Well, this lessons learned session is going to be a little less fun than it seemed at the halfway point, but as promised, here we are to review our preseason predictions now that the regular season has wrapped up. The bowl game could change things slightly, but I don’t think it would make a big difference anywhere. And in any case, we made these predictions about the regular season, so, uh, there.
Big Picture Stuff
What will Notre Dame’s 2017 regular season record be?
- 10-2 or better: Staff, 25%; Readers, 26%
- 9-3: Staff, 17%; Readers: 43%
- 8-4 or worse: Staff, 58%; Readers: 31%
Kudos to our brilliant readers for nailing this one. The interesting thing here is that the actual regular season record met or exceeded expectations for 75% of the staff and 74% of the readers – and yet it still feels massively disappointing. I think that mostly relates to how the season went down; at 7-1 after pummeling USC and NC State, we all subconsciously revised our preseason predictions. I think many also considered a 2-1 record against Georgia, USC, and Stanford to be one measure of a successful season, and of course we didn’t hit that.
What’s your biggest concern heading into the season?
- Defensive line depth chart: Staff, 67%; Readers: 37%
- Safety depth chart: Staff, 0%; Readers: 24%
- Defensive fundamentals: Staff, 8%; Readers: 11%
- 2016 hangover: Staff, 17%; Readers: 2%
In hindsight… WHAT THE HELL WERE WE THINKING? Given their performance over the last month of the season and the questions about them all the way back in camp, it’s pretty mind-boggling that the staff wasn’t more concerned about the safeties. Nick Coleman was a lifesaver this year (more on that below), and Mike Elko did a good job of hiding them overall, but they eventually got exposed. Interestingly, the leading concern for both staff and readers, the defensive line, ended up being not a concern at all. In fact, you could make a very reasonable case for them as the best unit on the defense and third best on the team behind the offensive line and running backs. Elko and the much-maligned Mike Elston deserve credit for that.
Who will be Notre Dame’s offensive MVP?
- Josh Adams: Staff, 33%; Readers, 42%
- Brandon Wimbush: Staff, 25%; Readers: 32%
- Equanimeous St. Brown: Staff, 33%; Readers: 11%
- Mike McGlinchey: Staff, 8%; Readers: 8%
- Quenton Nelson: Staff, 0%; Readers: 6%
- Tony Jones: Staff, 0%; Readers: 2%
Despite the late season fade and nagging injury issues, Josh Adams was clearly the team’s offensive MVP this season. Big Q probably deserved to be second on this list – maybe even first. ESB was almost a non-factor, mostly through no fault of his own, and Wimbush was a game-wrecker when he was on but wildly inconsistent. And who voted for Tony Jones??
Who will be Notre Dame’s defensive MVP?
- Nyles Morgan: Staff, 67%; Readers, 92%
- Daelin Hayes: Staff, 17%; Readers, 4%
- Drue Tranquill: Staff, 8%; Readers, 4%
- Julian Love: Staff, 8%; Readers, 0%
Morgan was a bit of an engima this season. He was solid, certainly, and occasionally excellent, but he didn’t emerge as the year-long dominant force many expected him to be. Hayes played well, but not well enough to merit MVP consideration. I think it says something about the performance of the defense as a whole – in a positive way, stop snickering – that it’s hard to pick someone out. I would probably go with someone not on the preseason radar: Te’Von Coney, who led the team in tackles (99) and tackles for loss (12.5). 18s writer ndroyalsfan pointed out that Coney had the season many of us thought Morgan would, which is a good way to sum it up.
Julian Love definitely deserves honorable mention at least, with a school-record 17 PBUs, 3 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns. Jerry Tillery belongs in the conversation as well; from the DT position, he led the team in sacks (4.0) and hurries (10), was tied for 2nd in TFLs (8.5), and was 6th in tackles (52).
Who will provide the play of the year?
- Brandon Wimbush: Staff, 33%; Readers, 32%
- Equanimeous St. Brown: Staff, 17%; Readers, 30%
- Alize Mack: Staff, 25%; Readers, 4%
- Josh Adams: Staff, 8%; Readers: 17%
- CJ Sanders: Staff, 17%; Readers: 6%
A couple of Wimbush’s long runs against Boston College were strong contenders, but with fewer highlight moments as the year went on he can’t snag this one. Poor ESB was one of the main victims of Wimbush’s accuracy issues and had very few chances to show off his ability. Alize Mack… Look, I like the kid. Let’s not go there. CJ Sanders never had that big special teams moment that some of us expected.
But for 10 weeks, Josh Adams was the best running back in the country, and he gave us a new splash reel every week. For me, I’ll take his back-breaking 84-yard jaunt against USC as the play of the year.
