BYU football: Questions still abound for high-flying Notre Dame
The dynamic of Rees relieving accentuates his strengths and minimizes his limitations. Teams can’t dedicate their game plan to a QB they may or may not see and whose skill set and mental edge is markedly different than the starter’s.
How does that look numerically? Rees has completed 68 percent of his passes (17 of 25) with one touchdown and zero turnovers. Last year, he had 19 of them.
How does ND’s passing attack stack up with the other national title contenders? Interestingly, while video game passing numbers get some national media goo-goo eyed, it doesn’t equate to sustained success. ND’s ranking of No. 86 in pass offense is better than every other team in the top seven of the AP poll except for Oregon, which is a still-modest 56th.
Where ND lags is pass-efficiency, though the Irish nudged up to No. 75 this week. All the other teams in the top seven of the AP rankings are in the top 35 in that category, save Florida (48th) and LSU (67th). Who will emerge as Notre Dame’s No. 1 running back?
It seemed like it was only a matter of time until last year’s 1,100-yard rusher, senior Cierre Wood, barked his way out of the doghouse after starting the season with a two-game suspension. And Wood, now just 29 yards out of the team’s rushing lead, likely will end up leading the team in rushing yards. But the three-man rotation of Wood, fellow senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson, is an accidental dynamic that has come to serve Kelly well. Riddick is averaging a modest 3.8 yards a carry, but he gets tough yards against tough looks, and he’s Notre Dame’s leading receiver with 20 catches. By comparison, Wood and Atkinson have combined for three receptions.
Wood, though, is averaging 5.9 yards a carry and is ND’s most versatile back when it comes to running inside or out. Atkinson, at 9.1 per carry and with two runs over 50 yards, is the most explosive. “It's not only running the ball, it's the ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield as well,” Kelly said, “and that's been the change this year from last year in terms of the complete running back. “Again, I think all three of those guys are continuing to work on being the complete back.”
Which is the toughest team remaining on the Irish schedule? Oklahoma is easily the most complete. The Sooners are No. 15 in total offense, No. 14 in total defense and in the top 15 in both kickoff returns and punt returns.
But it’s not necessarily the worst match-up. Teams with strong rush defenses give the Irish the most problems, and ND already has faced two (Michigan State rated eighth nationally, Stanford seventh) that are much better than Oklahoma’s (40th).
The Sooners do not effectively pressure the quarterback (76th in sacks), and they can get sloppy with the ball, but they’re easily the best offensive team the Irish have faced. To date, Miami, at 42 in total offense, is the best.
Are ND’s poll rankings this week the highest since the Holtz Era? No, it actually goes back only to the Weis Era. The last time the Irish were in the top five in both major polls was Sept. 10, 2006. The Irish were No. 2 in AP, No. 3 in the coaches poll two weeks into the 2006 season, before falling out of the top five and eventually finishing that season 17th.
Incidentally, ND’s highest ranking ever in the BCS standings is third. That happened during consecutive weeks in October of 2002. Does ND-Stanford’s overnight TV rating of 3.9, edging out South Carolina-LSU as the most-watched college football game of the day, mean the Irish are relevant again? That horse died weeks ago.
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