Notre Dame 2019 Capsule
2018: 12-1 overall
2018 Game Result: Notre Dame 45, Virginia Tech 23
- Athlon: 10-2
Returning Offensive Starters: 7
Returning Defensive Starters: 5
Brian Kelly’s 4-8 2016 season seems like ages ago thanks to the recent success of the program. After a bounce back 2017, winning 10 games and knocking off LSU in the Citrus Bowl, the Irish seem to be solidified as one of the top teams in the country. Last season confirmed that when Notre Dame was selected to its first College Football Playoff after an undefeated regular season. However, that wasn’t the ultimate goal.
The season ended with a thud when the Irish faced the eventual National Champions. Clemson dominated the semifinal from start to finish, winning 30-3. It was not the way Notre Dame wanted to portray themselves on the game’s biggest stage. Now, the goal for Notre Dame has to be to get back to that stage, and this time, win.
S&P+ Offense: No. 33
Total Offense: No. 32
Notre Dame returns a majority of their offensive attack after their successful 2018 season. However, the Fighting Irish lose the two top weapons for quarterback Ian Book. Running back Dexter Williams and wide receiver Miles Boykin combined for 2,000 scrimmage yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Each had one of their better performances of the year against the Hokies. Williams had over 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Boykin had two receiving touchdowns of his own.
Both players will be sorely missed, and Notre Dame will need someone to step up and fill those holes. Junior Jafar Armstrong and senior Tony Jones Jr. will have to carry the load in the backfield. Each back averaged just over six yards per touch last season and broke 500 yards from scrimmage despite Williams receiving the majority of snaps. Behind an offensive line that is returning four starters, whoever totes the rock should be able to match the rushing production from last season.
As far as pass-catchers go, the Irish shouldn’t be hurting, despite losing Boykin to the NFL. Senior Chase Claypool takes over as the top option for Book on the outside. He had an up and down 2018; catching two or fewer passes in three games, but also five or more in five games. Senior Chris Finke will also be a weapon out of the slot who can move the chains for the Irish.
The good news for Notre Dame is that Book is coming back after a great 2018 season taking over for Brandon Wimbush. Book had a 68% completion percentage and threw multiple touchdowns in every start he had last season, except for the loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. If he can elevate the weapons he has around him, the Irish shouldn’t have many issues offensively.
S&P+ Defense: No. 10
Total Defense: No. 30
The Irish had one of the more efficient defenses in the country last season. Notre Dame held its opponents under 20 points in eight games last season and never allowed more than 30. However, some key pieces have moved on to the NFL. The most impactful loss has to be first-round pick Jerry Tillery. The defensive tackle was a force in the middle of the defense. He tied for the team lead in sacks with 8.0 despite lining up inside.
The Irish are lucky enough to have another expected first-rounder along the defensive front to pick up the slack rushing the passer. Julian Okwara also had 8.0 sacks last season and led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss. Along with senior Khalid Kareem on the other side, the Irish should terrorize opposing backfields all season long.
The linebacking corps will need to adjust to new talent in the lineup after losing both starters this offseason. In the middle of the field, Te’von Coney led the team in tackles a season ago and tacked on 4.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Next to him was Drue Tranquill, who was drafted in the fourth round this offseason. Graduate player Asmar Bilal will be in the mix this season, but he only had limited opportunities last year. He will be thrust into the starting role in the middle of the field and will have to become a leader early in the year.
On the back end, the Irish should be solid once again. Losing a consensus All-American like cornerback Julian Love is never a good thing. However, the rest of the secondary will be back and ready to roll for 2019. Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliot return as the starting safeties for their senior season. The two were both top four in tackles and accounted for half of the team’s interceptions in 2018. At cornerback, the loss of Love shouldn’t leave a gaping hole in the secondary. With three seniors starting, opposing receivers will struggle to succeed against the Irish.
Why This Game is Important
Notre Dame: If the Irish want to make it back to the College Football Playoff, they will likely have to win every game. With tough games against Georgia, Michigan, and Stanford on the schedule this year, this isn’t a game that Notre Dame can afford to lose.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have the weakest schedule among Power 5 teams this season. This game stands out as their toughest of the season. The Hokies have lacked a signature win over the past few seasons, and this would qualify as one.