clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Notre Dame Football: The Irish ran the damn ball against USC and it led to a breakthrough in the offense

Taking a cue from former Notre Dame great Quenton Nelson and the Indianapolis Colts, the Irish defeated USC on Saturday night because they were able to run the football effectively for what felt like the first time all season.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame
Tony Jones Jr. has stepped up in a huge way for the Irish as the lead back following the injury to Jafar Armstrong in the season-opening win against Louisville.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

During the Indianapolis Colts’ improbable 19-13 victory over reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 of the NFL slate, NBC Sports sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya told a short tale about the Colts’ new identity on the offensive side of the football: running the damn ball.

Former Notre Dame guard (and all-around bad ass) Quenton Nelson took a cue from a hat he saw and ordered a few hats in a Colts-colored scheme that simply read “RUN THE DAMN BALL” in big blue letters. The Colts did just that against the Chiefs, riding a 45-carry, 180-yard performance on the ground to one of the league’s more surprising results of the young season.

Traveling ahead a week later (which, technically, is now three nights ago now), the Irish rode the back of Tony Jones Jr. and the best run-blocking performance from the offensive line to a 30-27 victory over USC to keep what slim College Football Playoff hopes they have alive thanks to Georgia falling to South Carolina at home in double overtime.

Last season, Notre Dame had five games where they ran for 240+ yards on their way to their first CFP berth. This season, the Irish hadn’t reached that mark until Saturday night, although they did come close twice against Louisville and against Bowling Green, but, uh ... yeah. (Not to kick a bad team while they’re down, but, well, you saw the game.)

Here’s the thing from that Louisville game: 81 of those 230 yards came from Ian Book after Jafar Armstrong exited the game early on with a groin issue and Tony Jones Jr. stepped up and provided a massive boost, just like he did on Saturday night against the Trojans.

The Irish ran to the tone of 48 carries for 308 yards with two of their three touchdowns in the contest coming on the ground. 13 of those 48 carries went for at least eight yards, including a 43-yard dash from TJJ right up the middle that provided the jolt in the arm the Irish needed and a 51-yard end around for a score from Braden Lenzy, who might actually be The Flash in disguise.

Add in two big carries from Ian Book, a 17-yarder on the first drive of the game for the Irish offense and the key eight-yard touchdown scamper that gave Notre Dame just enough cushion to get through the finish line, and ... they ran the damn ball and ran it well.

When Ian Book is at his best, he’s making plays with his legs and frustrating defenses.

Brian Kelly has put an emphasis on Ian Book staying in the pocket more and longer this season, but what’s not hard for many who watch the Irish frequently is that Book is deadly sometimes with his legs to escape pressure in the pocket.

This play signifies what has made Book so effective as a starter since around the start of last season. USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele brought middle penetration in Book’s face and with Tommy Tremble picking up a delayed blitz from the short-side backer, Book had enough time to bolt and pick up a first down.

One of Future’s best songs on BEASTMODE 2 is “HATE THE REAL ME”. Notre Dame fans nor Brian Kelly should hate the real Ian Book because this is the best version of him; when he can make plays like this to drive defensive coordinators crazy.

Ian Book doing what he does.

The back-to-back play sequence that changed the game for the Irish offense came on the back of Tony Jones Jr., who racked up 176 of Notre Dame’s 308 yards on the ground against SC on 25 carries. (Some credit should also go to Chase Claypool for his nice snag that truly jump-started the whole touchdown drive.)

After Claypool’s first-down catch, Chip Long and the offense (rightfully) picked up the tempo by going quick, and while SC looked to potentially change personnel, the Irish took advantage with TJJ picking up 12 yards while running through arm tackles.

Tony Jones Jr. is tough enough to tackle with 11 guys, but 10? That’s a bold strategy, USC.

The next play after USC’s defense got situated following the confusion that led to a declined penalty for the Irish was probably my personal favorite of the game not just because of what it led to, but how it transpired.

Tony Jones Jr. gets the yardage, but Ian Book deserves credit for a great read.

Let’s slow this down because it was really Ian Book that made this play, although TJJ obviously deserves some credit for making a few guys hilariously miss and hung onto the ball while getting tracked from behind.

Ian Book reads it and TJJ finishes it.

Doug Flutie provided you the yellow line to show the crashing Drake Jackson off the edge, but watch Ian Book’s head here.

Over the years under Kelly, no matter the offensive coordinator at the helm, this has always been a quick toss to the back (sometimes, even a two-handed toss from the quarterback).

Jackson thinks he’s got Book dead to rights with Robert Hainsey giving him a free run into the backfield to cut block, but that’s what this play was designed to do. The Irish had a four wide receiver set with trips right, spreading out the SC defense and giving them space to make this work.

Jackson collapses hard on Book, but Book’s slight head/ball fake combo before the pitch gave the Irish an opening that they took advantage of in the end. TJJ gets and deserves the credit, but Book ran this as perfect as you could. The little things matter.

This was one of the best plays Notre Dame (literally) ran all night, but it wasn’t just because it led to six from Braden Lenzy. The design and execution was excellent from the Irish.

The funny thing is, this play shouldn’t have happened because if you watched closely, left guard Aaron Banks moved just a bit too early, but you can’t call what you don’t see, right?

Anyway, this was well done from the Irish. Cole Kmet motions in and blocks the backside of this play to help prevent any trailers on Lenzy’s run, while both Banks and Tommy Kraemer pull to the short side of the field. Book and TJJ sell the stretch run to the short side, while Lenzy loops around and takes the toss from Book to the long side with just one man to really beat and it’s a defensive end with Claypool and a hustling Chris Finke blocking on the wide side of the field.

Misdirection in football is a beautiful thing when it’s done properly.

Notre Dame sold this play so, so well. It took a group effort to make this touchdown work.

The end result? Six. (Great effort blocking downfield, Finke.)

Braden Lenzy is fast. Really, really fast.

On the final actual drive of the game for the Irish when you don’t count kneeling it out after Kelly almost tried to field the onside kick himself, one of what will probably be one of the offensive line’s favorite plays in film discussions will be brought to the spotlight.

The Irish had three carries of eight yards or more on the game-sealing drive with the longest being this 13-yarder from Jahmir Smith, who was very Josh Adams-ish on this run.

Jahmir Smith with a strong bowling ball impression on his best run of the night.

Doug Flutie even gives you another illustration as to why this play worked, but again, Kmet sliding over, following the pull of Kraemer to provide a pretty running lane for Smith, who bulldozed his way to a first down.

You could run through an alley like this one.

That’s quite an alley for Jahmir Smith to run through.

It’s no secret that in the last few years, when Notre Dame’s been at their best is when they’ve dominated the line of scrimmage with their elite-level NFL prospects to run the ball efficiently.

They may not have Nelson, Alex Bars or Mike McGlinchey these days, but averaging 6.4 yards per carry will help any team run the damn ball well.