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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — 13th Data Point Week

It’s time to sit back, relax, and watch lots of better teams play huge games for a chance at the Playoff while we focus on recruiting, coaching, and the transfer portal

*yawns as I walk from the bedroom down the hall to the kitchen to make some coffee, noticing how tired I am despite the 4-day weekend and how the floor is creaking ever so louder due to the Thanksgiving feast’s worth of LBs I put on during that time*

Man, I need some coffee this morning — long holiday weekends are great, but they definitely sometimes don’t really feel like a vacation at all. Luckily, I have a bunch of PTO I can’t roll over and thus plan to use one day on Friday to follow up Thanksgiving with another long weekend — playing chess, not checkers out here.

Unfortunately that means I have 4 days to fit in 5 days’ worth of work during a very busy time, so that’s not super fun. But like the Michigan Wolverines and their manufactured “Michigan vs. Everybody” attitude that helped them win 3 games without Jimbo Harbaugh, I vow to overcome this imaginary adversity I created for myself!

Okay, I’ve got my coffee — time to go log on and dive into this early morning project call and cross a big item off my list for the short week. Deep breath...and let’s do this.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Gooood morning everyone! Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all — I hope you all had a great long weekend!

What was that, Hank? Ope, yep, I forgot to also wish you all a Happy Cyber Monday — the true reason for the season, amiright you guys?!? Ha ha ha...oh man...

Yeah, yeah — I had a great one, I got to spend it with my fiancée’s family for the first time, so that was a lot of fun and it went well and I ate and drank PLENTY over the course of 4 days with that crew. Yeah, yeah absolutely.

Okay folks, well we have a condensed meeting this week due to numerous conflicts and also just less content to get through than normal coming off the holiday weekend, so let’s go ahead and dive into it and make sure we get everyone out of here in 30 minutes!

Can you all see my screen?

Awesome.

Since we are only meeting for 30 minutes today, we’ve adjusted the Agenda accordingly.

As you can see here, with no competitor to research and learn about this week, we’re going to mostly just focus on recapping Last Week’s Results, hand out some recognition for the shellacking the Irish put on the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, and then get to What’s Important Now as we head into Conference Championship Weekend and that month-long gap between regular season’s end and bowl games.

We can skip the next two slides, per usual — I think we can all recite these slides by heart at this point.

Okay awesome, so here are Last Week’s Results from that 56-23 win in Palo Alto by Marcus Freeman and the lads.

Let’s start with the negatives, as there are just a handful and I’d like to end this slide on a more positive note, since there’s plenty to be happy with after this game. The Irish got off to yet another slow start in this one, allowing Stanford to take an early 3-0 lead, giving up some big plays, and just refusing to take care of the ball in the first half.

Sam Hartman tossed a pretty bad interception, and also managed to fumble the ball at the end of what was otherwise a really nice run to pick up a chunk gain with his legs on Notre Dame’s first possession. He also just didn’t have a great game in general. Now, he really didn’t need to considering how wildly efficient the ND running game was on the day, but 8-for-14 for 140 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception against one of the absolute worst defenses in the country doesn’t exactly scream “fantastic finish to his season at ND.” Sam still made some really nice throws that we can get to in the Positives section, but overall it really wasn’t much of a game to write home about from the accomplished 6th year signal caller.

Besides Hartman’s two turnovers, the Irish also turned it over on a Jadarian Price fumble on a kick return following Stanford taking a 13-7 lead last in the first quarter. Steve Angeli also tossed a pick almost immediately upon entering the game in garbage time, putting a bit of a damper in the argument by those of us who’ve been saying we think he could be a legitimate starter for the Irish in 2024. I don’t think we can say he CAN’T do it based on one throw in one game, but it certainly didn’t look great.

So, that’s 4 turnovers on the day in total — against a Stanford team who entered the game as one of the worst teams in America at forcing turnovers. Woof.

