially a scrimmage before the Iron Bowl. No. 3 Ohio State faces a real challenge, taking on No. 9 Michigan State in Columbus before heading to Ann Arbor next weekend.

Oklahoma, the week’s big winner, has another test with TCU set for primetime in Norman. That’s a week before traveling to Stillwater to take on No. 6 Oklahoma State, essentially a conference championship game—and the Big 12 hopeful a playoff game at the same time.

 

Fenway Park is ready for the Shamrock Series

Shamrock Series
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Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series has done a lot of great things. But none may be greater than bringing the Irish football team to Fenway Park.

Since beginning the Shamrock Series in 2009, Notre Dame’s annual neutral site home game has served as a barnstorming tour of sorts, inspired by the days of Knute Rockne. And while we’ve seen some great locales—playing the first college football game in new Yankee Stadium, the same in the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, it’ll be tough to top the transformation of baseball’s most iconic stadium.

Here are some photos that have been swirling across the internet in the past few days. They’re all pretty exciting.

Heading to Boston to take on Steve Addazio’s Boston College Eagles, the Irish will be a home team in enemy territory. That’ll likely be drilled into the Eagles’ head, a three-win team that should see this as an opportunity to (once again) ruin a special Notre Dame season.

Notre Dame is wearing green, unafraid of any of the history that comes with that color choice against BC. The Eagles will throwback to 1984, a tip of the cap to NBC announcer and former Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, who’ll be in the booth on NBCSN on Saturday night.

Notre Dame looks to win their tenth game of the season against one of the nation’s best defenses, their first time to that win total since the 2012 season, and just the third time in the last decade.

Irish get commitment from 2016 RB Deon McIntosh

Deon McIntosh
Property of Sun-Sentinel
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Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class continues to grow. On Monday, Florida running back Deon McIntosh committed to the Irish. The 5-10, 175-pounder chose Notre Dame over offers from Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, Penn State and many others.

A speed player who rates as a three-star prospect, McIntosh is the perfect complement to fellow Floridian and running back commitment Tony Jones. He also could play in the slot as a receiver, the type of skill and speed talent that can help restock the Irish depth chart at either running back when C.J. Prosise and Tarean Folston depart or slot receiver, where Amir Carlisle exits at season end.

McIntosh took to Twitter to make the announcement official:

With a big on-campus recruiting weekend for Senior Day and a class that looks closer and closer to filling up, McIntosh talked about the decision-making process that went into pulling the trigger now.

“The great tradition they have in football and being a good school in academics,” McIntosh told Irish247’s Tom Loy. “My parents are happy. I’m happy. I’m ready to be in a gold helmet.”

McIntosh has long been on the Irish recruiting board and took a visit to South Bend for the USC game. He was recruited by running backs coach Autry Denson, who went into the Fort Lauderdale area and pulled out one of the smoother all-purpose backs in a talent-rich area. He’s the 18th commitment in a 2016 class that has the chance to close very strong.

Here’s a look at McIntosh’s junior highlight tape.

 

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

Duke Ejiofor, DeShone Kizer
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Notre Dame is 9-1. That’s the main bullet point that follows up a fairly unmemorable performance that saw the Irish win with ease, even if they were statistically held at bay by Wake Forest.

But in a month critical for the Irish’s postseason fate, Notre Dame keeps chugging along. Winning games and playing better defense after a late-game lapse against Pittsburgh killed some forward momentum.

With a special weekend in Fenway Park up next, the Irish can spend the week preparing to face one of the best statistical defenses in the country. But before we turn the page, let’s recap Notre Dame’s 28-7 Senior Day victory as we go over the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Josh Adams‘ explosiveness. Throw away the stat sheet. It wasn’t an easy day at the office for freshman Josh Adams. He took some big hits. He ran tentatively at times. And the Irish missed C.J. Prosise in the short passing game.

But nobody will remember the ten touches that Adams had that resulted in gains of one yard or less. Not when Adams broke loose for a 98-yard touchdown run, all but icing the game when he extending Notre Dame’s lead to 21-points just two plays after Wake Forest nearly cut the lead to seven.

“Obviously, the run was one for the highlight reel,” Kelly said postgame.  “But he is a young man that runs tough, physical, between the tackles, and has size, strength and speed. He’s got all those things, and he’s only going to get better. It’s nice to see a true freshman out there competing at that level.”

 

Getting Healthy. Nobody wants to say it this bluntly, but Notre Dame didn’t seem too worried about losing to Wake Forest. They held back C.J. Prosise, who could’ve played. They rested defensive tackle Daniel Cage and tight end Nic Weishar, both unknown injuries who were also in the concussion protocol.

If there was a big worry for this week, it was James Onwualu’s knee. On Sunday, Brian Kelly gave good news, saying no knee surgery would be needed, though Onwualu won’t be available against Boston College and his return for Stanford is in question.

While Equanimeous St. Brown‘s shoulder injury will require surgery, Kelly expects Prosise, Cage and Weishar to be back next week.

“I’d say probable on all of the concussion guys. Onwualu will be out. He’s got a second-degree MCL. That’s really it,” Kelly said. “We don’t have anybody else that showed any injuries that would put them in any other kind of position from the game.”

