The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one of the few teams left in the FBS that have control of their own destiny. If they win out, they will probably find themselves in the playoffs. However, if they don't improve their passing efficiency, that isn't going to happen.
Sure, they have a great running game. One of the best, in fact. And Mike Elko and Co. have the defense performing well above expectations. But if they want to have a run at the championship, they have to correct the inconsistencies in their passing game. And, they have to do it by Saturday, when they have their annual matchup with USC.
Presently, Brandon Wimbush has 132 pass attempts, completing 69 for 799 yards, with 6 TDs and 2 INTs. That's good for a pedestrian 114.0 passer rating.
As a comparison, QB Jalen Hurts of No. 1 Alabama has thrown a similar 130 passes, but has completed 82 of them for 1025 yards, with 8 TDs and 1 INT — a 148.1 passer rating. With numbers like those, Notre Dame would be 6-0.
If the Irish continue to have problems with passing efficiency, better defenses will stack up against their running game and shut it down, much as Georgia did. And, as they run the gauntlet of some of the best teams in college football over the next six weeks, they will drop some games. Maybe three or four games.
The pieces are there. The Irish don't have to — and shouldn't — attempt more passes, but they do have to complete more of them. Both Notre Dame and Alabama are at the low end of passes attempted per game. But Alabama passes often enough, and well enough, to keep opposing defenses honest. The Irish don't. And now they have to, if they want to keep winning.
They can do it, of course. They have all the pieces they need. The Notre Dame offensive line is providing outstanding pass protection. Wimbush has made some spectacular passes when he's under a lot of pressure, for example the TD pass to Williams in the MSU game. The TEs are solid pass catchers for the most part. The WRs were a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season last year.
However, Wimbush appears tentative and indecisive when he isn't under pressure, which is often, thanks to the OL. And the WR corps needs to start catching the ball as consistently as it did last year.
Like a band that isn't quite on the stick, the QBs and WRs have to figure out how to tighten things up. But that's not just on them. Tom Rees, DelVaughn Alexander, Chip Long and Brian Kelly are part of that band as well.
The problems are all correctable. But the coaches and players have to get together and figure out a way to correct them, and they have to do it this week.
Their season depends on it.