1 – A Josh By Any Other Name: Chances are the next time a reporter refers to Brian Kelly’s freshman running back in the familiar rather than the formal the Irish head coach won’t need clarification.
Such was the case two weeks ago when Kelly was posed a question regarding “Josh,” but 143 rushing yards with three carries in excess of 20 yards – and perhaps more important, a third-and-short conversion (Adams was 1 for 2 in that regard Saturday) – is a development sure to keep Josh Adams’ name at the top of his head coach’s mental rolodex.
Provided C.J. Prosise returns no worse from the wear following what Kelly offered Sunday was a potential concussion/neck injury, Notre Dame might finally have the 1-2 punch it planned previously (pre-Tarean Folston injury) at the position. Prosise sprinting toward the wide side on the Jet Sweep with Adams in the backfield would seem particularly vexing for a defense on 2nd and 5.
2 – Second Score Works Once More: Notre Dame scored the second touchdown of Saturday’s contest at Pittsburgh and in doing, the Irish moved to 34-5 during the Kelly era after such an occurrence. The all-important “second score” is relevant in that it either extends a team’s lead (if they scored the game’s first touchdown) and thus offers control of the contest early, or mitigates the damage already done by allowing the opponent to hit pay dirt first.
And you thought I liked this summer’s “Stuffs” stat? I may never let go of the Touchdown No. 2 Theory and its many merits…
3 – The Trophy Wives: Polygamy is frowned upon around these parts, but Notre Dame fans might as well face it: they’re married to a quartet of muses for the remainder of 2015.
October foes Clemson (9-0), Navy (7-1), USC (6-3), and Temple (8-1) are now an aggregate 30-5 on the season, and with Navy’s win over previously undefeated Memphis, and Clemson’s conquering of pseudo-contender Florida State, the Irish resume ranks among the elite in terms of quality wins.
But the search for a so-called “Signature Win” remains paramount, and that means 8-1 Stanford has to handle its business at home against Oregon and archrival California (color me concerned) for the Irish to have a final chance to impress the Playoff Selection Committee.
4– Slow Your Roll: With expected wins over Wake Forest and Boston College, Notre Dame is likely to do no better than tread water in the Selection Committee’s eyes over the next two weekends. While it’s hard to see the Irish slow-playing the Demon Deacons on Senior Day, style points should be considered when facing the nation’s top-ranked defense in Fenway Park one week later. (Unfortunately, these games don’t count as “breaks” at all, because both defenses have a penchant for the physical.)
A 20-3 or 24-3 win over the Eagles would likely suffice, but an ugly 21-9 slugfest, regardless of the tenor of the contest, could lessen the fickle Committee’s perception of Kelly’s crew.
5 – Pitt’s Problematic Push? Lost amid the weekly angst that accompanies Notre Dame fans vis-à-vis a leaky Irish secondary was a situation of potential consequence up front: Pittsburgh’s offensive line fared well in terms of providing an initial push against the Irish rush defense.
While the numbers were far from debilitating, it’s notable that the Panthers matched Notre Dame with 175 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry, though part of the problem therein was the Irish second level of defense failed to contain resourceful quarterback Nate Peterman (two scrambles in excess of 25 yards).
Stanford tends to get a push, too. And Kevin Hogan is a touch more effective than Nate Peterman, that’s all I’m saying…
6 – Kizer’s Six-Pack: Raise your hand if you had DeShone Kizer accounting for six touchdowns in a road game this season? Kizer has joined former Irish backups-turned-legends Tony Rice (1987) and Kevin McDougal (1993) as modern-era, unexpected marvels at the position. Players that guided their teams to championship contention.
(Though in deference to Rice, no Irish fans felt the season was lost when the ballyhooed sophomore took over for injured senior Terry Andrysiak in Game 4).
Rice had the Irish in title contention until late November (8-1, ranked #7) while McDougal engineered the same down to the final, crooked vote. Kizer’s end-season path is much more manageable than either Rice’s (at Penn State; at #2 Miami) or McDougal’s (#1 FSU, #16 BC).
7 – Will Freaking Fuller: Update – Still great.
8 – Slotted for Success? It’s time to consider moving safety Matthias Farley back to the nickel role from which he made myriad big plays last season. Farley’s 21 aggregate total of 21 was just a touch behind Jaylon Smith’s 22.5 (TFL, sacks, PD, FF, FR, INT). And three of Farley’s four interceptions last fall provided major momentum changes as did his goal line theft Saturday in the Steel City.
I can’t imagine the fifth-year senior’s not a better option than double duty for slot receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., and clearly the staff doesn’t feel freshman Nick Coleman, sophomore Nick Watkins, or junior Devin Butler can handle his business on the perimeter to allow KeiVarae Russell to shift inside.
9 – Release the Hounds: Notre Dame’s defense won on 8 of 14 third downs Saturday. Four of those included blitz pressure that forced an errant throw while a fifth concluded in a quarterback sack (by Romeo Okwara). It’s readily apparent that Jaylon Smith (especially) and the Irish safeties are key to the defense’s pass rush over the next three to five contests.
Which reminds me: the oft-overlooked loss from this Irish squad wasn’t necessarily Shaun Crawford or Durham Smythe, but sub package playmaker Drue Tranquill. An in-the-box Tranquill would provide much-needed speed at the second level on the game’s money down.
10 – Wire-to-Wire: Notre Dame’s win over the Panthers marked the first since a Sept. 26 beating of UMass in which the Irish never trailed, and it was just the third time this season a contest didn’t include a tie (Texas, and a 14-13 lead over UMass due to a missed PAT).
As noted above, wire-to-wire wins with a healthy final margin (just cover the spreads) must be the order of the day over the next two weeks.
-- On to Senior Week and endless questions along the lines of “How special is it…?