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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — North Carolina Week

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Let’s discuss a thorough dismantling of a rival and an upcoming opponent who looked much more dangerous in the preseason (which almost makes them more dangerous now...almost)

*sipping coffee and reading the Rakes Report as I enjoy a nice, quiet little Monday morning*

*looks at clock, sees it’s already 2 minutes past the meeting start time*

AH SHIT! Ahhhhhhh

*frantically puts on a quarter-zip sweater and hand-combs hair to appear presentable as I scramble noisily to setup my camera and roll my chair to have the right angle/background*

Ahhhhhh I hate Mondays so much!!!

*clicks “Join Call” button as the video preview staring back at me shows my unsmiling, sunburnt-from-Saturday face with bags under my eyes*

Hello everybody!!! Happy Monday! How’s everyone doing?

Yeah, my Colts actually looked decent last night — that was kinda fun to see. Tough look for your Bears, though, Greg! Sorry, I couldn’t resist...

Okay, I think this is the entire group we’re gonna have for today, I know Elizabeth is on PTO and Anthony had a conflict. So I’ll just go ahead and share my screen...

*makes that little humming noise we’ve all done before to fill the silence as we wait for my screen-sharing to kick in*

Okay great, can you all see it?

Awesome, well let’s dive right in.

Same agenda as always, so nothing new to call out here.

And per usual, I don’t think I need to refresh your knowledge on what Project W.I.N. is — but if you need it, it’s in the deck for your reference!

Okay awesome, let’s delve into last week’s results and cover the positives and negatives from what was ultimately a really nice performance.

Let’s start with the negatives this week — figured we could switch it up to keep it fresh, and also get those out of the way early so we can focus on all the positive stuff afterward!

The biggest one, for sure, was our beloved large adult son Kyle leaving the game with what apparently ended up being a “pinched fat pad” on his knee. From all reports, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything seriously wrong and Kyle will return to action this season (although he HAS been ruled out for Saturday, unfortunately), but I’ve gotta admit I’ve never heard of this injury or of fat pads in general (I have to assume I’ve got a number of those myself, just based on the name). Please refer to the image on the right-hand side of the slide, which I included to help you understand what happens when someone has a fat pad impingement.

Anyway, other negatives included USC running back Keaontay Ingram running for 138 yards and a TD on nearly 6 yards per carry — that just cannot happen going forward, defense — and USC WR Drake London putting up eye-popping, video-game-esque numbers (15 catches, 171 yards). The good news is that the two talented Trojans only combined for one touchdown, so they were really held in check on what matters, but it’s definitely enough to make Irish fans nervous and hopeful that some of that gets cleaned up down the stretch of this season.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Coan also threw an interception on Saturday, so that’s not ideal overall. And I kept hearing “Malcolm X” every time the PA announcer called out USC TE Malcolm Epps, so I kept expecting to see the ghost of Malcolm X appearing to haunt the game, which wouldn’t be tooooo far-fetched considering we were just 8 days away from Halloween. But, alas, I kept getting scared/excited for nothing.

Other minor negatives from the day included getting sunburnt despite it being in the 40s and 50s all day, and people who sit in seats that are not theirs at the beginning of games, which just confuses people who have the rightful tickets there and makes for unnecessary confrontation. Move in the second half when there are clearly open seats, but stop just tryna start out in someone else’s spot, you guys!

Okay, now for the positives — we have to start with Bellyman, who put together yet another fantastic performance as the straw that stirs the drink for this Irish offense. 180 total offensive yards (138 rushing on 5.5 ypc, 42 receiving on 6 catches), 2 touchdowns, and just a whole lot of wiggle and toughness and speed as he tore apart a fairly hapless USC defense. Oh, and he threw a lead block on Tyler Buchner’s 4th quarter TD run, which was an awesome touch. He just does it all out there, and we need to cherish this final stretch of games we have to watch him in a gold helmet, before he rightfully moves on to torment NFL defenses with his unreal balance and innate ability to turn losses of 3-4 yards into gains of 3-4 yards.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Offensively, other positives to note included the solid return of Michael Mayer from injury (5 catches, 54 yards), the emergence of Lorenzo Styles Jr. (led the team in receiving with 57 yards on 3 catches, including a 29-yarder that got Irish fans all kinds of hot and bothered), a C’Bo Flemister sighting, and Avery Davis reeling in a TD catch on an otherwise very quiet evening for him.

