Analysis: 12 reasons why Notre Dame can finish the regular season undefeated

Tyler James
tjames1@sbtinfo.com

Halfway through its regular season, Notre Dame remains undefeated. With six games left on the schedule, plenty of talk between now and December will be about No. 5 Notre Dame’s legitimacy as a playoff contender.

Hypothetical scenarios exist that could make the Irish a tough call for the College Football Playoff committee. But for sanity’s sake, let’s wait until Thanksgiving to get too heated about Notre Dame’s playoff viability.

Until then, here are 12 reasons why Notre Dame can finish its regular season 12-0.

1. Notre Dame’s defensive line is creating havoc.

A total of 15 sacks doesn’t quite quantify how much of a nuisance the Irish front has been for opposing quarterbacks. Even the 31 quarterback hurries don’t quite sound like an accurate total. Defensive ends Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem and Daelin Hayes and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery have given the Irish an imposing pass rush.

2. QB Ian Book has made the offense efficient.

With a sparkling 73.3 completeion rate, Book has led the Irish to at least 38 points in each of his three starts and looks like he has total command of the offense.

3. LBs Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney turn offensive players into tackling dummies.

Tranquill and Coney have combined for 88 tackles this season. That’s nearly one-fifth of the total tackles for Notre Dame. They’ve played at such a high level for so long now, their performance has come to be expected.

4. The offensive line has stabilized.

After the first two games of the season, it looked like new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn could be in for a long season. But as Notre Dame’s offense has improved with Book at quarterback, so has Notre Dame’s offensive line. Despite losing left guard Alex Bars for the season, the line provided good protection at Virginia Tech. The unit doesn’t have to carry the offense, but ND’s offensive line can help set the tone.

5. CB Julian Love keeps getting his hands on the ball.

Whether it’s a pass breakup, fumble recovery or interception, Love has a magnetic connection to the football. Love forces opposing quarterbacks to weigh the risk of throwing his way. Even when offenses try to avoid his side of the field, Love finds a path to make a play. He’s proven himself to be capable of covering receivers of all sizes and speeds.

6. WR Miles Boykin’s emerged as a No. 1 receiver.

Boykin has become much more than a one-hit wonder. He’s turned his star-making moment in the Citrus Bowl into a full-time role. Yes, he can make spectacular catches, but Boykin has been a reliable possession receiver for Book. Whether on third downs or for touchdowns, Boykin has the hot hands.

7. Notre Dame’s safeties aren’t a liability.

There’s not a lot of finger-pointing following big passing plays in the Irish secondary. That’s in part because of the solid play of Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott at safety. They are third and fourth on the team in tackles, respectively. Elliott ended Notre Dame’s interception drought at safety with a pair against Ball State. The back end is no longer a weakness for ND’s defense.

8. The tight ends are a threat.

Offensive coordinator Chip Long has utilized the position group he coaches on a daily basis. Three Irish tight ends — Alizé Mack, Nic Weishar and Brock Wright — have caught touchdown passes this season. Cole Kmet, who missed two games with an ankle injury, may have the brightest future of the group. Only Boykin (28) has more receptions than Mack (19).

9. K Justin Yoon keeps scoring points.

Now the school record holder in career points (322), Yoon continues to make field goals and extra points at a historic rate. He hasn’t missed an extra point since 2016, and he’s on pace to break the school record for field goal percentage. He’s “only” made seven of his 10 field goals so far this season, which is a dip from his nearly 80-percent rate throughout his career.

10. The running back position has playmakers.

Notre Dame has yet to have all its running backs available for a game this season. and still, the Irish have rushed for 195.7 yards per game. Jafar Armstrong provided a spark to start the season, Dexter Williams has exceeded the hype in his first two starts and Tony Jones Jr. has been a reliable back in both the running and passing game. When Long has all three at his disposal defenses will have their hands full.

11. Tyler Newsome has found consistency.

Newsome’s leg strength hasn’t been a concern for Notre Dame. and his tendency to occasionally shank a punt has decreased. Only four of his 26 punts have gone for less than 40 yards. That consistency combined with his ability to hit 12 punts at least 50 yards have given Newsome a 46.3-yard per punt average — good for ninth best in the country.

12. The Irish have depth.

Playing without its top two drop ends could have crippled Notre Dame’s defense in the second half against Virginia Tech. But the Irish didn’t flinch while missing Daelin Hayes (stinger) and Julian Okwara (ejected for targeting). Notre Dame also has handled injuries on the offensive line and at running back. Certainly, the preference would be not to test that depth in other areas, but the Irish are truly living up to the next-man-in philosophy.

An impressive senior season could help Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara (42) become a first-round NFL Draft pick much like the 2018 season did for defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (99).
Dexter Williams (2) has given Notre Dame’s offense another playmaker in the backfield.
Notre Dame has scored at least 38 points in each of quarterback Ian Book’s three starts.