The Irish defense wasn’t sparkling all day in this one, either — particularly in the first half. They gave up a 49-yard rush to Stanford’s backup QB Justin Lamson, who’s considered their best running QB and who turned a 3rd-and-1 QB sneak into a massive gain that set up the Cardinal’s first score, thanks in part to D.J. Brown being very out of position when Lamson made one little cut and took off out of the scrum.

And then later on, the ND defense surrendered a 53-yard reception to Emmitt Smith’s son, E.J. Smith, on a corner blitz that left Jordan Botelho having to do too much in coverage, failing to do anything to stop the big gain. Smith was allowed to make 7 catches for 116 yards on the day, picking up the Casey Filkins torch from 2022 as the random Stanford back who’s allowed to go bananas on the defense basically out of nowhere.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, ND allowed a really bad Stanford offense who was averaging just 20.4 points per game on the season entering the contest to actually exceed their average and score 23 on the evening. Yes, one score came against the Irish’s backups in garbage time, but still it wasn’t always the most inspired effort by Notre Dame, especially in allowing 143 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry to a team who was averaging 116 yards rushing per game and 3.35 YPC through their first 11 games of 2023.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that having this game airing on the Pac-12 Network (likely the last-ever football game they broadcast, which is hilarious) and requiring ND fans to all sign up for FUBO free trials only to cancel them IMMEDIATELY after the game was really annoying, and I feel bad for the FUBO data analysts who have to report on how many people signed up and then canceled all in one day — not a great result for them, and really annoying for us (and potentially expensive for those who forgot to cancel it — THIS IS YOUR REMINDER!!).

With that all said, let’s not let some mental mistakes and some early obstacles to success distract us from recognizing that Freeman’s squad doubled-up the Cardinal on their home field (however little of an advantage that is for them), and ended up absolutely steamrolling a Power-5 opponent on the way to scoring 56 points and winning by 3 scores.

Of course, the main story on the day was RB Audric Estime, who was playing likely his last game in a gold helmet as he prepares for the combine and a hopefully long and fruitful NFL career at a brutal position to play for a long time in the league. The junior was DOMINANT essentially from the start, picking up 9 yards on his first carry of the game and then proceeding to average just a bit over that (9.5) on every rushing attempt going forward, finishing the game with 238 yards rushing and FOUR touchdowns on the day.

He had 140 yards and 2 touchdowns in just the first half, and then proceeded to challenge and nearly match/beat Julius Jones’ all-time game rushing yards record (262), falling just 24 yards short and landing him 4th-best in the program’s history (Phil Carter had 254 in a game in 1980 and Vagas Ferguson had 255 in a game in 1978) — despite playing on 3 quarters.

Estime’s huge day also elevated him to 1,341 rushing yards on the season, which is 5th all-time for a season at ND, two yards behind Reggie Brooks for 4th place. Vagas Ferguson’s 1979 season of 1,437 yards is #1, and so if Estime were to play in the bowl game (it would be surprising to say the least, but just for the sake of fun), he would only need 97 rushing yards to set the record.

Estime was also the first ND running back to go over 200 yards rushing in a game since Dexter Williams in 2018, and set the single-season rushing touchdown record at 18 for this 2023 season. Add in that he is now 11th all-time in Notre Dame history in career rushing yards, despite only really seeing time during two seasons. Not too shabby, y’all.

We could all wax poetic about how much we love this kid for HOURS, and I already spoke last week about how much we’re going to miss Audric Estime and how much of a joy he’s been to watch blossom into a leader and absolute stud in the Irish backfield. It’s a ludicrous, confounding shame that he wasn’t even named a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award this year with the season he’s had — 8th in the nation in rushing yards, 10th in rushing yards per game, 3rd in rushing touchdowns, and 28th in yards per carry, with most guys above him not coming even remotely close to his volume of carries, aside from Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon. Just a sensational junior year for Big ‘Dric Energy, and it’s gonna be so exciting to see where he lands in the pros and how well he can do at the next level with his combination of size, power, nimbleness, and deceptive speed.

