It’s been a bit, huh? Yeah, I feel it too and it was a long couple of weeks since writing my article following the Irish’s victory over Pitt. The disappointment that was the Clemson loss and followed up by a bye week made the wait for this forthcoming column a long exercise in restraint. I even thought of writing a story around the “The four reasons we lost to Clemson” but that would have been too much, and I think I might have lost my mind going through the analysis and tape of that matchup. A game in South Carolina that Notre Dame should have won was all for naught and that made this matchup against the Demon Deacons just that much more important and necessary as we were hoping to see our team get back on track.
On a sunny, blue-sky filled day in South Bend, the Irish delivered on Senior Day sending out lots of players partaking in their last home game in Notre Dame Stadium with a victory. After a sluggish start on offense, the Irish dominated in the second half and finished off Wake Forest by a final score of 45-7.
And I was there in attendance, this weekend was the annual DCD (Drew, Craytor, Dom) weekend where I get together with two of my best friends from Notre Dame. Since we graduated from ND in 2000, we have been together for at least one game a year in 21 of those 23 years. Friendships matter and they last forever.
By now, those of you who follow me, you know the drill. We are going through our countdown to eleven regular (now including the postseason plus one ;)) season wins for our Irish and with victories in eight out of our eleven games, our original “Eleven Reasons Why...” column has now moved to “Four Reasons Why...” with wins over Navy (11), Tennessee St (10), NC State (9), Central Michigan (8), Duke (7), Southern Cal (6), Pitt (5) and Wake Forest (4).
Let’s get after it and in no particular order...
#1 - That’s the Sam Hartman we know and love:
If what we saw against Clemson was probably his worst outing, Saturday against Wake Forest was the Sam Hartman that we all expected to see across every game this season. He finished the day 21-29 for 277 yards and 4 TDs. His stats were even more impressive when you notice that he started off the day with two completions in his first seven pass attempts. Sure it felt like a different day for Sam as he faced his old teammates, coaches and friends, but it was a great moment for him as he had the chance to say goodbye to Notre Dame in his final home game.
While this year did not materialize like a lot of us had hoped, I think we can all agree that Sam Hartman has become a big figure in Notre Dame football history. The ND fanbase has embraced him on a level we haven’t seen before, he has shown his love for ND which has been so refreshing to see, and we have all caught glimpses of what an elite QB can do for an offense.
I know we would all like to have a few of these games back this year, but all in all, I have enjoyed having Sam Hartman as our Notre Dame quarterback. Looking forward to the season finale this weekend, let’s see if he can replicate his play at home on the road against Stanford.
#2 - This defense just continues to deliver:
I think the stat that was quoted was a total of eight TDs given up by Notre Dame’s defense in six home games this year. That # would be impressive on its own, but it is even better when you think of some of the offenses that have come to the Bend this year in Ohio State and USC.
Saturday afternoon was much of what we have come to expect from this unit. They are just really, really good and might we say the word....ELITE. Yes, this is an elite defense that has done its job in every game this season, and after giving up a TD in the second quarter to the Deacs, the Irish defenders held Wake scoreless for the final 41 minutes of the game. Included in that was a caused fumble early in the 3rd quarter which led to a quick TD which sealed the win for the Irish.
Kudos to Coach Al Golden and the whole defensive staff. They have everyone playing at such a high level right now and it is just fun football to watch. Teams have a hard time running against the Irish, it’s really hard to pass against the Irish and it is certainly tough to connect for long plays.
Here’s to hoping that a lot of the key guys who have one or more years left, let’s hope they decide to come back and give it one more ride next year.
#3 - Freshmen WRs stepped up:
A big part of Sam Hartman’s day was the connection that he is starting to develop with his Freshmen wide receivers. Unfortunately it is happening too late in the season, but Saturday was a glimpse of what can come as the Irish pass catchers were led by Jaden Greathouse, Rico Flores and Jordan Faison. Flores went over 100 yards on the day and Greathouse and Faison both caught TD passes. It was an impressive day and one that these three can build on as they will continue to be a big part of the Irish offense this year and into the following seasons.
We can all lament what happened to the WRs this year, especially Jayden Thomas being injured for most of the year, Deion Colzie missing pretty much the whole year due to injury and the same with KK Smith and Matt Salerno. Injuries have plagued this group the whole season as almost all of them dealt with hamstring issues and other issues, but on the good side of things, Chris Tyree has emerged this year as a playmaker and it was also great to see Tobias Merriweather score a TD this past weekend. If things work out, we should have Tyree, Thomas, Colzie, Merriweather, Flores, Greathouse, Faison, Smith and Braylon James all back next year. Add into that three promising incoming freshmen WRs and the unit could be really good next year and into the future.
#4 - The home field advantage has been a big plus this year:
The Irish went 5-1 across their home games this season with the only loss being against the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. And we don’t need to relive that game and what happened at the end of regulation, we could all take a break from analyzing that game. Needless to say, we could have been undefeated at home and across our six home games, we outscored our opponents 263 - 71. We have been a dominant team at home and I think we would all agree that our offensive operation has been better, the team has looked more focused / confident and they have fed off the crowd.
If there has been one thing that Coach Marcus Freeman and his staff can learn from this year, it is taking what they have been able to do at home and replicating it on the road. Outside of the NC State game, the Irish mightily struggled in road tilts at Duke, Louisville and Clemson. The mindset of the team seems different on the road, they struggle when things don’t go their way, the offense has digressed when not at home, and they just seem like a different squad than what we were all hoping to see when the lights shine the brightest. It is something that CMF will have to remedy and something he will have to work hard on around figuring out how to change the mindset of his squad. And that starts this weekend as we travel to Stanford for what should be a revenge game due to what happened last year inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Oh what a season this could have been for Notre Dame. Things were lining up so nicely as we finally had the QB we all thought could lead us to not just the playoff, but a playoff win. The one question mark at the start was the defense and what we would see from them as there were lots of unknowns. Who would have thought that the tables would turn across these Saturdays as the defense became one of the most reliable in all of college football, and our offense looked rudderless at times even though the talent was there to win every game.
While there is one more game to go and the chance is still there to finish 9-3, I think we all thought the floor was 10-2 with a ceiling of 11-1 or 12-0. This Saturday we must go out and get a solid win and position ourselves for a good bowl matchup against what will probably be an SEC team on January 1st.
Lastly, shout out to all the Notre Dame players playing their final home game in an Irish uniform. It has been a long and winding road for them, but they are graduating with their Notre Dame degrees (some of them multiple degrees) and they have played football at the highest of levels while juggling an academic course load that will prepare them to be successful in whatever path they decide to take. THANK YOU to all those players who gave so much for our University, congrats on a wonderful career, good luck in your last regular season game against the Cardinal and go get that win.
Yes, I will see you next week for “Three Reasons Why Notre Dame Beat Stanford.”
And finally, shout out to Sam Assaf and the Notre Dame lacrosse teammates who got together for this awesome photo after the game on Saturday. Lacrosse season is not too far away now, time to defend that championship...