Bye, bye Josh Adams. Bye, bye Quenton Nelson. Where’s Brandon Wimbush? Notre Dame lost some key players and had a quarterback dilemma to start the year. Thanks to Pat Rick from One Foot Down, we got to know everything there is to know about the Irish ahead of Saturday’s game, including some insight about last year’s game and Stepfan Taylor’s controversial goal line stop. Check out our side of the interview here.
ROT: Can you tell me about Ian Book? Why’d it take so long for him to play?
Pat Rick: Ian Book is a guy who’s gotten some playing time in the past (started a game last year when Brandon Wimbush was hurt, relieved him in a couple games, etc.) and who has shown flashes of being a good QB, but who has also been interception-prone and never put it all together in the limited playing time he’s had. He threw a couple picks against a bad UNC team last year, tossed a pick-six after coming in for Wimbush in the Miami beatdown, and although he played a good game against LSU in the Citrus Bowl, he also threw a pick in that one.
Essentially, he was always seen as a more accurate passer than Wimbush but with a weaker arm on deep balls, just as much of a propensity to turn it over, and, although good on the ground, he’s certainly not the running/scrambling talent that Wimbush is. Thus, Wimbush entered the year as a senior QB who went 9-3 as the starter in 2017, and so it wasn’t a big surprise he was starting considering the above comparison, his veteran status, and with everyone hoping he progressed a bit as a passer in the offseason.
After the first few games, Wimbush clearly hadn’t progressed much, but more importantly the team lost major talent from last year’s rushing attack, leading to a Wimbush-led offense that stalled out too much and seemed limited in what it could run compared to last season.
Enter Book, whose accuracy and decisiveness allow the playbook to open up a bit, allowing for lots of shorter completions that keep the chains moving. Granted, Wake Forest’s defense is a dumpster fire and we as fans can’t get too excited yet -- but the Irish won by a touchdown or less against Ball State and Vanderbilt before that game, so destroying an inferior defense was a decidedly welcome change. We’ll see if Book can continue to take care of the ball and move the offense with such efficiency against a much better squad in Stanford.
ROT: Tell me about the Wake Forest game. How’d the offense suddenly explode for 56 points?
Pat Rick: The key, again, was the playbook opening up a bit with Ian Book at QB. Wimbush struggles on the short to intermediate throws, and so drives often stall when he fails to make those throws to get first downs. Book, on the other hand, is much more accurate in the short to intermediate distance, allowing for plays that keep the chains moving. This also helps soften the defense a bit, enabling an effective running game featuring Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr.
So, all of those things combined to take advantage of a very bad Demon Deacons defense and bring about an explosion of scoring from an offense that had not done anything like that to-date.
ROT: You lost two key pieces on the offensive line and your starting running back from last year. Has that been problematic for the Irish?
Pat Rick: Absolutely. Part of the reason Brandon Wimbush was so effective at QB for the first ~9 games last season was because there was the perpetual threat of Josh Adams taking one to the house through a huge hole created by Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.
Now, without all those guys, the ND running game -- though solid -- just isn’t as ridiculously potent as it was last year. That’s what has allowed opponents to bottle up the Irish -- sell out to slow down the weaker running game, forcing Wimbush to beat you with the pass.
Ian Book’s emergence could be HUGE in changing how effective this offense can now be, considering he just may have enough talent to beat teams with the pass.
ROT: What’s Notre Dame’s biggest weakness? Strength?
Pat Rick: Before last weekend, I’d definitely say the team’s biggest weakness was the passing offense with Wimbush. But with Book back there, I’m no longer too worried about that (although he is still pretty inexperienced and has a past of throwing interceptions).
Instead, I’ll name a couple big weaknesses that I think are still issues, even with Book in there. One lies with the wide receivers -- they have been less than impressive this year, both in creating separation and in always coming down with the passes thrown to them. Stanford’s always got talented, strong DBs, so I’m definitely worried about if the Irish receivers will be able to get open against them, and then if they’ll catch the passes Book has tossed their way.
Along with that, the ND offensive tackles have not been very good this season, and so if Stanford has any sort of pressure coming off the edge, Ian Book could be running for his life. He’s a decent scrambler/runner, but no one wants to see their QB with guys in his face/hitting him super often. Finally, defensive depth is certainly a concern. The Irish defense has been fantastic so far this season, but the starters are playing the vast majority of the snaps with very little breaks, and so a couple key injuries could be potentially devastating, especially at linebacker or defensive tackle.