When you put up 56 points in a game, it’s obviously not JUST due to the performance of one stud player, even if that one stud is Estime going OFF on the Cardinal defense. Jordan Faison continues to blossom as a wild diamond in the rough as the scholarship lacrosse player who walked onto the football team and became one of their better receivers, reeling in 3 more passes on Saturday for 66 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown where he made the defender look both silly and slow.

Jaden Greathouse got himself a nice 15-yard touchdown reception, Tobias Merriweather made a really nice catch that I missed somehow but got everybody on Twitter pretty pumped, and Gi’Bran Payne got himself another nice goal line rushing TD.

The offense went 7-for-9 on 3rd down, picked up 26 first downs, and put up 521 total yards of offense on the night. That was largely driven by the offensive line helping pave the way for 381 rushing yards and 7.9 YPC as a team, with 5 rushing touchdowns scored by Irish backs. Not a bad send-off by Joe Alt and perhaps Blake Fisher, bulldozing a really undermanned and inexperienced Stanford front seven to create massive running lanes all day for Estime and co.

Defensively, after the initial bumpy start, Al Golden’s group once again put the clamps down on an opposing offense, allowing the Cardinal to score just 7 points in the second half and allowing them to convert on just 5 of their 16 third down attempts, 1 of their 4 fourth down attempts, and to pick up just 19 first downs.

The really impressive performance there came from the secondary and pass rush, who forced Stanford into completing just 21 of their 42 passing attempts as multiple QBs cycled through. The Irish surrendered just 216 yards passing and 5.1 yards per attempt on the evening, with no touchdown passes and 1 nice interception by LB Jack Kiser.

Cam Hart and Benjmain Morrison held Stanford’s stud WR Elic Ayomanor to 7 catches for 58 yards and no scores, tying the bow on an absolutely elite season of DB play by ND.

Marist Liufau and J.D. Bertrand turned in nice games at linebacker, and we saw Nana Osafo-Mensah and Rylie Mills both pick up a sack apiece as the defensive line had another good game getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc.

Jaylen Sneed also gave Irish fans another glimpse into why he can still be great, forcing a fumble on a hit so hard that his own helmet flew off, like a steering wheel that flies off while you’re driving.

Jason Onye blocked a field goal in the 2nd half, and that blocked kick led to an absolutely electric 60-yard TD return by Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who had yet another awesome game (2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FG return TD) in the final regular season game of his collegiate career. I can’t stress enough how fantastic of a grad transfer he was for this squad and this program, and I think he’s truly played his way into a nice opportunity to be drafted and/or make an NFL squad and maybe carve out a nice little career in the pros thanks to his development and performance at Notre Dame.

That stiff-arm on the poor Stanford holder who valiantly tried to tackle him is a must-see football highlight and it makes me giggle every time I watch it (I have watched it upwards of 30 times since it happened).

My final positive to note is certainly not something that will necessarily excite us all, but I think it’s still worth noting nonetheless: the win put ND at 9-3 for the year, which certainly isn’t great (we all know this should have been a 10-2 or even 11-1 season based on how it played out), but it’s a step up from 2022’s regular season record and sets Freeman up to win double-digit games in his second season, which would be nice progress, even if it’s not as drastic of progress as some would like, especially considering how this team seemed set up for a playoff run with the QB/running game/defense it has.

Year 3 will be big for Freeman, as the CFP expands to 12 teams and the schedule looks somewhat soft but definitely won’t be easy (a season opener in College Station against a program with a new, exciting coach — whoever that ends up being...Mike Elko??? — won’t be a fun way to kick off the season, especially with a new QB). There are probably some coaching changes ahead — some on purpose, some necessary due to attrition to other opportunities — and some other changes Freeman and co. need to put in place, but the Irish will have a lot of young talent ready to contribute in 2024, and so these first two years — however disappointing — can still be seen as great building blocks for something greater.

Now it’s time to just go get it.

