For the record, I’m sorry for the easy pun headline, but come on, on a night ND’s own Twitter account turned off the “No Trolling” sign, how do you not go with it?
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) October 7, 2018
The Irish won 45-23.
Also for the record, this game for some time reeked of another classic ND collapse when everything was suddenly lining up for them. It happened last year at Miami, and it happened in 2012 against Pitt (that one they escaped) – this one was never Miami, but it looked dicey for a bit. After the Irish were backed up on second-and-12 at their own 3, up just a point, with the defense suddenly down two starting linemen (one injured, one targeting) and the running game going backwards, it looked like disaster in the making for sure.
Then Dexter activated Wildebeest Mode.
DEXTER WILLIAMS: LONGEST ROAD RUN IN ND HISTORY ☘️☘️☘️ pic.twitter.com/ONLwsMlWMr
— Barstool Irish (@BarstoolIrish) October 7, 2018
From then on, the game was shockingly…not dramatic. Ian Book largely settled down, the running game picked it up some, the defense kept up its very high level of play, and the Irish were 6-0. Easy peasy. Let’s talk about the big stuff.
The offensive line without Bars was alright
If an A+ would’ve been playing exactly like they did without stud guard Alex Bars, who is out for the season, and an F would’ve been 2007 vs Michigan, I’ll give the Irish offensive line somewhere in the B to B+ range. The first half was really a struggle bus for the O-line in the running game as Tech was able to stifle just about everything, but the pass blocking was pretty good throughout the game, and the front five seemed to get stronger as the game went along. All in all, it was a really encouraging night for the line against probably the best defense they’ll face for several weeks, if not the whole rest of the regular season. If you take away both Dexter’s ridiculous run and Newsome’s botched punt, ND averaged a shade under three yards per carry, but things seemed to improve some later in the game, and those numbers are probably affected a little bit by the garbage-time possession Brandon Wimbush ran. (Hey, Brandon Wimbush! He’s a guy!)
Dexter is probably ND’s second-most important offensive player now
Yeah, so this is a thing. Williams’ run, the longest play from scrimmage on the road in ND history, probably saved the game from being, at least, dramatic down the stretch. Even discounting his 97-yard run, he went for 81 yards on his other 16 carries on a night no one else could begin to find running room. (Tony Jones was clearly not 100 percent and if there were any other experienced backs available he probably wouldn’t have played.)
Other backs or not, though, Williams is very clearly an indispensable part of this offense. His running takes some pressure off Ian Book. If he can remain durable in the face of far and away his heaviest workloads of his career (and believe me, I am knocking furiously on wood here), you could make a very good case he’s even better than Josh Adams last year.
Your QB update
Ian Book needs to work on his deep ball. Like, a lot. He missed several long throws very badly tonight. That being said, he seemed like his normal unflappable self, and I don’t think he was affected even slightly by his first start in a tough road environment. (His lone brutal miss, the interception, was clearly a missed read and didn’t have anything to do with the crowd, in my opinion.) And he was really, really good in the second half.
And as our Twitter account pointed out, we can get used to Miles Boykin making weird plays and gallivanting to the end zone on throws from Book.
Defensive lines! Depth! It’s awesome!
If you had Stephon Tuitt vs Pitt flashbacks after Julian Okwara was tossed from the game for targeting (with the difference that this time, it was actually targeting), you probably weren’t alone. How was ND going to get pressure on the quarterback without Okwara or Daelin Hayes, who didn’t make the trip due to an injury last week?
The answer is that ND has its best array of talent up front since 2012 and we should get used to that. Khalid Kareem was an absolute animal – and his forced fumble that Julian Love took to the house was a massive, MASSIVE play in the game that seemed less massive (but wasn’t) after Tech got off the mat and scored on the next drive. Jerry Tillery was quieter than he’s been in a while, but still made his presence felt here and there. And their buddies, while they didn’t make many other direct plays, pushed back the Tech line more often than not and kept Ryan Willis – who deserves credit for toughness, if not for talent – from getting comfortable.
Not for nothing, but the secondary, while it wasn’t perfect, does seem to be improving. I barely need to talk about Julian Love and Troy Pride, a legitimately very good duo of cornerbacks (Love is a stone-cold stud), and Jalen Elliott made some nice plays. Keep it up, big man.
It’s starting to get real
ND’s schedule looks a bit less like a total walkover than it did last week – Northwestern won at Michigan State Saturday, and Florida State should’ve beaten Miami and at least appears to be getting frisky – but it still contains six teams that, frankly, shouldn’t beat Notre Dame if the Irish do their job. That doesn’t mean that will happen – current FPI odds say they have about a 1-in-4 chance of going undefeated, and that seems reasonable given this is college football – but it does mean it’s out there, and we don’t have to be afraid of it. Certainly not now. This Va Tech team isn’t great, but they’re decent, and ND beat them by 22 on the road. It’s a really good win, Kelly’s best road win since OU six years ago. Embrace it.