No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0) continues to anticipate junior Ian Book will start at quarterback against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium (2:30 ET; NBC). News could not get much better than that for the Irish as they ready to face the nation’s No. 7 scoring offense at 44.4 points per game. A shootout could be on the way, but more on that in a bit.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly doubled down Tuesday on what he said Sunday: Doctors cleared Book for practice shortly after the weekend’s 42-13 victory against Florida State.
“He felt good (yesterday),” Kelly said. “He went through all of the workouts, threw the ball, was in the weight room and will practice today. …
“We’re pretty clear that he’s ready to play.”
That should mean the end of senior Brandon Wimbush’s starting role, again. A performance like Wimbush’s first half against the Seminoles — 10-of-19 for 111 yards and three touchdowns — could suffice against the Orange, but his second half of 2-for-6 for 19 yards with two interceptions would almost certainly lead to an end to Notre Dame’s unbeaten run.
As Kelly praised Wimbush and his ability to step in after a tumultuous seven weeks, he also acknowledged the importance for Wimbush to remain engaged. The senior is still just a play away from being needed once again. To some degree, Kelly expects that.
“Everything he’s done leading up to last week was indicative of who he is,” Kelly said. “I don’t know that anybody should really be surprised, because he has been really consistent in who he is, in everything that he does both on and off the field. I think that becomes another chapter.
“I just think there’s more to write here. I don’t think it ends with last week. I think there’s more exciting things coming from Brandon.”
It should be acknowledged, Kelly is more open with injuries than most college football coaches, but he is also routinely overly-optimistic in public settings about recoveries from injuries. That said, there is a difference when Kelly specifically cites doctors’ clearances. That implies Book really is set to play.
At that point, the most-pressing injury for the Irish to worry about is senior right guard Trevor Ruhland’s elbow. Kelly described it as a “strain” on Sunday.
“We wanted to be very careful with him because he’s a guy that fills in a couple of positions,” Kelly said. “… So we were very conservative with him. Our doctors feel really good that we can get him back into the rotation.”
Without Ruhland, Notre Dame ran wild. The alignment of Liam Eichenberg — Aaron Banks — Sam Mustipher — Tommy Kraemer — Robert Hainsey was the fifth different starting line seen this year, though this and one other were spot appearances due to short-term injury.
“As a unit, five guys working together, our best game,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That has to do certainly with those guys feeling so much more comfortable with their calls. … We saw a really marked improvement in just the combination blocking from Northwestern to Florida State. We’re making progress there. We like the way we’re moving as a group, as five guys working together. As they play together and get more comfortable, we’re seeing the returns.”
No matter the reason the line showed up like that, it worked. The Irish gained 365 yards on 50 rushes. It was a showing straight out of 2017. Against Syracuse, that could prove particularly effective once again. Advanced numbers rate the Orange the No. 76 defense in the country against the rush, compared to No. 63 against the pass.
Might sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa return to action after breaking his foot in the season opener against Michigan?
No. Kelly said Kelly Tagovailoa-Amosa will not return to conditioning until next week and will not be available to play until the postseason. Tagovailoa-Amosa can play in up to three more games without losing a season. In other words, he could play against Syracuse, at USC and one bowl game or at USC and in two bowl games, should Notre Dame make such necessary. If going by the timetable Kelly laid out Tuesday, Tagovialoa-Amosa will clearly preserve the year.
But back to this shootout concept. Just how high-scoring could this game be? Obviously it will exceed the scores the venue is used to seeing.
The combined point total over/under opened at 66.5 early Monday afternoon and has already fallen and fallen and fallen to 62. Why? There are three ready possibilities:
1) Sometimes bookmakers get it wrong.
2) The Irish defense has earned that much respect.
3) Someone somewhere has reason to believe Kelly is overstating Book’s chances of playing.
Whatever the cause, the current over/under combined with the 9-point spread in Notre Dame’s favor (down from opening at 10) would make for a 36-27 Irish victory.
Speaking of lines, how is Western Michigan favored by only 7.5 at Ball State? The Cardinals have lost their last three by an average of 46.3 – 15.7. They are 3-7, ruling out any chances of a bowl game. The Broncos, meanwhile, are 6-4 with reason left to care this season. Western Michigan (6 ET; ESPN 2; tonight, Tuesday) should do more than win 32-24.
Oh, and what time will Notre Dame be at USC next weekend? Unsurprisingly …