Boston College is another flawed football team, though one with a great defense. It’s also yet another opponent with an extended week to prepare for Notre Dame. So having everybody back before heading to Stanford is a good thing.

 

The “high-leverage” defense. Notre Dame’s defense played really well on Saturday, holding Wake Forest to just seven points, only earned after a dubious roughing the snapper call. And even if the Demon Deacons outgained Notre Dame by putting up 340 total yards, it was refreshing to see the Irish defense stiffen when the going got tough—not necessarily how it’s gone this season.

Jaylon Smith made 14 tackles, and was in excellent coverage on a fourth down stop. Joe Schmidt was active, notching 10 tackles after staying mostly off the stat sheet the past few weeks.

The Irish were able to be productive because they were making big plays. Romeo Okwara’s three sacks were all important, including a highlight reel acrobatic play. Sheldon Day added two more TFLs. Schmidt came through unblocked on multiple blitzes, never getting home but always putting a hit on the quarterback. Smith blitzed a few times as well, getting to the quarterback, and then screaming off the edge on the game’s critical fourth down stop.

It wasn’t all perfect, but the mistakes didn’t lead to points. That was likely because Wake Forest’s offense is one of the least productive units in the country. But it’s a step forward nonetheless, holding an opponent below their average and ending a 20-points allowed streak that had gone on since week two.

 

Quick Hits: 

His passing numbers probably take him out of the most ridiculous “Heisman conversation inclusion” I can remember, but DeShone Kizer didn’t throw any interceptions, stayed away from the big mistake, and scored two more rushing touchdowns. (Bonus points for Kizer running over a Wake Forest DB.)

Good job, Chase Hounshell. You got your first career catch. (But miss any more blocks and nobody will remember it.)

You’ve got to think Andrew Trumbetti will remember that gift-wrapped touchdown for a long time.

It was very great to see Jarrett Grace out there running around and making plays. His two tackles came on an emotional day for Grace’s family and the entire senior class.

I liked the physicality of both Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. Both were active in run support and seemed to play clean in coverage as well.

 

THE BAD

Every other run but the 98-yarder. Notre Dame’s offensive line lost way too many one-on-one matchups for my liking. Wake Forest has talented linebackers and Dave Clawson and defensive coordinator Mike Elko added their share of tricks up front, but too often Notre Dame’s offensive line just lost battles up front.

We saw it from Steve Elmer (again). We saw Quenton Nelson get beat. And we also saw DeShone Kizer struggle to get the Irish in the right protections, spending too much time counterpunching at the line of scrimmage.

There’s no question the Irish offensive line is battling their share of injuries, with Nick Martin and Nelson still playing through ankle injuries and other issues likely kept off the radar. But Wake Forest was able to dominate the time of possession battle because the Irish couldn’t stay on the field. And that’s because Wake challenged the Irish to a run-game matchup with even numbers and, minus one very important play, won the battle.

 

Winning in “uncomfortably comfortable” fashion. Nobody’s opinion but the Playoff Committee matters. But you wouldn’t have been alone if you got frustrated listening to the talking heads and television analysts last night arguing about the horse race for the four playoff spots.

Yesterday was far from an impressive Saturday for most playoff contenders. Throw away Alabama’s decisive victory over a really terrible (offensively, at least) Mississippi State team and it was a survive and advance weekend.

No. 1 Clemson was in a dogfight with Syracuse before pulling away and winning by 10. Ohio State looked just okay with J.T. Barrett at quarterback, too, beating Illinois 28-3. Iowa is proving to be just a little bit better than every average team it plays, still undefeated by surviving Minnesota. And Oklahoma State needed help from the replay booth and a huge late-game rally to beat a three-win Iowa State team.

 

Oklahoma won a big game, beating Baylor in the rain. And some thought that was enough for the Sooners to ascend into the driver’s seat for the No. 4 hole. But can the committee forget that Oklahoma lost to a Texas team that hasn’t beaten anybody else and lost to Notre Dame by five touchdowns?

Who knows. And quite seriously, who cares.

None of it matters until early December. But with two of the easiest games on the schedule both this week and next, it would help if the Irish did more than put up a season-low for yardage and won both games with style.

This wasn’t a tough victory, a three-score lead for just about 40 minutes. But next weekend against a Boston College team who will be looking at Notre Dame’s home game inside Fenway Park as their Super Bowl and bowl game all wrapped into one? It’d be great to win another not-close one.

 

THE UGLY

What’s ugly about a victory on Senior Day? (Nothing.) This senior class won 21 home games, tied for the best four-year total in Notre Dame history. The critics will scour the record books, trying to punch holes in the personnel, opponents or competition, and still find a way to say that Lou or Ara wouldn’t have lost to Louisville or Northwestern.

But it’s not 1988 anymore. There’s cell phones, the internet, and college football played at a different level all across the country.

So even if they haven’t won a national championship or a major bowl game, this class has done something very special. Add to that the fact that Notre Dame’s seniors haven’t allowed this football team to blink even as they’ve lost key cog after key cog.

That means something. And a final home win—even if the play on the field wasn’t memorable—will last for a lifetime, the only important part being an easy victory and a great celebration.