With all that said, let’s make sure we take the time today to recognize the Team Members of the Week, as we all know that celebrating our successes is a key focus for us both on this project and overall as an organization — every little thing you do for this company is much appreciated.

It should be no surprise to anyone to see the group we’d like to award Team Members of the Week to today. Congrats are in order for Audric, Joe, Pat, Ashton, Billy, Blake, Javontae, Jordan, Jaden, Gi’Bran, Rylie, Nana, Marist, J.D., Jack, Jason, Benjamin, and Cam. You all did some great work this week and we truly appreciate all you do for this company.

Please check your inboxes immediately after this call for an Amazon gift card — it’s Cyber Monday and we know you all are monitoring those deals and looking for great gifts for your loved ones this holiday season!

Cool, now let’s get a quick update on where we are in the Project Timeline...

As you can see, we’re officially at the “13th Data Point Week,” when conference members argue they prove their superiority to anyone who doesn’t have a conference championship game to play in, while the Irish sit at home, eat cheeseburgers, and just enjoy a weekend off to watch some other good football.

Considering we don’t have an opponent to prepare for this week, then, we can dive straight into the final slide of the deck and discuss What’s Important Now, since the Irish’s regular season is over and we’re gonna have a nice ~4 week stretch until it’s time to talk about a bowl game opponent.

I won’t spend too much time on this slide, but here are the highlights on what you need to know heading into this week/weekend!

1. Figure out offensive coordinator and strength coach. This obviously might be something you can’t finalize until most other teams’ seasons are done, but you have to go into 2024 with a good plan for running the offense and for maintaining the strength program Matt Balis left behind. It sounds like Freeman might stick with Parker, but changes still can be made with play-calling, scheme, etc.

2. If ND is truly going to go after a QB transfer, they need to finalize their short list and put out feelers and get this going ASAP. Will Howard just entered the Portal and ND can’t wait too long to make their moves. Also, same goes for other positions that may be of need — Osafo-Mensah and Tyree are already in the Portal, so identifying receivers, d-linemen, and maybe safeties and o-linemen is necessary the next couple weeks.

3. Rest up/get healthy for the bowl game and combine, etc. The team is in pretty good overall shape with regards to injuries, but with potential possible matchups against teams like LSU or Oklahoma State or other equivalent teams, it won’t be a pushover opponent. Plus, the old guys need to prep themselves for the combine/draft workouts. Get well, y’all!

4.Do your best to retain the key assistant coaches who will be targeted with offers (Golden, McCullough, Mickens), and also put together top alternative options if any of them move on to a better job. Freeman’s coaching staff has strengths and weaknesses, and the last thing he can afford is to lose his top assistants and replace them with second-rate guys.

5. Go RECRUIT, baybee!!! The 2024 class is largely done for ND, but you still need to make sure you lock down the commits and kick the tires on some targets whose top choices maybe aren’t performing or who fired their coach. Also, get some momentum with 2025 – Deuce and the fellas need friends in their class!

6. Enjoy a really good weekend of football on the couch. This is the first time in a while it feels like the CFP could end up a lot of different ways, with so many undefeated or 1-loss teams playing for conference titles. Soak it all in and enjoy some great football games without having to stress about Gerad Parker’s offense. My personal recommendations:

  • Oregon/Washington on a Friday night to determine the first CFP bid
  • Jerry Kill and OUR New Mexico State Aggies taking on Jerry Falwell’s losers
  • Oklahoma State trying to spoil Texas and ensure for the 13th time in a row that Texas is indeed not back
  • Louisville and FSU being a pretty even game without Jordan Travis
  • Georgia and Alabama in yet another King Kong/Godzilla slugfest
  • Iowa dragging Michigan down into the mud, where anything can happen

Okay you guys, that’s it for this week — anyone have any questions?

Perfect, well per usual I will send out the link to this deck right after the call, and hope you all have an excellent and relaxing week!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Okay, time to put my head down and get through an insane work week so as to get to this weekend and REALLY enjoy a bunch of time bumming around and watching football. Leggo.