Associated Press

Leftovers & Links: Dexter Williams’ pace underscores changes at Notre Dame

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When — not if, but when — Dexter Williams reaches 1,000 rushing yards this season, it will be deservedly regarded as impressive given the Notre Dame senior running back missed the first four games of the year due to an undisclosed suspension. The issues leading to the suspension aside, it will be an impressive feat, whether he accomplishes it in eight games or nine.

With 844 yards on 126 carries through seven games, consider how Williams’ season could still finish and could have played out if he did not miss most of September:

Keeping that pace through 10 games, otherwise known as winning a Playoff semifinal: 180 carries for 1,206 yards.
Through 13 games, a typical season sans suspension: 234 carries for 1,567 yards.
Through 14 games, the general ideal: 252 carries for 1,688 yards.

There is certainly something to be said for Williams holding up so well in November because he has four fewer games of wear on his legs, but that thought does not undercut a vital point perhaps overlooked. Before last year’s 1,430 rushing yards from Josh Adams, the high-water mark in Brian Kelly’s tenure had been 1,102 gained by Cierre Wood in 2011. The leading Irish rusher was as likely to gain just 700 yards in a season as he was to break 1,000.

Then came Adams’ push to within seven yards of the single-season program record and now Williams’ pace which would have set the record if held through just 12 games (a pace for 1,447 yards, 10 more than Vagas Ferguson gained in 1979).

As much as the two running backs have excelled, one other key piece of the puzzle changed before 2017: Offensive coordinator Chip Long joined Kelly’s staff.

When Long was named a Broyles Award finalist this week, recognizing the country’s top assistant, a common refrain was to wonder why defensive coordinator Clark Lea was not included. Well, Notre Dame could nominate only one assistant coach. Picking between the two undoubtedly included some consternation. As good as the Irish defense has been, minimizing Long’s effect on the offense is short-sighted.

Before Brandon Wimbush rushed for 14 touchdowns last year, no Kelly ball carrier had broken 11 in a season (C.J. Prosise, 2015, also the only other previous 1,000-yard rusher by all of 32 yards). Williams has already matched that 11 in his seven games.

Obviously, another piece of that puzzle has been the Notre Dame offensive line. Even if inconsistent this year, the defending Joe Moore Award winners were named finalists for the honor again, although winning this season is rather unlikely. Rushing for only 80 and 121 yards against Pittsburgh and Northwestern is not the best line on such a résumé, pun not intended.

Other award nominees, listed in probable likelihood of winning:
Drue Tranquill for the William V. Campbell Trophy, often referred to as the “Academic Heisman.”

Julian Love for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the country’s best defensive back.
Jerry Tillery for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, a self-explanatory one that seems to have reached by including Tillery, quite frankly.

KELLY ON WIMBUSH THE RB/WR/QB2
From the Yankee Stadium press box, it caused personal confusion when first noticing senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush warming up on the sideline. There had been no sign of junior quarterback Ian Book getting hurt, but there was Wimbush throwing with freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Soon Wimbush took to throwing with Book, and it all seemed to perhaps just be an exercise in boredom during a blowout, the Irish already leading 20-0 shortly before halftime.

Then Wimbush lined up next to Book. His one rush attempt in the formation went for no gain, and the look did not last long. Yet, it could be seen again.

“We think certainly his ability to run with the football, but we’d like it to be more than that,” Kelly said Sunday. “Somebody that can catch the football, that has the ability to impact the offense from more than just that element.

“Clearly as you can see we’re trying to integrate him into the offense more than just a play here or there. It continues to unfold. He’ll be part of what we do again this week, and as we feel more comfortable and he feels more comfortable, you’ll start to see a little bit more of him.”

Common sense, however, says any alignment including both Wimbush and Book will be limited to “just a play here or there.” Why take Williams or senior receiver Miles Boykin or junior receiver Chase Claypool or senior tight end Alizé Mack off the field? If keeping all of them, then the addition of Wimbush removes sophomore tight end Cole Kmet, senior receiver Chris Finke or sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong from the equation.

With Book’s dispersal of the ball, those all present as more viable options than a clunky read-option with Wimbush.

Now if this is all a long-con to set up the possibility of a Wimbush pass in a critical moment a month from now, so be it, but do not expect Wimbush to rack up a number of handoffs from Book. That would be a handicap to Long’s progress.

ONE MORE YOON RECORD
Senior Justin Yoon only tied this mark, but presume at some point in the next two games he will break it. His three field goals against the Orange brought him to 57 in his career, tying Kyle Brindza for the Notre Dame lead. Brindza did it in 81 attempts; Yoon in 71, his career percentage of 80.2 very safe as the Irish record. He would need to miss his next seven field goals to drop below John Carney’s 73.9 percent.

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