Geyer: Irish offense will be different, but not necessarily worse
Ellen Geyer | Friday, April 12, 2019
Notre Dame is not the same team it was last year. With the likes of former wide receiver Miles Boykin and former running back Dexter Williams moving on to the NFL, there will be noticeable absences in rising senior quarterback Ian Book’s operation. But the Irish have the potential for another electric season — and with a new dynamic on the offense, there will certainly be new faces emerging as leaders.
Let’s not kid ourselves — there is no quarterback race. Despite Phil Jurkovec’s success in high school, the rising sophomore did nothing to help the Irish last season, seeing the field in just two games and not completing a pass in either.
On the contrary, in 2017, when Book sat behind Brandon Wimbush, he played in 10 games, recording a season completion percentage of 61.3%. And who could forget when he came in to relieve QB1 Wimbush in the Citrus Bowl, notching an unreal performance of 14-for-19 passing for 164 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to a 21-17, come-from-behind victory against No. 17 LSU? When Book took over for Wimbush as the starting quarterback in 2018 against Wake Forest, the entire Notre Dame dynamic changed, and the Irish offense never looked back. Sorry Phil, but Ian’s not going anywhere — he’s got this season covered.
Speaking of Book, it is worth noting the rising senior lost his favorite target on the outside — Boykin. The two were a dynamic duo, with Boykin’s height and agility being a perfect match for Book’s ability to thread the needle. Although it will be a different offense without Boykin, it won’t necessarily be a worse one.
With the return of Chris Finke for a graduate-student season and rising senior Chase Claypool, Book will still have all kinds of options, as Finke will favor shallower ins and pops, while Claypool will be open on the deep routes that Book loves so much. Furthermore, with Boykin’s departure, less notable receivers will have the chance to step up. Let’s not forget what rising junior Mike Young can do — he, like Book, stepped up in the Citrus Bowl when duty called.
There will be obvious challenges on the ground with the absence of Dexter Williams, who was far and away the best rusher for the Irish amid their 2018 title campaign. Although rising junior Jafar Armstrong certainly emerged as a force to be reckoned with — particularly prior to Williams’ return from his four-game suspension at the beginning of the season — he ultimately underperformed, never quite breaking out as predicted. He was also never the same after sustaining an injury midway through the season, causing him to fall by the wayside in the back half of the year.
But Armstrong certainly has the potential to lead the Notre Dame running game, especially when he has the tools and support — both of which he has had access to in the offseason. The Armstrong who comes onto the field Saturday should be faster, stronger and, frankly, hungrier than the neophyte we saw last year. Regardless, Williams left big cleats to fill. The running game will pose the biggest question for Notre Dame come fall, but there’s still time for the Irish to get into peak shape for 2019.
All in all, there are certainly adjustments that need to be made on the Irish offense with the emergence of a new season. But Notre Dame should be able to get there, especially with a season opener at Louisville and a home opener against New Mexico. But when the Irish head south to Georgia for game No. 3, they’ll see where they really are as a team, whether they like it or not.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.