Looking back to last season with the Irish in 2017 and there was a lot of promise. One year ago Notre Dame was sitting at 5-1 with their only loss being a one point home loss to Georgia.
That team came crashing down and only salvaged the season when Ian Book stepped in for Brandon Wimbush and beat LSU on a last second touchdown. Josh Adams spent most the year backing up the hype of 33 trucking. That, like the rest of the season came to a halt in the finally weeks.
So I thought it was time to ask, what makes this team different? It looks to be more then one thing so I’ll dive in.
This is a big one because Kelly deserves blame for how the season ended last year. Throughout his tenure, Notre Dame has struggled in big games and to adapt through out the season. The first sign of a change in Kelly was the Michigan game. The team came out with fire and played up to their abilities. The offense was able to strike quick and keep the ball moving. The defense kept Michigan in check and similar to the Georgia game last season, it ended in a strip sack. The only difference was that the Irish came out the victor.
Kelly then made the decision to bench Wimbush and start Ian Book after Wimbush struggled for a few games. Since Book has taken over, the offense and the Irish haven’t looked back. Notre Dame scored more points in Book’s first two starts than Wimbush had in three starts. This was a major move for Kelly because we have become accustomed to Kelly and the Irish staying safe and conservative. That was part of the downfall last season as the Irish became predictable and the offense sputtered out.
The next biggest surprise was the last two weeks for Kelly and the Irish. Beating a top ten team at home followed by a top 25 team away from home have been a thorn in Kelly’s side. Kelly was 3-7 against Stanford and 3-10 when playing ranked teams away from home. Neither of those numbers are great, it doesn’t take some football expert to tell you that. After running through Stanford and pulling away from Virginia Tech, you could tell there was something different, something fresh about this team. It faded the memory of the Miami drubbing from last season or the last three seasons against Stanford.
Kelly has this team playing better and more prepared then they have ever been in recent memory. This team has been firing on all cylinders and Kelly deserves a lot of credit, but not all of it.
This section will be short but Williams deserves to be mentioned. He missed the first four games but his impact has already been felt the last two weeks for the Irish. Williams in two games has 38 carries for 339 yards and four touchdowns. That average is good for 8.9 yards a carry. I also can’t forget to mention this.
DEXTER WILLIAMS: LONGEST ROAD RUN IN ND HISTORY ☘️☘️☘️ pic.twitter.com/ONLwsMlWMr
— Barstool Irish (@BarstoolIrish) October 7, 2018
I don’t want to take anything away from Josh Adams, he had a great run last season at Notre Dame. But Dexter Williams is the more talented back. Adams had the benefit of running behind a line with two top 10 draft picks. The holes he had to run through were massive and Notre Dame dominated people up front. Williams has shown he has a lot of talent and he is putting up remarkable numbers behind a less talented offensive line. It has only been two weeks but he has been shining against some of the better defenses in the country and let me reiterate, 8.9 yards a carry.
Defensive Front Four
This defensive front has been one of the very best in the entire country. Notre Dame has quite an impressive group up front. Notre Dame’s front four of Jerry Tillery, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes have racked up 63 QB pressures (sacks and QB hurries per Pro Football Focus) through the season’s first five games. This means Notre Dame has one of the best pass rushing fronts in the entire country. Kareem also forced a big fumble in the Virginia Tech game that helped but Notre Dame up eight with the Julian Love scoop and score.
Tillery is the face of this group as 6-7 senior out of Louisiana has been on an absolute tear this season. Even with a quiet night by his standards, Tillery has 7 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season.
This defensive front is what makes this defense as strong as they are. It doesn’t hurt to have a future NFL corner playing behind you but they have been steady in both pass rush and run defense. The 2018 Irish defense is only allowing a rushing average of 3.4 yards per carry. add in that they are only allowing an average of 229 yards passing a game and you see why they have been so dominant.
They might not have an Alabama stat line but it is worth noting that the Irish have played three ranked teams already.
If you were waiting for his name, here it is. The Ian Book difference is very real and the change was immediate for the Irish once Book was given the nod to take the starting role from Wimbush. Wimbush had one touchdown to four interceptions and a QBR of 51.5 in his three games as the starter. He also had one rushing touchdown and a completion percentage of 55. The Irish also only averaged 23 points per game with Wimbush running the offense. Now lets look at the mentioned Ian Book difference.
Ian Book now has three games under his belt so its fair to measure their stats. Book has nine passing touchdowns to one interception and a QBR of 80. He also has three rushing touchdowns and a completion percentage of 73. The Irish have averaged 46 points a game. This was also done against higher level talent and a prime time away game. That is the Ian Book difference. This offense moves better and smoother with Book in the game. Even Book having a game below his standards against Virginia Tech was better then any game Wimbush has compiled this season. Not to mention that a legitimate passing attack has opened the running game and has the media already crowning the Irish as a playoff team for this season.
The biggest thing this Irish team has that I haven’t seen in years is a confidence and swagger second to none. Even when they struggled at points they never quit or packed it in for a second. At Blacksburg they continued to fight and were able to pull away late in the game.
Coach Kelly has changed the culture this season. Its still a long season and they can’t sleepwalk through anybody but there is a reason for excitement and optimism again.
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Started Saturday Tailgate in 2018. Covering all things college football and talking Notre Dame on Twitter.