Notre Dame, halfway through the 2017 season, has done almost as much as it could to erase the hideousness of 2016 from our collective consciousness. The visible and statistical difference between this year’s team and last year’s has surprised many Notre Dame fans, myself included. It hasn’t been perfect – there are certainly some warts to work on – but it’s been a pretty fun ride so far. I think any of us would’ve signed up for a 5-1 start with legitimate playoff aspirations still on the table at this point.
As we cruise into the bye halfway through the regular season, we felt this would be a good time to revisit our predictions from our staff and commentariat polls right before the season started. It always bugs us when people do predictions and never circle back around, so here we are. This is the first of a three-part series; the other two parts will look at statistical performance versus non-2016 Irish teams and what could lie ahead in the second half.
Big Picture Questions
50% of the staff took 8-4, while 43% of the readers took 9-3; both are very much still in play. The 5-1 start essentially removes some of the lower scenarios, with all apologies to the 2% of readers who took 6-6, and the 11% of readers and 8% of staff who took 7-5. The remaining slate features five opponents who are currently in the AP Top 25, so by no means do I suggest that getting to 9-3 or better will be easy. However, 7-5 would require, at best, losses to USC, NC State, Miami, and Stanford, with wins over Wake Forest and Navy. I just can’t see this team dropping all four of those games, or dropping three of them and losing one to Wake or Navy. I had us at 10-2, and as loyal readers of the site might guess, I like our chances of getting there. A lot.
67% of the staff said defensive line depth, while 37% of the readers said the same with another 24% tabbing safety depth. I think Mike Elko has done a good job of developing and hiding the safeties, but there’s no hiding a defensive line. The emergence of the line is, for me, the biggest and probably the most pleasant surprise of this season. They haven’t just responded, they’ve crushed it. Not only that, but suddenly defensive end looks like arguably the deepest position on the team, and there’s a real rotation at defensive tackle. I’m still going to be concerned until the season is over, but for right now, this group has done everything you could ask of them.
The staff was split, with 33% taking Josh Adams and 33% taking Equanimeous St. Brown. The readers were more on point, as Adams was the clear winner with 42%. There’s plenty of season to go, of course, but there’s really no argument for the midseason MVP. It’s Josh Adams in a landslide.
67% of the staff and 92% of the readers said Nyles Morgan. Morgan has been fine, but I don’t think he would be my choice for MVP at this point. As crazy as it would’ve sounded in August, I think I’d take Jerry Tillery. Tillery has played like a man on fire all season – he leads the team in sacks (3.0), is tied for the team lead in TFLs (4.5), and from the nose guard position has 27 tackles. In addition, the formerly mercurial talent has also been an anchor for his position group, leading by word and example. He’s been tremendous.
Play of the Year
As you might expect, this was pretty mixed. Brandon Wimbush topped both staff and reader lists, with with 33% and 32%, respectively. You could certainly make a nice splash reel from his scrambles, but I think right now you’d have to take one of Josh Adams’s many long runs (Adams got just 8% of the staff vote and 17% of the reader vote). The second half, with all its marquee opponents, will undoubtedly provide plenty of opportunities for even more memorable plays.
We were all buying the hype on Chip Long’s preference for multiple tight end sets – and appropriately so, since they really have been a big part of the offense. Nonetheless, at this point it looks like both the staff, who tabbed Brock Wright at a 42% clip, and the readers, who chose Cole Kmet at a 30% clip, were all misguided. So who has made the most impact? I think it has to be Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who garnered just 8% of the staff vote and 2% of the reader vote. His ability to step in immediately at DT and play at a relatively high level has been a tremendous boon to the defense.
First-Half Wins: 5
58% of the staff and 61% of the readers took the over here. We were two… freaking… points… away from being right, too. Damn it all.
Average BK Rush Yards: 2,127
92% of the staff and 89% of the readers took the over here, and boy, do we look smart now. The Irish need to average just 40 rush yards per game the rest of the way to top Kelly’s average season in South Bend, and a mere 88 yards per game to top his best season (2012).
Average BK Passing Yards: 3,272
92% of the staff took the under, while just 59% of the readers did the same. Barring some kind of dramatic turnaround, this number is likely quite safe – Notre Dame would need to average 328 yards per game the rest of the way to top it, or 43 yards per game more than Kelly’s highest per-game average here.
Average BK team sacks: 24
Average BK team TFLs: 70
Average BK team INTs: 12.6
58% of the staff and 68% of the readers took the over on sacks. 58% of the staff and 72% of the readers took the over on TFLs. 67% of the staff and 56% of the readers took the over on INTs. We were guzzling Elko-brand Kool Aid from the fire hose on the disruption stats, and right now, all those bets are very much alive. We have 13 sacks, 35 TFLs, and 6 INTs, with almost all the mobile quarterbacks on our schedule behind us.
Josh Adams Rush Yards: 1,100
50% of the staff and 52% of the readers took the over here. With 776 yards in probably 60% of the team’s snaps in the first half of the season, Adams seems poised to obliterate both this line and the top individual rushing season under Kelly, which was Cierre Woods’s 1,102 yard 2011 campaign.
Equanimeous St. Brown Receiving Yards: 1,000
50% of the staff and 63% of the readers took the over. This seemed like a pretty safe bet given that St. Brown logged 961 yards last year, but his team-leading (!) 211 yards at the break are one of the more disappointing notes of the season so far. The thousand yard mark is probably off the table barring something extraordinary, but we’ll see if the bye helps him and the guy throwing to him get their heads straight.
Brandon Wimbush Rush Yards: 400
Yeah, this line looks pretty silly now… 58% of the staff and 67% of the readers took the under. Oops. Wimbush already has 402 yards on the season, despite sitting out the UNC game; like Adams, he seems destined to obliterate the best QB rushing season under Kelly, which was DeShone Kizer’s 520 yards in his breakout 2015 season. In fact, if he can stay healthy he might have a shot at Tony Rice’s school record of 884 yards, set in 1989. He’d need to average 81 yards per game over the final six regular season games to do it without an asterisk, as bowl stats weren’t included in records in 1989, or 69 yards per game with an asterisk. Doesn’t seem impossible, right?
Nyles Morgan Tackles: 110
This was one of the more divergent lines, as 75% of the staff took the under while 65% of the readers took the over. It looks like the staff is probably going to be right on this one – Morgan leads the team at the midway point of the season, but he’s only at 44 tackles. The line isn’t totally out of reach, but he’s off the pace by about a full tackle per game.
Daelin Hayes Sacks: 8.5
67% of the staff and 70% of the readers took the under, which looks like a brilliant bet right now as Hayes has just 2.0 sacks through six games. He’s had some close calls – three official QB hurries, for example – but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. He would need a sterling second half to make it, which, hey, sign me up!
Defensive and Special Teams TDs: 4.5
67% of the staff and 57% of the readers took the over here. Julian Love’s brilliant pick six against Michigan State is our only non-offensive touchdown so far (although kudos to Jay Hayes and Jerry Tillery for the safety against North Carolina). If we can swing 4+ non-offensive scores in the second half, I think we’ll have done some big things.
Possessions vs. Navy: 10.5
We don’t know yet, of course, but as a reminder, 83% of the staff and 80% of the readers took the over. You might remember the significance of this line, but just in case: When a Kelly Notre Dame team has had the ball at least 11 times against Navy, the average margin has been +27.3. When they’ve had it ten times or fewer, the average margin is -5.0.
Occurrences of “Grit” in Press Conference Comments: 50
58% of the staff and 58% of the readers took the over. A quick scan of press conference transcripts, which does not include Kelly’s postgame media remarks, tells us that he has used “grit” or “gritty” 15 times so far. I think it’s fair to estimate a +5 for the postgame remarks, so let’s say we’re at 20 right now. Much like Nyles Morgan, he’ll need to pick up the pace in the second half.
DVOC’s Handed Out by Jack Swarbrick: 1.5
67% of both the staff and the readers took the under. Has there been one? Has Swarbrick even made any substantial public comments since the season started? I don’t think so. 5-1 with an average margin of +23.2 will do that for you.
Observer Ads Taken Out By Disgruntled Alumni: 0.5
The staff and readers were again in lockstep, as 50% of each fell on either side of this. No ad yet, but plenty of protestations at the site that shall not be named that they’re not paying any attention. Which, you know, would imply that they might spend less time on a message board, but…
Biggest Coordinator Impact – Mike Elko or Chip Long
100% of the staff and readers chose Elko. There’s certainly an argument that Long has made a significant impact, with the offense rolling up rushing yards at a historic rate. However, there’s no question that what Elko has done with the defense has been nothing short of wizardry. The team probably could’ve had a decent year at least without taking much of a step forward on offense, but it really needed big improvement on defense. Elko laughed at that and brought massive improvement instead. Not a finished product by any means, but a legitimately good defense.
FS1 vs. Temple: Nick Coleman or Field
93% of the staff and 91% of the readers said Coleman would start the season as the #1 free safety, and they were right. Not a tremendously difficult call, since he drew rave reviews in spring practice, but he was limited in the fall and it wasn’t entirely clear that he would be able to hold onto his spot.
FS1 vs. Stanford: Nick Coleman or Field
67% of the staff thought Coleman would keep his job through the end of the season, compared to just 54% of the readers. NICK COLEMAN SCOFFS AT ALL WHO DOUBT HIM. He’s been much better on the back end than even the most optimistic of Irish fans might have hoped. The front seven’s excellent play so far has certainly helped, as has Elko’s protection of the safeties. Nonetheless, whether it’s a crucial third-down stuff against Georgia or QB hurry against Michigan State or a pass broken up this weekend, he’s been all over the place.
Team Leader in TDs: Josh Adams or Field
75% of the staff and 54% of the readers took Adams, which seemed like a pretty safe bet at the time. Little did we know that Brandon Wimbush would go nuts, with eight touchdowns in five games played. He’s only two away from Deshone Kizer’s school record of 10 QB rushing touchdowns. Adams and Dexter Williams are tied for second with five scores each, so 33 could still pull this one out. Deon McIntosh, incidentally, is the next guy with four. If you had four McIntosh touchdowns at the halfway point in your office pool, get out now because you’re lying.
Team Leader in Sacks: Daelin Hayes or Field
58% of the staff and 59% of the readers took Hayes. As noted above, though, it’s Jerry Tillery who leads the team right now with 3.0 sacks, with Hayes (2.0), Julian Okwara (1.5), and Shaun Crawford (1.5) right behind him. I’d be pretty surprised if Crawford ended up with the final lead, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of Tillery, Hayes, or Okwara atop the list.
Team Leader in INTs: Julian Love or Field
92% of the staff took the field, while 82% of the readers did the same. Good choice so far, as Crawford is setting the early pace with two picks. Love has one, as do Okwara, Greer Martini, and Drue Tranquill.
Wrapping Up (Again)
It’s a little silly to tabulate a won-loss on this stuff with so much season left to play, so I’ll skip that and assess the vibe instead. It looks like we’re both tracking pretty well with most of our bets, and where we’ve been wrong, it’s generally been in a positive way. Keep the momentum going, folks…