Notre Dame is sitting pretty. The Irish (8-1) are ranked third in the country and have a chance to beat their third ranked team in four weeks, as they face No. 7 Miami (8-0) on the road this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. How does a team go from 4-8 to potentially the College Football Playoff in just one season?
Easy. The big boys are playing big-boy football.
“The main reason is the offensive line,” NBC Sports and Bleacher Report analyst Chris Simms said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “When you really break it down, those five offensive linemen, four of them are legit NFL players. The two guys on the left, that’s the best combo in college football for my money. Mike McGlinchey at left tackle, he is a definite potential first-rounder. The left guard, Quenton Nelson, is also a first-rounder. So they can dominate people in the run game from that side of the ball. It forces defenses to shift their strength over there, and the guys on the other side aren’t too shabby.”
Notre Dame is bludgeoning teams on the ground. As a team, the Irish have rushed 415 times for 2,923 yards (7.0 yards per carry) and 34 touchdowns, with tailback Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush doing the bulk of the damage.
“They’re real,” Simms said. “With Wimbush at quarterback, he’s another legit running back. He’s what’s taken their team over the edge, in my opinion. His struggles throwing the ball early in the season made them have to focus more on the run game, and it really just made them a tougher, more physical football team.”
Naysayers will point to Notre Dame’s lone loss, however, and argue that the Irish can’t hang with the true heavyweights in college football. The Irish rushed 37 times for 55 yards (1.5 yards per carry) in a 20-19 home loss to Georgia on Sept. 9.
Does that mean the Irish couldn’t hang with Georgia or Alabama or Clemson in the playoff?
“Notre Dame wasn’t out-athleted that day,” Simms said. “Georgia has some of the big dudes in the front seven. It was true SEC football. Not only the D-Linemen, but they got NFL linebackers too on the edge of the defense. That made them tough, and I do think Notre Dame is a much better football team now than they were then. I think they’ve found themselves.”
The receivers, meanwhile, are big and physical. Chase Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown are listed at 6-4 and 6-5, respectively, and have combined for 46 catches for 643 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Durham Smythe, meanwhile, is listed at 6-5 and has 12 catches for 218 yards and a touchdown.
The wide receiver production isn’t eye-popping on this run-heavy team, but the matchup nightmares are, indeed, a problem. Most defenses simply can’t put their corners on an island against so many big, physical receiving threats. But if defenses commit more players to stopping the pass, that opens up the run.
Therein lies the problem.
“They really make you defend almost every inch of the field,” Simms said of the Irish. “That’s why they’re stressing defenses out.”