In terms of strengths, the defensive front is absolutely one of those -- Jerry Tillery is a menace in the middle, guys like Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara have been fantastic with the pass rush, and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney are about as good as you can get at their respective positions. Along with that, the two starting Irish corners are lock-down guys, with Julian Love being a potential All-American and Troy Pride Jr. possessing the speed to run with any receiver.
Additionally, the interior offensive line is stout, as C Sam Mustipher and LG Alex Bars are preseason All-Americans, and Tommy Kraemer/Trevor Ruhland have both been solid at RG. They’ve done a good job at getting a solid push in the middle and opening holes for Tony Jones Jr., Jafar Armstrong, and new this coming weekend, Dexter Williams.
ROT: Who should Cardinal fans look out for on defense? How bout on offense?
Pat Rick: Irish Defensive Players to Look Out For: DT Jerry Tillery, LB Te’von Coney, CB Julian Love, S Alohi Gilman
Irish Offensive Players to Look Out For: RBs Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones Jr., and Dexter Williams; TE Alize Mack; WR Chase Claypool; QB Ian Book
ROT: Do you think the Irish could make the playoff this year?
Pat Rick: I think it’s still too early to tell, but if ND beats Stanford on Saturday, the answer to this has to be yes. Virginia Tech, USC, and Florida State have all shown to be weaker than we all thought in the preseason, and the other opponents (Syracuse, Navy, Northwestern, Pittsburgh) are certainly beatable.
Now, ND still typically trips up against teams like those left on the schedule, especially considering there are road trips to Blacksburg and LA in there. But could/should they be able to make the playoff if they get by Stanford? Absolutely.
ROT: Give me one X-factor each for offense, defense, and special teams for Notre Dame.
Offense: Tie between Ian Book and Dexter Williams. Book’s performance, for obvious reasons, is absolutely crucial for ND’s chance of success. But Williams has been suspended for the first 4 games this season, and as the biggest home run threat on the ND offensive roster, his return could be MASSIVE against this Stanford defense.
Defense: Te’von Coney. He’s going to be absolutely key in corralling Bryce Love, and with his speed, strength, and athleticism, he has to be the guy leading the charge in slowing the All-American RB down. If Coney brings his A-game, the Irish could really slow down the Stanford offense.
Special Teams: Tyler Newsome. The ND punter has had a great year so far, and in a game with two pretty physical teams, this could be a low-scoring affair where every bit of field position matters. Look for Newsome to potentially play a key role in flipping the field and helping the ND defense (and offense) with field position.
ROT: Pick any player on Notre Dame to face Bryce Love in Jeopardy! Who wins?
Pat Rick: I could make some sort of Bookworm joke with ND’s QB here, but I’ve gotta instead take LB Drue Tranquill. He’s a mechanical engineering graduate (he’s a grad student this year) and I love his chances in Jeopardy. Honorable mention choices: DT Jerry Tillery, P Tyler Newsome
ROT: Any comment on the loss last year versus Stanford? Are ND fans still upset that the Cardinal spoiled your playoff chances?
Pat Rick: I firmly believe that the Irish lost their playoff chances when they lost in embarrassing fashion, 41-8, to Miami a couple weeks before the Stanford game. So, although I didn’t enjoy Stanford winning a third straight game in this series and how badly ND crashed and burned in the 4th quarter, I don’t blame the Cardinal for ruining the team’s playoff chances -- Miami and the Irish themselves did that weeks before.
ROT: Did Stepfan Taylor score in overtime during the controversial 2012 game?
Pat Rick: Nope, his momentum was stopped and the play was whistled dead, and then he rolled off a couple guys and tried to claim a TD.
Did they maybe blow the whistle a little early? Potentially, but the play stood upon review, and even if they’d given him the TD, I still think ND wins that game.
Doesn’t matter, though. That ND defense stonewalled Taylor and the Irish won (although I guess the official record does NOT say that, as the Irish had to vacate that entire season for academically ineligible players, so really the historical record shows a loss for Stanford and a win for no one).
ROT: What does Stanford need to do to win this week?
Pat Rick: Force turnovers, and find a way to move the ball with long, methodical drives that wear down the ND defensive starters. If Stanford does those two things, I think they’re likely to take this one.
ROT: What’s your prediction for this game?
Pat Rick: I think Ian Book will make a few mistakes that allow Stanford to take a lead early on, but the Irish’s defense will lock down Love and co. while Ian Book, Dexter Williams, and the Irish offense will find a way to move the ball effectively and put up enough points to pull away late in the 4th.
I say ND 34, Stanford 27