Oh, and we need to recognize the offensive line again, as they obviously still aren’t perfect by any means (and the USC defense aren’t exactly tough to dominate in the trenches), but 170 team rushing yards on 4.1 yards per carry while also only giving up 1 sack on the night is a very nice outing and a good follow-up to that stronger showing against Virginia Tech. Hopefully this new 1st team of Alt-Kristofic-Patterson-Madden-Lugg can continue to gel together and keep getting better as the season wears on — it would be fun to see Bellyman get to just tear it up on the ground in his final 6-ish games of his ND career.

Defensively, Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola continue to look dominant, as the two combined for 3 sacks on the night. Foskey’s two sacks (which also included a forced fumble late in the 4th quarter) put him at 8 for the year, which I’m happy to report puts him SECOND IN THE FREAKIN’ COUNTRY in sacks, with Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. (a no-doubt All-American) the only player ahead of him with 8.5 sacks.*

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

*Side note: check out that graph — what’s in the water at Troy that they have two guys in the top 8 in sacks so far this season? I wouldn’t wanna be a QB facing that defensive front...

Other nice defensive results from last week included TaRiq Bracy putting together another good showing (team-leading 7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), Bo Bauer nearly returning an interception for a touchdown (unfortunately Kedon Slovis made a helluva tackle — pretty impressive hustle from the QB), and Drake London managing to look completely like an All-American while still really being contained, considering his big numbers didn’t really lead to much in terms of points.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I also want to shout out the gorgeous tailgating weather during the day Saturday, the Miller High Lifes and Diesels I drank throughout the day, and the two guys ahead of me in line to get into the stadium who were CONVINCED I had played drinking games with them earlier in the day and beaten them. I hadn’t, but that was nice of them to basically insist I looked like I was good at drinking games.

Oh, and shout out that awesome light show they put on for pregame and between the 3rd and 4th quarters. I still don’t like that the Officer Tim McCarthy recorded jokes fell by the wayside, but the light show stuff was pretty fun and cool and clearly is something that the players and recruits enjoy:

One other final note: Jay Bramblett only had to punt one time, and made it count with a solid 52-yarder. But then I also noticed the USC punter only had to punt twice, and it got me wondering — is 3 total combined punts the fewest in an ND game in a long time? And especially considering the relatively low point total for the teams combined in this one, is that the fewest punts ever in a game where the two teams couldn’t combine for 50?

I don’t have the time to research that, but someone let me know — definitely seemed somewhat notable.

Okay, let’s move on to the scorecard.

Big-time shout-outs are in order for Bellyman, Michael, TaRiq, Bo, the Notre Dame secondary (especially considering Kyle’s injury), and the Notre Dame Stadium gameday experience crew — all of you did a great job executing on your given action items, and we greatly appreciate that!

I also want to note for everyone that Jeff and Tommy are continuing to make solid progress on those big, long action items we assigned them weeks ago — keep it up, you guys, and let us know if you need any support or key decisions to be made by the steering committee!

Finally, Kyle/Isaiah/Jayson, you guys did not execute on your action items, so that’s not ideal — but I appreciate all the hard work you put in. Kyle, maybe just stop having your fat pad pinched, if you can. Isaiah and Jayson, I will see what we can do about leadership’s directive to be nice to QBs like Kedon Slovis. I have a feeling you might have to be somewhat mean to Sam Howell again this week, and honestly that might just be okay given the circumstances (playing football against him).

Alrighty, time for the best slide each week — let’s celebrate our Team Members of the Week!!!

I’ve already gone over why these guys deserve this recognition (and it’s laid out pretty clearly on this slide), so let’s just take a moment to congratulate Bellyman, Isaiah, Lorenzo, and TaRiq on some great work!

Well done you guys, very well-earned awards here. Your Chipotle gift cards are in your inboxes now!

Okay, now let’s go ahead and look forward to the competition this week — the North Carolina Tar Heels.

I’ll let you review all the details here on your own time, but some key points I wanted to call out:

  • Mack Brown is in his second stint at UNC (looking great by the way, Mack — excellent pic), and despite bringing the program back into the conversation and bringing in some highly-ranked recruits, the Heels continue to struggle to stick around as contenders, having dropped from #10 in the preseason to their current unranked, 4-3 mark
  • I love that Mack went 6-5 in one season at App State, somehow used that to get the Tulane job, went 11-23 there, and that somehow got him the UNC job that ultimately led to his Texas job. Incredible climbing of the ladder
  • There are both costumed and live versions of Rameses, the UNC mascot...slight differences between the two...
  • UNC is 0-7 against Yale all-time. Usually the teams I include for the “team they’ve played but never defeated” are teams the program played once or twice, so it’s hilarious to me that UNC has tried 7 times and can’t defeat those guys
  • UNC has some great alumni, including actor Rick Fox (I consider him an actor first, then an athlete...he will always be Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston), famed meme Ethan Albright (see image below), the legendary Jim Rash (Dean Pelton in Community), the inventor of Pepsi-Cola, and America’s greatest president, James K. Polk.

