Notre Dame Football: Grading the Irish offensive groups vs. Duke

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 12: Aaron Banks #69 and Liam Eichenberg #74 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish block during a game against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium on October 12, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated USC 30-27. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 12: Aaron Banks #69 and Liam Eichenberg #74 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish block during a game against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium on October 12, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated USC 30-27. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame football kicked off its season against Duke on Saturday. Unfortunately, it took the Irish offense a little while to get started.

It was a slow, frustrating start for the Notre Dame football offense as Duke pushed the offensive line around, panicked Ian Book, and blanketed the Irish wide receivers. They couldn’t even manage a first down in the entire first quarter.

As the game went on things got mildly better, but it was hard to shake the sense that something wasn’t clicking quite right. A lot of teams, North Carolina, Iowa State, and Appalachian State for instance, struggled early when they weren’t expected to. Maybe that’s the lack of spring ball, restrictions on team activities, lack of fans, or the fact that it’s the first game this season, but there’s no excuses for playing so sloppy.

With all that being said, the grades from Notre Dames opener against Duke are in:


Grade: D

Let’s make one thing clear. Ian Book is better than he played. With that being said, he cannot continue to play like he did against Duke. Regardless of off-season circumstances, the team surrounding him, or any other outside factor, Book needs to be held accountable for his mistakes against Duke.

Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA – NOVEMBER 16: Ian Book #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass in the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 16, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The issue wasn’t even that he made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes after all. The issue is that Book was making mistakes you’d expect to be made by a first year starter, not a fifth year senior. His accuracy, on predominantly short passes, was not to its standard. It was as if he completely forgot how to throw a ball with touch, which cost them chunks of yards on several occasions. He ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, taking unnecessary loss of yards. More important than anything, he let the pressure bother him too much. His footwork in the pocket was panicked, as if he expected to get hit or need to scramble, which led to inaccurate throws.

If Book connected on a couple of passes that he simply has no excuse for missing, then the game would likely have not been nearly as close as it was. You could just tell that he didn’t have a Chase Claypool type player to throw passes up to, and grab it even if he was off a bit.

Ian Book finished the game with 263 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. He completed 19 of 31 passes, but it could have been a lot more.

Running Back

Grade: B+

Kyren Williams, by himself, earned an A grade, but this was a group effort and the rest of the running backs dragged him down a bit. Jafar Armstrong had a couple of nice catches, but didn’t get anything going on the ground. Meanwhile, Chris Tyree was disappointing for much of the game in his freshman debut.

With that being said, Williams was outstanding. He played quickly and with great vision. His best run was likely the 4th and short run, which he took for a 31 yard touchdown rush. The play call was a dive up the middle, but Duke clogged the line of scrimmage. He didn’t panic. He didn’t try to power for the two yards and move on. Instead, he used his vision and quick cutting to bounce the ball outside where all he needed was some help from Javon McKinley to explode for a touchdown run.

Williams also proved to be an explosive weapon in the passing game. Meanwhile, Tyree flashed his speed in the return game as well.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Grade: C

This was a group with a shroud of mystery around it from the start of the game. Before the game began, Notre Dame announced that Kevin Austin wouldn’t be available this week. They also said that no additional players (besides NaNa Osafo-Mensah) would be unavailable for the game. So, where was Braden Lenzy? Lenzy, though supposedly available, didn’t see the field at all.

Injuries and players missing continued to be an issue for the pass catchers as the game went on. Ben Skowronek left the game with an apparent hamstring injury before he made a single catch.

But enough on what wasn’t there, because what was there was frankly a disappointment. As a whole, they struggled to get open, and when they should have been able to out-athlete Duke’s secondary, they simply didn’t. Javon McKinley had a nice block, but didn’t manage a single catch, and he wasn’t alone in the small numbers.

Joe Wilkins led the team’s receivers in yards, with 44 yards on 4 catches. Tommy Tremble led in receptions, with 5, which he turned into 38 yards. Meanwhile, Avery Davis was the only receiver to snag a touchdown pass.

A very bright spot was freshman Michael Mayer. The tight end slipped into Cole Kmet’s role almost seamlessly. He’s bigger and stronger than most players his age, and he proved hard to tackle for the smaller Duke secondary.

Offensive Line

Grade: F

Maybe a failing grade is harsh, but the offensive line did nothing all game long. They’re an experienced unit, who was expected to take a leap forward from last season. Every national pundit who is looking for something good to say about Notre Dame, brought up the offensive line a dominant unit. So far, that’s not the case.

They let Ian Book get hit early, which made a quarterback who doesn’t thrive in the pocket want to avoid the pocket at all costs. Those happy feet Book gets are because he doesn’t trust the offensive line to hold its blocks long enough for him to make throws from the pocket. Oftentimes, he was right, but even when they do hold up that lack of trust messes with the rhythm of the passing game.

The line also struggled to push Duke off the ball in running plays, especially up the middle. They’re bigger and stronger. They’re more naturally talented. Still they failed. This comes down to technique and desire. Notre Dame’s offensive line didn’t have enough of it all game.

Even on the two rushing touchdowns, Williams had to dodge tacklers in the backfield and look for a secondary hole, because the simply didn’t open up holes the way they were supposed to.

Next. Brian Kelly gets a contract extension through the 2024 season. dark

The offensive line is a tone setter. They’re also vital to success, because no matter the talent at skills positions, you can not win a football game with defensive linemen collapsing on you. As of now, the Irish offensive line isn’t mean enough to do what Notre Dame needs them to over the course of a long season.