Too many good questions, not enough space. So I figured we should spread some of these questions out and take some time with it.
Let’s start off with a good one from good ol’ Bern, who is wondering what a slightly healthier Notre Dame roster will look like against Ohio State.
(question shortened and clarified, so I actually have something to answer.)
bernhtp: What is the likely impact of the return of (Durham) Smythe and (Jarron) Jones?
How about this for an answer—both incredibly significant, yet maybe not all that statistically impactful.
I’ll start with the most important part: Both of these guys are practicing and preparing for a game. That’s just so critical when you think about a season that would’ve been essentially lost to injury with no football even practiced until spring. Now Smythe is back on the field for the first time since Virginia and Jones gets his first chance to play in 2015—in one of the best matchups of the bowl season. If Jones is capable of getting his fitness level up, he can all but announce his presence for 2016 as he likely profiles as Notre Dame’s next defensive All-American candidate.
With limited updates from Brian Kelly over the past week, we haven’t heard much more on the return of these two veterans after season-ending injuries. But Smythe was ahead of Jones progress wise and I don’t think that’ll change any time soon. I expect to see Smythe in the starting lineup and Jones at least making an impact in the trenches as the Irish try to slow down Ezekiel Elliott.
I didn’t get wrapped up in Smythe’s emergence this preseason—I kept expectations fairly modest, hoping Smythe would end up with 20 catches. That obviously didn’t happen, but while the offense absorbed the throws intended for him, they struggled blocking in the trenches with Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Chase Hounshell and Alizé Jones. Trusting a tight end in the red zone is also important, and when you’re look for reasons why the red zone offense sometimes sputtered, it’s fair to wonder if Smythe would’ve helped the execution (I put more of that on first-time quarterbacks.)
Expecting anything major from Jones might be pushing it. While Taylor Decker gets most of the acclaim, guard Pat Elflein graded out as the Buckeyes highest-graded offensive lineman. Teamed with center Jacoby Boren, both are undersized but veteran players who’ll challenge the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive front. Getting Jones 15 to 20 snaps will be a great accomplishment, and from there you just have to think that the 320-pounder will find a way to push the point of attack.