So far, so good.
Nobody’s seriously putting Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff discussion yet—unless they have little shamrocks adorning their underclothes.
But the Fighting Irish are putting themselves in position to have a chance for a very interesting season.
Brian Kelly vowed to make changes this season. He did. And they’re working.
I’m guessing that his assistants still wear, ``Hi. My name is ___’’ at staff meetings.
Two guys who won’t need those tags for long are offensive coordinator Chip Long and defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Long, 34, did good work under Mike Norvell at Arizona State and Memphis. Elko, 39, came in from Wake Forest, where he built a defense known for forcing turnovers, coming up with sacks and being stingy with points.
What’s really interesting, though, is the hard-nosed identity they are forging under the Golden Dome.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
In other words, ND, which often found itself trying to outscore opponents with an aerial circus during last year’s 4-8 messiness—remember the passing in the monsoon at N.C. State?—has gone back to meat-and-potatoes.
This Notre Dame runs the ball. It’s seventh in the nation in rushing (301.4 yards a game) and it’s led by Josh Adams, who’s also seventh (131.6).
Adams ran eight times for 159 yards in the first quarter against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, including TDs of 73 and 59 yards. The Irish, who had 18 rushing touchdowns last year, already have 20 this season.
Adams left with an ankle injury after that one dazzling quarter. Kelly said it was no big deal, Adams could have continued. But that’s a situation to keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, the defense has come up with 11 takeaways that have led to 70 points. Last year, ND had 14 turnovers (for 53 points) all season.
ND is plus-6 in turnover margin this year. Last year, it was minus-4.
Running the ball well and coming up with turnovers are traits often seen in highly successful teams.
The big question is about the passing game, which is 108th in the nation (166.6 yards). Brandon Wimbush is 106th in passing efficiency—or should we say passing inefficiency?—with six TDs and 782 yards in five games. Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph put up numbers like that in two games.
Credit Kelly and Long with doing a decent job of bringing along the inexperienced Wimbush by giving him easy early throws and doing other things designed to build confidence.
Will he be able to make the big-time throws ND will probably need against stiffer defenses? We’ll find out.
The thing is, at this point, ND is highly successful. It has won four games by big margins. And its lone loss, 20-19 to Georgia, apparently was delivered by the SEC’s chief threat to Alabama.
Temple (49-20), Boston College (49-16), Michigan State (38-18) and Miami of Ohio (52-17) isn’t a murderer’s row. But the Spartans seem poised for a decent year. And the RedHawks are an upper-tier Mid-American team.
The bottom line is, Notre Dame’s upside figures to remain an unknown until Oct. 21, when No. 14 USC comes to South Bend. But win that one, and the Irish bandwagon will become popular.
That game remains a high bar. But it doesn’t look as formidable as it did on Labor Day. The Trojans have been showing a lot of tarnish this fall, and it goes deeper than their loss at Washington State on Friday night.
In other words, Notre Dame is stealthily positioning itself for a very satisfying 2017 after that angst-ridden 2016. But it will need to keep proving itself against a schedule that includes USC and No. 24 N.C. State, plus trips to No. 13 Miami and Stanford.
Those games won’t be easy. But they don’t look impossible, either.[/membership]