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The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Control Their Own Destiny

The Irish continued to win, and continued to position themselves nicely for a potential playoff run.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Controlling Their Destiny

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish got the job done against the Northwestern Wildcats.

In a 31-21 back-and-forth bout, the Irish again managed to outmatch a solid opponent en route to their 9-0 record. That is a positive. On the other hand, and 24-7 lead evaporating into a 24-21 lead was far from a positive. There were certainly mistakes from Kelly’s squad.

So, yeah, it wasn’t always pretty.

Lost in the relatively close final score is that the Irish - statistically speaking - dominated Northwestern. Here are a few numbers to consider:

Total Yards: ND 464 - 249 NU

First Downs: ND 25 - 16 NU

Yards Per Play: ND 5.87 - 3.32

The Irish lost the turnover and penalty battle, which is undoubtedly something they’ll need to clean up moving forward, but they thoroughly outperformed the Wildcats. The offense moved the ball effectively and efficiently, and the defense repeatedly stifled Pat Fitzgerald’s offense.

These stats from Michael Bertsch give a good indicator of how this win was deceptively impressive:

The important thing is that the Irish control their own destiny.

Continue winning and they’re in the playoffs. Lose, and you need quite a bit of help to make it back in.

The Florida State Seminoles, Syracuse Orange, and USC Trojans await. Each team will be giving the Irish their best shot, and November is a rough month for the Irish under Kelly as of late. There are factors working against them.

But they have a victory over Michigan that keeps getting more impressive by the week, and victories over pretty good Stanford and Northwestern teams - and maybe Pittsburgh is decent too? - that bolster the second tier of their schedule.

For now, the Irish are in the driver’s seat.

All they need to do is conquer November.

Notes from the Teleconference:

  • Injury Update: Drue Tranquill “came out of the game well”, Alizé Mack will be cleared for practice on Tuesday, and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is on track to return for the game at USC.
  • Brian Kelly dismissed any concerns about the run defense, “We did a really good job. I’m not concerned about teams running the football. Those that have focused on running the ball, like Pittsburgh, we shut those teams down.”
  • Touching on the offensive line play, “We just need to be better along the offensive line. We’ve missed a few reads on pressures, which forced the ball out on the perimeter... The one thing we weren’t pleased with were penalties. We haven’t had procedure penalties all year. That was a bit frustrating.”
  • According to Kelly, Trevor Ruhland and Tommy Kraemer will continue to split time.
  • Kelly said the team is cohesive and “rolling in the same direction”: “I think there is a consistency in terms of what expectations are, that really helps. There is a lot of truth to the fact that we have so many players sticking with a process rather than being a leader.”
  • On what pleased him in the win, “It’s hard to win on the road against good competition... Our guys handled the moment and the situation. I liked their grit and resolve. Again, the overall preparation in beating a team on the road that is a pretty darn good football team.”
  • Kelly hit on the frequent calls to go for it on fourth down this season, “It’s a confidence in our defense. It’s a confidence in our quarterback to execute. I think we look at the use of analytics as well... I’ve got a sense and a feel as when to use it. Those all factor into it.”
  • Kelly said Tranquill is close to getting the cast off of his hand, and added, “I don’t think it’s an issue with his hand. He uses it as necessary and it’s more about being comfortable with his ankle.”
  • Jordan Genmark Heath “did a nice job,” but Kelly made sure to note, “we want more from him.” They were pleased with him overall, as Kelly stated “we knew he wouldn’t put us in a deficit position.”
  • Julian Love is not a vocal leader according to Kelly, but a leader nonetheless: “Leadership is usually mirrored on how he handles himself on a day to day basis. He gets young guys to follow him... He’s a great one to model for our young players.”
  • Kelly added about Love, “We thought he’d be a really good football player [coming out of high school]. You just don’t know when that’ll happen. We thought he had the skills to be a really good player for us.”
  • On the running ability of Ian Book, “One of the things that we always felt Ian was capable of was keeping plays alive and he has quickness. We don’t feel he’s a guy we want to run like Brandon Wimbush... It’s something you have to keep an eye on when developing him.”
  • Kelly explained why they were snapping the ball with so much time left on the clock late in the game: “It’s so difficult to almost stop the offense to the level of when you’re still in competitive mode. If we were up two or three scores, we’d take it down to a few seconds, but we needed to score more... we still needed to play in a similar tempo.”