Don’t know what to expect from Notre Dame on Saturday? We caught up with Pat Rick over at One Foot Down to get the answers!
1. Tell me about ND’s year so far. Are you happy with the prospect of making a NY6 Bowl? Or was it a playoff or bust type of year?
Yes and no (and for me personally, mostly no).
Following up a College Football Playoff season with a potential NY6 bowl appearance would certainly be pretty satisfying, especially considering the amount of talent lost from the 2018 team (looking at you, Dexter Williams, Miles Boykin, Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, Te’von Coney, Julian Love, Justin Yoon, Tyler Newsome).
However, for a couple reasons, I would say this does feel a little bit..empty.
First, Notre Dame’s schedule was not super tough this season. Although it’s never easy to win 10 games in the wacky and wild world of college football, the Irish essentially played two very good teams this year -- the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines. ND seemed to prove their mettle against the Bulldogs, nearly beating them in Athens (although a loss is still a loss, folks), but then to get absolutely embarrassed against Michigan in late October? Well, that makes it pretty hard to get incredibly excited about the 9 (hopefully soon to be 10) wins over the likes of Boston College, Duke, New Mexico, Bowling Green, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, there are obviously some other decent teams the Irish have topped -- Navy, USC, Virginia Tech, and Virginia are currently a combined 32-12 -- but as a blue blood like ND, it’s definitely tough to swallow that the second-tier wins in 2019 were the best moments, because the games against the top programs did not go well.
My second reason for not being happy with the prospect of making a NY6 bowl is that the Irish are still at #16 in the CFP rankings after this past Tuesday, so it’s pretty obvious they won’t be making it into the Top 10 by season’s end in order to qualify for a NY6 bowl spot. So, knowing that and knowing the Irish are probably destined for something like the Camping World Bowl, yeah I’d say that’s a little less exciting after making the CFP one year ago.
Finally, I wouldn’t say this was a playoff or bust year, just based on trying to replace a ton of key guys from the CFP squad. In fact, many would probably say that they expected a 10-win, 2-loss season coming into this year. But it was how ND got there, with the blowout loss to Michigan specifically, that makes the 10-win, 2-loss season the Irish accomplished a little less impressive and a little more disappointing, especially considering 11-1 was DEFINITELY attainable with this schedule.
2. Ian Book is obviously a star at ND. Is he good enough to make it in the NFL?
I’d lean toward no, just because there are still a few major flaws in his game that haven’t improved much since last season. He still struggles to consistently throw a good deep ball, and his pocket presence is lacking, considering he has trouble with staying in the pocket and working through his progressions when there’s any iota of pressure coming his way. He’s much more prone to tuck it and run or throw it away.
With that said, I will admit that he’s a very good runner and can sling the ball all over the place when he’s “on,” so maybe the key for him will be getting the right NFL coaching staff that has much more of an ability than the Irish staff to fix his mistakes and turn him into a decent pro QB. However, even in that scenario, I don’t think he’s anything more than a career backup -- would love for him to prove me wrong, though, as he seems like a pretty good, hard working kid -- and it’d be nice for the Irish to have at least one successful NFL QB out there.
3. Any other names Stanford fans should be on the lookout for?
On offense, Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet are the two big ones to know.
Claypool is going to be a very good NFL receiver and has easily been the offensive MVP for the Irish this season, reeling in 56 passes for 828 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s a 6’4” freak of an athlete who can really move for someone his size, is capable of out-leaping just about anyone, and utilizes sticky hands and impeccable body control to make sure he brings in the catches that keep the chains moving. Without Paulson Adebo, I think Claypool is going to have a FIELD DAY against the Cardinal secondary.
Kmet is an NFL-caliber tight end who missed the first two games of the season but still has 36 catches for 405 yards and 6 TD on the year. He’s similar to Claypool in that he moves very well for his immense size, and his hands are fantastic. He’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers or safeties and is an exceptional red zone target, so look for him to be a threat when the Irish are bearing down on the end zone.
Also, one other name to know -- Braden Lenzy, a sophomore WR who is fast enough to at one point have been committed to play football AND run track at Oregon. He’s had numerous huge, home run touchdowns this season (averaging 23.3 yards per rush and 24.9 yards per catch) and will likely get at least a few chances to be handed an end-around or run a fly route to test the Stanford secondary on Saturday.
