With the Irish getting a much needed Saturday off, we won’t hear from Brian Kelly until he’s previewing Syracuse for us next weekend. But with one quarter of the season in the books, let’s take a look at some of the surprises after three games, digging deep in to the stats after victories over Rice, Michigan and Purdue.
While some were worried that this true freshman class didn’t have enough talent behind some top-flight names, it’s worth looking at the participation report after three games.
Already seeing the field have been Justin Brent (three games), Daniel Cage (three), Kolin Hill (two), Corey Holmes (two), Tyler Luatua (three), Greer Martini (three), Nyles Morgan (two), Drue Tranquill (two), Andrew Trumbetti (two) and Nick Watkins (two).
If you were the one that had Tranquill first among all freshmen (true or redshirt) with nine tackles, then you my friend are lying. Same thing for Hill, who currently is tied for the lead among defenders not named Jaylon Smith for tackles-for-loss.
From a redshirt perspective, I don’t expect to see Brent or Holmes anymore unless there’s zero clarification involving DaVaris Daniels and injuries to Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter linger on. There’s an ability to save a year of competition if they stay off the field.
From this point forward, unless injuries hit the defensive line, it might make sense to keep the red jersey on Jhonny Williams, Jon Bonner and Jay Hayes as well.
Through three games, Notre Dame is unbeaten and outscoring its opponents 109-31, good for a dominant +78. To put that number into context, let’s look back at the last 40 seasons of Notre Dame football.
It’s the 12th 3-0 start in that time period, with the point differential the highest of any of those squads:
The last team to have a better point differential in the season’s first three games and have a more dominant start was Ara Parseghian’s 1970 squad, who was +98 through three games and finished the season 10-1 with a win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Only Gerry Faust’s 1982 team finished unranked, losing their final three games to Penn State, Air Force and USC to finish the season 6-4-1.
A special thanks to FunkDrSpock for his help in culling these historical numbers. More to come later this week.
Brian Kelly has spent a great deal of time talking about the transition back to the spread offense after playing a much different offensive system the past two seasons. He’s also expected this offense to be his best since coming to Notre Dame.
While three games does not make a season, let’s compare these numbers at the quarter-turn to Kelly’s other offenses and two of Charlie Weis’ more prolific units.
418.0 yards per game
6.1 per play
405.8 per game
6.1 per play
412.2 per game
6.0 per play
413.0 per game
5.9 per play
379.7 per game
5.5 per play
451.8 per game
6.4 per play
477.3 per game
6.1 per game
After looking at the numbers, you can start to understand why Kelly feels like the offense, while it’s made great strides, still has plenty of work to do. It’s also a reminder that Charlie Weis may not have succeeded in South Bend as a head coach, but he sure did put together a fun offense.
A few assorted tidbits that caught my eye:
* Jaylon Smith isn’t on track to make 100 tackles this year, with his 22 total tackles projecting out to a not-so-shabby 95. But guess who is? Joe Schmidt, who leads the Irish will one more tackle than Smith, putting him (with a bowl game and a little rounding help) at exactly 100.
* The Irish pass rush so many people were worried about? Not too shabby, sitting at eight sacks, good for a tie at 27th in the country. Leading the way? Romeo Okwara with 2.5.
* Another unlikely leader in the clubhouse? Amir Carlisle. The slot receiver is the team’s all-purpose yardage leader, averaging 79.7 yards per game (kickoff return yardage is included). Right behind him is Will Fuller, who’s averaging 75 yards per game receiving. (Fuller needs to have one or two big games to get on pace for my 1,000 yard projection.)
* Not necessarily a surprise, but redshirt freshman Greg Bryant leads the Irish running backs in yards per carry at 5.4. Neither Tarean Folston or Cam McDaniel are above 4.0. But leading the Irish in YPC? Quarterback Malik Zaire, who carries a hearty 16.8 yards per carry average, thanks to a long run against Rice and another nice one against Michigan.
* In appreciation of Everett Golson. Notre Dame has scored 13 touchdowns. Golson is responsible for 11 of them, throwing seven and running for four more.
* All that talk about Brian VanGorder‘s defense helping create turnovers? It’s true. The Irish are No. 5 in the country in turnovers created with nine. Their six interceptions are No. 3 in the country.
* It’s all about the youth: Notre Dame’s leading rusher? A sophomore. Leading receiver? A sophomore. Defender? A sophomore (Jaylon Smith, when you add in his other stats). Joe Schmidt and Everett Golson? Another year of eligibility remaining.
With only Cody Riggs and Ben Koyack starters who are truly seniors, you can start to understand that this program has the chance to be very, very good not just this year, but next year as well.