A surprising 4-0 start to Notre Dame’s season doesn’t mean they have peaked. Despite their impressive performance early this season, the Irish can be even better. Is better good enough to reach a national championship?
I’ll stay off that bandwagon, but this team could easily end up 10-2 with a BCS bowl berth. There are simply too many quality SEC teams to leapfrog for a berth in the title game, and the Irish schedule is brutal.
They still have three games remaining against opponents currently ranked in the top 20. That said, the days of underestimating this team should be done. They have proved they are solid, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense has only allowed nine points per game this season, and they have forced a whopping 13 turnovers.
It will be hard for that unit to play much better than they already have. The offense is a different story. Everett Golson has been decent and Tommy Rees has been great in relief, but the Irish offense can improve.
When this season is all said and done, the development on that side of the ball will dictate how far they go. Consider these noteworthy stats from the first four games:
Notre Dame is only 4-for-23 on third down in the last two games. Granted, one of those contests was against a tough Michigan State Spartans defense, but that type of third down futility genuinely leads to defeat.
The defense has bailed them out. If Golson continues to struggle, as he did against Michigan, Brian Kelly may have to turn to Rees entirely.
Which issue will bite the Irish first?
Imagine what the scores of the Michigan and Michigan State games would have been with a little better third-down efficiency.
Being penalized 24 times in four games is a bit higher than Kelly would like to see. He knows he has a young team, but the Irish have lost 172 yards in penalties to their opponents this season.
Some penalties are unavoidable, but many of them come down to a lack of discipline. In the win over the Spartans the Irish had two false starts and a personal foul penalty in the first quarter.
Cleaning up this aspect of their game can only help the offense’s efficiency, and get the defense more rest.
This is a talented bunch with character. If they tighten up their loose ends they can maximize this unlikely run.
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