Alrighty, let’s dive a little deeper into this UNC squad and see what we should know about them...

Pretty straightforward, I would say — I know UNC has fallen from their preseason hype, and Sam Howell was a big-time preseason Heisman hopeful who’s not talked about in that conversation too much recently, but the North Carolina offense is still very dangerous. Howell is a top-25 QB in just about every metric, and the offense as a whole is ranked in the top 10 in SP+ for good reason — they can throw it and run it pretty productively and are top-20 in scoring and yards per play. They can move the football.

With that said, their offensive line hasn’t made the jump Tar Heel fans would have liked to see — they still struggle to protect Howell in the passing game, and UNC players are too often dropped in the backfield for negative plays. So, the Irish have gotta be thinking about being aggressive so that they can disrupt and punish instead of letting Howell have time to pick apart an iffy ND secondary — especially if Kyle Hamilton can’t play or isn’t 100%.

Finally, let’s all note that the Tar Heels defense is not very good — I’ve listed out their national rankings in a lot of key metrics here on the slide. Moral of the story — the Irish offense should have no major issues moving the ball on these guys, both through the air and on the ground.

Okay, let’s finish this up by talking about What’s Important Now for the Irish against North Carolina on Saturday night.

I feel like a broken record with some of this, but that’s just because the Irish need to lean into what’s been working and because a lot of the same things apply to UNC that applied to USC.

ND needs to focus on establishing the run and continuing to develop whatever they’ve finally found in this current starting offensive line. Bellyman should be able to have another really nice day on the ground against the Tar Heels.

Additionally, I think this is an opponent that the Irish should take some deep shots against — especially after establishing the run. They don’t really have any dangerous pass rushers and their secondary is okay but beatable — let’s see if someone like Austin or Lenzy or Davis or even Styles can blow the top off the defense and help quickly build a big lead.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Along the Styles comment line, the staff needs to continue putting the young guys out there. They’re talented and this will not only give a new look that pays off on Saturday, but also pay off in 2022 and 2023 when the young guys are that much better/more experienced when facing the likes of OSU, Clemson, etc. Keep the Buchner train rolling, keep getting Logan Diggs carries (especially if Chris Tyree is still out with turf toe), and keep cycling in Styles and Colzie to give fresh, different weapons to Coan and Buchner to throw to. Oh, and maybe give Prince Kollie more occasional opportunities on defense — the linebackers have got to be getting tired, and their tackling shows it. He might be able to help, situationally.

Defensively, the Irish again need to focus on getting after that talented QB they’re facing — although this time they do need to make sure they also contain him, as Howell has shown a real propensity to run the ball effectively in 2021 (494 yards, 5.1 ypc, 5 TDs). Just like Ingram last weekend, UNC’s starting RB Ty Chandler is plenty capable of doing some damage as well (588 yards, 5.5 ypc, 7 TD), so the Irish need to clean up the tackling and swarm to the ball, similar to how they shut down the Wisconsin running backs back in September.

Finally, UNC WR Josh Downs (60 receptions, 837 yards, 8 TD) is like Drake London in terms of being THE focal point of the passing game. So, the Irish should treat him just like they did Drake London, letting him have whatever he wants in the middle of the field but denying him over the top and in the red zone. Downs isn’t quite as good as London, so hopefully the Irish can once again keep the #1 opposing wideout out of the end zone, even without Kyle Hamilton back there as the ultimate security blanket/trump card — Hamilton was just ruled out for Saturday due to his injury (meaning UNC has gotten to play 3 out of 4 halves against the Irish in 2020 and 2021 without having to face Hamilton...lucky bastards).

Okay, that’s all we’ve got for this week — does anyone have any questions?

Great, well please let me know if you do, and per usual, I will send out the link to this deck so you all have it to reference.

Thanks everybody, have a great rest of your week, and please keep me posted on any progress/developments in our project timeline!

See ya!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

I wonder how much nap time I can get away with blocking off on my calendar right now...