On defense, I’d say be wary of Khalid Kareem, an absolute menace of a defensive end who will be in the Cardinal backfield a number of times throughout the game. He leads the team in sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (10), and QB hurries (9).
Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is another name to know, as the kid is a first-time starter this year and has been exceptional, using his speed and athleticism to run sideline-to-sideline making tackles (4th on the team with 61), excel in pass coverage (3 passes defended), and tie Kareem for the team lead in sacks with 5.5.
Finally, although seniors Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott are the starters at safety and team captains, the last name I want you all to know is Kyle Hamilton, the true freshman reserve safety who came in as a 5-star prospect and has somehow exceeded all expectations, proving to be the best playmaker on the team and someone who can make plays just about no one else on the field can make.
He’s long at 6’4” and has the speed and athleticism and instincts to be both fantastic in run support and elite in coverage, and his stats reflect just how important he’s been to this defense, especially that elite pass defense -- 35 tackles, 5 passes defended, 4 interceptions (including one returned for a TD). Mark my words, he will be an All-American before his career at ND -- which will probably just be 2 more years -- is all said and done.
4. From a Notre Dame perspective, who would you rather have Stanford start: K.J. Costello or Davis Mills?
I’d probably go with Davis Mills. Now, I realize he’s likely the more talented and promising of the two and has the higher ceiling, especially considering how much more of his Stanford career he has remaining. But considering the Irish have one of the best pass defenses in the country (#3 in total passing defense, #5 in yards per attempt allowed, #5 in passer rating allowed) and a number of guys who can get to the QB (Kareem, Owusu-Koramoah, Jamir Jones, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, etc.), I’d much rather have that kind of defense coming after a younger, more inexperienced guy than someone like Costello who’s been around the block a few times.
Perhaps Mills would be able to make a few plays Costello couldn’t, but overall I think the Irish defense would have a much better chance of rattling Mills and forcing him into some big mistakes than with Costello.
5. Brian Kelly has been a good coach at Notre Dame. There’s been rumors that he could depart for the NFL. What are your thoughts on these rumors?
I don’t think any NFL team would actually hire Brian Kelly. I’m not even convinced that his much-talked-about interview with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 was really an official interview where the Eagles wanted him to be their coach -- I just don’t think his demeanor and talents as a program manager really lend themselves well to a league where you want your coaches to be sharp schematic minds who can put together brilliant game plans and then let the pros go out there and execute. To me, he’d be a bad fit there.
And, honestly, I think he’s gonna coach a few more years at Notre Dame and then retire anyway. I’m not sure he’s got the energy and drive at this point to take on such a huge, new challenge. Being the ND head coach wears on a person, for sure.
With that said, I also am not the biggest Brian Kelly fan, and although I don’t think he should be fired right now, I would not be thaaaaaaaaaat broken up about it if he were to get hired by an NFL team. He’s done a good job rebuilding ND back into a contender, but I think the program needs a new leader to take them back to the promised land. So, go get yours, BK!
6. What would a win and snapping Stanford’s home-game winning streak versus Notre Dame mean for Irish fans?
It would be a nice little sign that this annual series has officially swung back in favor of ND, what with Stanford being pretty down as a program right now and with the Irish on a solid run the past three years.
Being able to beat Stanford in California has been a monkey on Brian Kelly’s back, and so to vanquish that annoying issue would be another nice step, similar to when BK and the Irish beat a down USC team back in 2010 after having not beaten the Trojans for like 9 consecutive years. It may not be beating an Andrew Luck or Christian McCaffrey-led Stanford squad on the road, but it would still be nice to get over that hump and move forward in this series, taking control for the Irish for the foreseeable future.
7. What’s your prediction for the game?
I think without Adebo and with the other injuries Stanford has endured, the Cardinal won’t be able to win this game. Early on some of their skill talent may be able to make plays and keep it somewhat close, but for the first time in a while I think the Irish dominate in the trenches against the Cardinal, wear them down, and watch as Ian Book picks apart the Stanford defense all day for a nice regular season finale in his home state.
Notre Dame wins 37-17.