Vorel: Can Notre Dame reach College Football Playoff with a 'one-dimensional' offense?

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Joey Galloway missed the point.

In Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings show, moments after Notre Dame was announced as the No. 3 team in the country — behind only SEC powerhouses Georgia (1) and Alabama (2) — the former Ohio State wide receiver openly wondered if the Irish were too one-dimensional offensively to crack the final four.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how far (junior quarterback Brandon) Wimbush can take you with his arm,” Galloway said. “He is starting to throw some touchdown passes. I just don’t know if he can get them over the top if he has to.”

But that’s just it: he doesn’t have to, and he isn’t going to have to any time soon.

Not with this play caller, and this offensive line, and these running backs … and these opponents.

AP No. 5 Notre Dame (7-1) absolutely has been one-dimensional offensively, ranking 119th nationally in passing yards per game (150.4) and 111th in passing efficiency.

And guess what? It doesn’t matter.

You can be one-dimensional if that dimension produces 317.9 rushing yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry.

You can be one-dimensional if that dimension pumps out 10 rushes of 50 yards or more, which is tied for tops in the nation.

You can be one-dimensional if that dimension banks you 40.5 points per game, which ranks 11th nationwide.

You can be one-dimensional if that dimension carries you to six consecutive wins by an average of 27.2 points per game.

OK, so here’s the point: you can be one-dimensional if that dimension’s production is unprecedented and virtually impossible to stop.

“You really can’t defend what we have on the offensive side of the ball,” a confident Wimbush said on Wednesday.

Let’s consider the competition. N.C. State, the No. 6 rushing defense entering last weekend’s game, couldn’t slow the Notre Dame rushing attack. Junior Heisman candidate Josh Adams and Co. ran for 318 yards and 5.9 yards per carry in a convincing win.

As for the Michigan State defense, which is allowing just 89.8 rushing yards per game? Notre Dame barely broke a sweat in piling up 182 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry, cruising to a 20-point win on the road.

Even now, the 6-2 Spartans rank fourth nationally in rushing defense.

Wipe away the Notre Dame game, and they’d be second, behind only undefeated Alabama.

And, to be clear: there are no Michigan States or N.C. States — or Alabamas, for that matter — on Notre Dame’s remaining regular-season schedule. November is littered with teams that rank 88th (Wake Forest), 82nd (Miami), 75th (Navy) and 95th (Stanford) in rushing defense.

Win out, and the Irish are in.

Keep running, and they’ll keep winning.

But that’s not all. This may be a one-dimensional offense, but it isn’t a one-dimensional team. Don’t forget that Notre Dame ranks 10th in scoring defense, allowing just 16.1 points per game.

The Irish, in fact, are the only team in the nation that has held every opponent this season to 20 or fewer points.

Now, add the fact that Notre Dame forces turnovers (18 of them, which ranks 12th), and protects the football, surrendering just seven turnovers of its own (15th).

First-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group allows just 116.6 rushing yards per game (16th) and has surrendered one total rushing touchdown all season.

Oh yeah, and the Irish are almost impossibly efficient in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 81.8 percent of their trips (7th nationally).

So, to recap, Notre Dame:

1.) Stops the run

2.) Forces turnovers

3.) Protects the football

4.) Runs, and

5.) Scores, and

6.) Runs, and

7.) Scores, and

8.) Runs, and

9.) Scores.

That’s the formula that landed Notre Dame a No. 3 ranking on Tuesday. That’s the formula that will more than likely topple Wake Forest (5-3) on Saturday afternoon.

So, no, Wimbush does not need to be DeShone Kizer. He doesn’t need to throw 40 times a game and click his heels in the end zone.

He needs to be opportunistic, and he has been, throwing seven touchdown passes in his last three starts. He needs to take care of the football, and he has, surrendering just two interceptions all season.

He needs to be explosive, and he might just be the most explosive quarterback ND has ever had.

Of course, there is room for improvement. Through eight games and seven starts, the junior from Teaneck, N.J., has completed just 51.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,006 yards, 10 scores and 143.7 yards per game. That won’t be good enough to win playoff games.

But these aren’t playoff games.

For Notre Dame to reach the College Football Playoff, Wimbush needs to be a supporting actor, not a star.

And sure, it wouldn’t hurt if the Irish offense added a consistent second dimension.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (7) looks to throw during the University of Southern California at Notre Dame NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA