Vorel: Notre Dame offense needs balance to build on Boston College win

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — First, the good news.

It was a win.

It was a dominant, record-breaking rushing performance.

It was a spectacular, thorough second half drubbing.

It was a 29-point road victory over an ACC opponent.

Notre Dame’s 49-20 victory over Boston College (1-2) inside Alumni Stadium on Saturday was all of those things.

But was it sustainable?

If the Irish are going to qualify for a bowl game and beyond, if they’re going to evolve into the team their fans so desperately yearn for, they need to use Saturday’s win as the beginning.

Not the blueprint.

Against Michigan State or USC or Stanford, Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush can’t afford to complete just two passes for five yards in the first quarter. He can’t afford to finish a game 11 for 24 for 96 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. He can’t afford to overthrow just about everybody — even 6-foot-5, 203-pound tent pole Equanimeous St. Brown.

He can’t afford to turn the ball over, twice.

The 6-2, 228-pound junior can’t afford to look lost in the passing game. He can’t afford to look timid. Especially not two weeks in a row.

But, here’s some more good news:

Wimbush knows this.

“Today? Yeah. Definitely,” he said, when asked if he cares about passing statistics. “A hundred yards throwing and you’re a quarterback? It’s not ideal. So, yes. I do (care).

“As a quarterback (passing) is the first thing you do. It troubles me a little bit, but I’m going to enjoy the win for the first 24 hours and then make adjustments this week.”

Simply put, Notre Dame’s offense can’t afford to be this helplessly one-dimensional. It’s true, on Saturday that dimension was remarkable, even record-breaking. Wimbush chugged for 207 yards and four scores, breaking a school record that had stood since 1969. It was the best game of his life and the worst game of his life, all wrapped into one.

Not to be outdone, junior captain Josh Adams piled up runs of 65, 64 and 36 yards, finishing with 229 rushing yards and 12.7 yards per carry.

The Irish had two 200-yard rushers, for gosh sakes. That’s never been done at Notre Dame, and it may never be done again.

It was remarkable.

But, against Michigan State or Stanford or USC (or Georgia, for that matter), is it realistic to count on similar results?

“I think our passing game will have to be better, and I think that means not necessarily just from the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “I think we’re going to have to make some catches that are contested. I think that we’re going to have to step up and make some big plays at the receiver position and assisting our quarterback.

“I don’t think it all falls on our quarterback.”

Yes, yes, for Notre Dame to reach its goals, Wimbush must improve. But he’s not the only one. A proper handshake requires a partner. The underperforming Irish wide receiver corps can’t afford to finish collectively with three catches in an entire game, as it did on Saturday.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown — the program’s supposed No. 1 receiver — can’t afford to register three catches for 19 yards over a two-game stretch, as he did against BC and Georgia. That’s not all on the quarterback.

The Irish can’t afford to start with an average field position at their own 17-yard line, as they did in the first half. They can’t afford to go 3-and-out in three of their first four drives on the road and expect to win consistently.

Their defense can’t afford to allow a wide receiver like graduate student Charlie Callinan — who registered a total of two catches for 15 yards against Northern Illinois and Wake Forest — to haul in seven catches for 82 yards and two scores, all career highs.

They can’t afford to finish a game with a grand total of one sack, the result of a redshirt freshman quarterback tripping over one of his offensive linemen.

The good news — and there is good news! — is that two halves were played on Saturday. It’s that Wimbush, even with all his struggles in the passing game, is an undeniably unique athlete. It’s that Notre Dame (2-1) has rushed for 515 and 422 yards in two of its three games this season, with a disappointing 55-yard outing against Georgia sandwiched in between.

It’s that this team gets to learn from a win, not a loss.

“I think we’ve got a lot to clean up,” said sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes, “but the coaches told us it’s a lot better to make mistakes and clean up after a win.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (7) throws the ball during the Notre Dame at Boston College NCAA College football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA