Many years ago, when a certain coach started fast, got a big contract extension, started throwing out terms like “All Day Tough Guys”, I believed I was seeing the future of Notre Dame football. An older friend, who had seen tons more Notre Dame football than I, was very cynical. He stated emphatically that Notre Dame would never be “truly good” again until they ran the ball.
He wanted a return to the power football era that Lou Holtz teams personified. He relished the power game where Irish teams physically punished people. Jerome Bettis pounding Florida in the Sugar Bowl or seeing the Irish blast it in out of T Formation versus Florida State was more to his liking. This year’s edition of the Irish seem to be moving in that direction. The question is can it continue?
Brandon Wimbush’s performance on Saturday was truly remarkable. He was every bit of the excitement and electrifying runner that we heard about in the lead up to the season. His 207 yard rushing and four touchdown performance will be talked about for years. However, at the rate he is running the ball, he is on pace for 213 carries, which is slightly concerning.
Consider this: the most carries Tony Rice ever had in a season was 174. Moving away from the Dome, other running quarterbacks, like Marcus Mariota in his Heisman year, ran just 135 times. J.T. Barrett and Cam Newton both carried the ball over 200 times at 205 and 264 respectively.
Whether Wimbush can hold up over the long haul will go a long way to determine how this season plays out. More concerning, the passing game is anemic at this stage. The Irish are completing just 51.1 of their passes, averaging less than 200 yards per game, with a long of just 34 yards. Can the Irish keep winning this way?
Further, the depth at receiver just got thinner with the injury to Freddy Canteen. Where do the Irish go from here? Kevin Stepherson has not appeared in a game yet and no one besides Brian Kelly seems to know why (although rumor has it that the reason is a four game suspension). Simply put, the Irish are going to have to get better production in the receiver position if they expect to keep winning. Might Stepherson be the answer to address that issue?
The start of the season has featured an Irish defense that has played very well and a strong running game (minus Georgia). There is a lot to like here–good defense, three runners that could all go over 1,000 yards, generally good special teams (minus punt return). With the current formula the Irish are playing with, it’s a glass half-empty feeling as this will likely put Notre Dame in a number of tight games, which have been difficult for the Irish to win of late.
Right now the Irish are one dimensional. You would have to think the better teams on their schedule will be able to slow down their running game. Maybe not to the extent of Georgia, but enough to cause problems for Notre Dame. Finally, I just don’t believe Wimbush can keep up this current pace without injury. I love the way the Irish are running the ball, but, to win the tougher games remaining on this schedule, they are going to have to develop a more consistent passing game.