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Geyer: Surprisingly positive takeaways from an ND football cynic

| Friday, September 18, 2020

Surprise! Notre Dame football had another disappointing season opener this year! If nothing else, at least the Irish are consistent.

Did you miss me? Your resident football beat pessimist has returned. And after Saturday’s showing, I can’t say that my cynicism is misplaced. In all seriousness, my sister yelled at me this morning for being too mean about Notre Dame, so I’ll try to be a little kinder in this column, being that my disappointment has already been appropriately expressed above.

I have to admit, a win’s a win. Be it by 14 or 42, the Irish reigned supreme in their ACC debut. Perhaps the low margin of victory shouldn’t be too much cause for concern either considering how much it resembled 2019’s Louisville season-opener. Hopefully that means South Florida will resemble last season’s New Mexico, where the Lobos were on the receiving end of a 66-14 beatdown.

Notre Dame has to jump out to a big lead early this week. Being that South Florida is the only out-of-conference game the Irish have this season, it needs to be a decisive victory. A win doesn’t matter for ACC contention, but a loss certainly wouldn’t do any favors for that No. 7 spot in the AP Poll that the Irish currently possess. Matters are further complicated by the return of the Big Ten, whose entrance will likely bump Notre Dame down to No. 9 as Ohio State and Penn State slide in ahead of them.

A big margin early is also critical so guys like graduate student quarterback Ian Book and sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton — the latter of which already suffered an ankle sprain in week one and remains questionable — can get out as soon as possible and avoid further injuries. These key first-stringers have to be ready for bigger games. Risks can’t be taken on the gridiron in matchups that don’t matter.

Read this next part carefully because I’m about to give Ian Book a compliment.

A completion percentage of 61.3% is nothing to be dismissed. The third-year starter looked pretty frazzled in the pocket, but to his credit, all of his favorite targets have disappeared. Without Chase Claypool or Chris Finke, Book didn’t have any reliable faces out wide. On the inside, the absence of Cole Kmet was certainly felt as junior Tommy Tremble and freshman Michael Mayer combined for just 76 of 441 yards of offense against Duke.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book rolls out of the pocket against Iowa State during the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28, 2019.

The good news? Like everyone else, Notre Dame didn’t have spring ball to make adjustments on the offense. A disjointed relationship between a quarterback and his receivers at the beginning of the year is not unheard of. Considering the level of talent that the Irish have, combined with the return of junior receiver Braden Lenzy in week two, it seems like the offensive rhythm will only improve from here.

All that without even mentioning that Kyren Williams had himself a day against the Blue Devils. With a lack of leadership from true receivers, the sophomore running back shouldered a big load in his first career start. With his 112 yards and two touchdowns from the back, Book didn’t have to play as big of a role in the ground game as he had in years past, something that could be critical against feisty ACC teams that don’t mind banging up quarterbacks.

I’m going to hope for better days ahead on the defensive side as well. The linebackers stepped up in week one, particularly senior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but there was still much to be desired seeing as the game probably should have been a shutout. Hopefully, that reality can be achieved this coming week instead.

So if my sister Emily is reading this, hopefully, she’ll be pleased with my kinder takes this week. But if my quarterback Ian Book is reading this, hopefully, he’ll know that the kind words won’t keep coming if this week isn’t a blowout. But what can I say? I warned you guys I was a pessimist.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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