Which freshman will have the biggest immediate impact?
- Brock Wright: Staff, 42%; Readers, 13%
- Isaiah Robertson: Staff, 42%; Readers, 20%
- Kurt Hinish: Staff, 8%; Readers: 15%
- Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: Staff, 8%; Readers, 2%
A few other guys came up too, but all with relatively small percentages of the vote. I think this is an easy one; MTA blew away the competition, emerging as a legitimate front line player at a critical position.
Wins in first 6 games: 5
Result: Push. Damn it. 52% of the staff and 61% of the readers took the over.
Average team rushing yards in Brian Kelly’s tenure: 2,127
Result: Waaaaaay over, 3,349. 92% of the staff and 89% of the readers took the over. We’re wicked smaht. The 2017 edition of the Fighting Irish rolled up 24% more rushing yards than Kelly’s previous high in 2015; in fact it’s one of the best rushing performances in the history of Notre Dame football, albeit with a rather substantial standard deviation.
Average team passing yards in Brian Kelly’s tenure: 3,272
Result: Waaaaaay under, 2,110. 92% of the staff and 59% of the readers took the under, which was a smart play. The Irish racked up (?) 27% fewer passing yards than Kelly’s previous low in 2012. I don’t really feel like tracking it down, but even without the research it feels safe to say that it was one of the least prolific Irish passing attacks ever. Damn it (again).
Average team sacks in Brian Kelly’s tenure: 24
Average team tackles for loss in Brian Kelly’s tenure: 70
Average team interceptions in Brian Kelly’s tenure: 12.6
Results: Sacks, under, 22; TFLs, over, 75; INTs, under, 10. The staff voted for the over on each item, 58%/58%/67%, respectively, while the readers also took the over on each, 68%/72%/56%. After nine games the defense seemed well positioned to push for the line in sacks and interceptions, with 20 and 10, but those stats faded in the final three games. On the other hand, they stayed strong in TFLs, recording the second best number of the season against Stanford (9) and the fifth-best against Miami (5). There’s a reasonable opportunity to beat the sack average and inch closer to the interception average with a solid bowl game performance as well, which is fair since these averages include bowl performances.
While we’ve eschewed comparisons to 2016 generally speaking, it’s worth noting that these disruption stats are all up from last year – +8 in sacks, +14 in TFLs, and +2 in INTs. And that a year after registering 3.0 sacks total, the defensive line this year logged 15.0, and four of the top five sackers were DL. I like Mike Elko’s chances to improve the defense further in 2018 as he undoes more BVG-era damage.
Josh Adams rushing yards: 1,100
Result: Comfortably over, 1,386. 50% of the staff and 54% of readers took the over. Adams logged the best individual rushing season under Kelly and the third best season in school history, behind only Vagas Ferguson and Alan Pinkett. He needs 51 yards in the bowl game to pass Ferguson’s 11-game total.
Equanimeous St. Brown receiving yards: 1,000
Result: Sad trombone, 468. 50% of the staff and 63% of the readers took the over. Even with a new QB, this seemed like an easy mark for a guy who put up 961 yards in a year that we didn’t even have a football team. Sadly, with that new QB going through much more growing pains than even the most pessimistic fan expected, St. Brown didn’t even make it halfway to the line.
Brandon Wimbush rushing yards: 400
Result: Obliterated, 765. 58% of the staff and 67% of the readers took the under. Whoops. Wimbush had Tony Rice’s 884-yard record in sight before going into a bit of a shell after hurting his off hand against Wake Forest. Even so, he had a historic season running the football. He also ran for half a yard more per carry than Rice did, and still has an outside shot at getting the record on fewer attempts than Rice had in 1989.
Nyles Morgan tackles: 110
Result: Under, 83. 25% of the staff and 75% of the readers took the over. This line was ambitious, but still a touch behind final-season Jaylon Smith and Manti Te’o’s production. It seemed reasonable. Instead, Morgan actually took a small step back from last year’s 90 tackle performance, while Coney emerged next to him. In a sense it’s unfortunate that everyone expected Morgan to be all-world, as he was very good and it felt a little disappointing. The captain will be missed, though, no matter what the numbers are.
Daelin Hayes sacks: 8.5
Result: Under, 3.0. 67% of the staff and 70% of the readers took the under. In hindsight this line too was overly ambitious; Hayes looked good early but faded as the season went on, which we should’ve expected from a guy who saw his first extended action in almost three years.
Defensive and special teams touchdowns: 4.5
Result: Under, 2. 67% of the staff and 57% of the readers took the over. I set the line with an eye on Kelly’s average of 4.3. Sanders never could quite break free on kick returns, punt returns were mostly an exercise in futility, and Julian Love was the only defensive scorer on the season.
Possessions vs. Navy: 10.5
Result: Under, 7. 80% of you and 83% of the staff took the over. This line is the delineator between blowouts of and close games with (or losses to) Navy. We had seven meaningful possessions. We won 24-17. QED.
Occurrences of “grit” in press conference comments: 50
Result: Not sure, but let’s say over. 58% of the staff and 57% of the readers took the over. I think we were about 70% of the way to the line in the bye week; given that Kelly had even started to use “grit” in the opponent section of his preview pressers, I think we can pretty safely bet we went over.
Dreaded Votes of Confidence handed out by Jack Swarbrick: 1.5
Result: Under, 0. 67% of the staff and the readers took the under. Wise play.
Observer ads taken out by disgruntled alumni: 0.5
Result: Under, 0. 50% of the staff and readers took the under here. Or the over, if you prefer. The unders win, but I think it might have been by a nose – there’s a non-zero probability that somebody somewhere was firing up PowerPoint in the fourth quarter of the Stanford game. Worth pointing out here that the season is not yet over.
Which coordinator will have the biggest impact in 2017?
Mike Elko was the unanimous choice over Chip Long in both surveys. While both units faded in the last few games, the defense held up better. I realize this may be a mildly controversial position, given that they allowed 32 points per game over the final three, but they were put in horrible spots by the offense over and over and did reasonably well. The offense, on the other hand… In the big picture, while Long did an admirable job with the offense, Elko took a defense that was much farther away and made it above average in short order. Elko is the winner here.
Who will start at free safety against Temple?
93% of the staff and 91% of the readers took Nick Coleman over the field, based largely on positive practice reports from spring and fall camps.
Who will start at free safety against Stanford?
67% of the staff and 54% of the readers took Coleman to keep his job all year. Coleman wasn’t the second coming of Hayseed – not yet, anyway – but he was a revelation as an integral part of the defense all season. Did you know that he played the third most snaps among defensive players, behind Love and Tranquill and ahead of Morgan? How many times do you remember him getting burned? I’ll wait. On the flip side, how many times do you remember him coming up on a nice run fill, or chasing a runner down to limit a long gain?
Who will lead the team in touchdowns?
75% of the staff and 54% of the readers took Josh Adams over the field. Since Autry Denson capped off his record-setting career in 1998 with 15 touchdowns on the ground, only four Irish players have hit paydirt via the run more times than Adams did this season; unfortunately for him, one of those four was Brandon Wimbush, who logged a spectacular 14 rushing scores. That’s the most for anyone since Denson and the most ever by an Irish quarterback, shattering the previous record of 10 set by Deshone Kizer. There have been a few other recent seasons with as many or more multi-purpose TDs, most notable among them Golden Tate’s 18 in 2009 (15 receiving, 2 rushing, and 1 punt return).
No matter how you slice it, though, Wimbush had an amazing year in the run game. He even has an outside shot at being the first non-kicker to lead the team in scoring since Tate’s absurd 2009 – he currently has 86 points while Justin Yoon has 90. He would need to go off in the bowl game, but it’s possible.
Who will lead the team in sacks?
58% of the staff and 59% of the readers took Daelin Hayes over the field. Hayes wasn’t far off, tied for second with Drue Tranquill and Khalid Kareem at 3.0 sacks each; it was the once-mercurial Jerry Tillery who paced the team, though, with 4.0 sacks from the interior. As noted above, he also recorded 10 hurries, so he was a pain for opposing passers all season.
Who will lead the team in interceptions?
92% of the staff and 82% of the readers took the field over Julian Love. I TOLD YOU NOT TO SLEEP ON JULIAN LOVE! (Please ignore my predictions of rampant success against Georgia, Miami, and Stanford and take this as evidence of my clairvoyance.) Love not only led the team in picks, he was fifth nationally in interception return yards with 153 and tied for second nationally in interception return TDs with 2.
Well… If you told us preseason that we would be 9-3 and ranked #15 heading into championship week, I think we all would’ve signed up for that. Yet the way the last few weeks unfolded makes that very position extremely difficult to swallow. Maybe we expected too much too soon, or overlooked some key flaws a little too easily; still, there’s definitely a sense that Lucy pulled the ball away again. So much of how the offseason will feel rides on the bowl game result now. Will we see the Notre Dame team that dominated almost everyone for the first 8.75 games, or the one that flopped around to varying degrees over the last 3.25 games? I cautiously hope for the former, but fear the appearance of the latter. Yay, Irish football!
As Christmas appears on the horizon, I’ll close this by wishing you and yours a happy holiday season. Let’s enjoy the ride for the next few weeks, log some quality time with family and friends, and then hopefully close out the year in style with a big bowl win.