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Notre Dame: How have the Fighting Irish become Playoff contenders?

Notre Dame just demolished #11 USC, but not many people are talking about the Irish. Just how good is this team and how did they get here?


Well, that was easy. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish embarrassed #11 USC on Saturday. The game was so out of hand that Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush was only needed for three complete quarters. The #9 Irish are 6-1 with their lone loss being a 20-19 defeat in week two to the now-third ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

Since then, they have won five straight games while outscoring opponents 221-79. Those wins include a 38-18 victory in Michigan State against the current #16 Spartans, and most recently, the 49-14 onslaught of USC. Notre Dame have been absolutely dominant in their recent winning streak. So, just how good are the Irish, really?

They’re Really Good

We’re far enough into the season to make an accurate gage on just about each team in college football. After Saturday’s victory against #11 USC, the Irish have proved, on the national stage, that they belong in the conversation for playoff contenders.

With Georgia making a stronger argument each week for consideration as the best team in the country, the one point loss Notre Dame endured in Week 2 is almost more helpful than hurtful as it showed is that the Irish can hang with one of the best teams in the country.

The Irish boast the 11th best offense in college football with 41.3 points per game and the 12th best defense at 16.4 points per game. This team is consistent on both sides of the ball. They haven’t given up over 20 points in one game on defense and have scored 33 points or more in each of their six victories.

In those six victories, the Irish have an average margin of victory of 29 points, the closest game being the 20 point victory in Michigan State. Simply put, Notre Dame is playing at an elite level and belong in the conversation of best teams in the country through eight weeks. So, how are they performing at such a high level?

Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams

The quarterback and running back duo of Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams is electric. The offense has followed the success of the dynamic duo that leads the sixth best rushing attack in the country with 317.9 yards per game.

Brandon Wimbush has flourished under his first year as a starter, throwing for 903 yards with eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. Having already run for 508 yards and ten touchdowns, his athleticism and mobility as a runner adds the most dangerous threat to his game. His impressive stat line includes a Week 3 matchup against Boston College in which he ran for 207 yards with four touchdowns including a long run of 65 yards. With the ability to beat defenses with both his arm or legs, there aren’t many defenses who can slow down Brandon Wimbush.

Josh Adams has already topped his total rushing yards for the complete 2016 season, and is worthy of Heisman consideration. He boasts 967 yards on 9.2 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. He has shown his electric speed with touchdown runs of 60, 73 (twice), and 84 yards. The 84-yard run came most recently against USC in a game in which Adams ran for 191 yards and accumulated three touchdowns.

Josh Adams’ success running the ball is invaluable to the success of the offense. The ability to produce consistently in second down and short situations with the run opens the playbook for just about anything the Irish want to do. Maybe even more valuable, is the pressure Adams has taken off of first year starter Wimbush to win games with his arm.

Can they keep up the success?

The combination of Wimbush and Adams has proven almost unstoppable through seven games. The importance of their success to Notre Dame’s overall standing cannot be overlooked. In the lone loss against Georgia, both Wimbush and Adams struggled to produce much of anything on offense. Wimbush completed only 49% of his 39 pass attempts for 211 yards and no touchdowns. He added just one yard rushing on 16 attempts though he did score a touchdown on the ground. Adams averaged just 2.8 yards per carry for a mere 53 yards and no touchdowns.

When Wimbush and Adams are performing well, there isn’t a team in college football that can slow the Irish down. Georgia, however, focused in on the electric duo, forcing someone else on the Notre Dame offense to make a play. The Irish proved vulnerable as no one else could make up for the poor play of Wimbush and Adams. The Irish settled for four field goals in the game, ultimately leading to a one point loss.

The remaining schedule will test Notre Dame. Starting this weekend with a home matchup against #14 North Carolina State, the Irish should then face an easier matchup against a scrappy Wake Forest team, before heading to Miami to take on the current undefeated #8 Hurricanes, followed by a matchup with an impressive Navy squad, before finally finishing the season in a road matchup against the current #20 Stanford Cardinal. Needles to say, the Irish have their work cut out for them the final five weeks of the season.

The opposing defenses of each of the remaining teams on Notre Dame’s schedule will look to mimic the success the Georgia defense found against Wimbush and Adams. To this point in the season, no one else has shown the ability to make plays the way the quarterback and running back duo have. If any of the remaining teams can find a way to slow down Wimbush or Adams, the Irish could struggle to find enough offense somewhere else to come away with a victory.

Despite the difficult schedule ahead and the pressure on Wimbush and Adams to perform at a high level, the Irish have shown with commanding victories over top 25 ranked Michigan State and USC teams they belong in the conversation of elite college football teams. Though Georgia found the vulnerabilities in the Irish offense, there is no team left on Notre Dame’s schedule that boasts as strong of a defense as Georgia’s. Remember, the Irish only lost by one point in that game.

With one loss already on Notre Dame’s record, they may very well have to win out to make the playoffs. The toughest remaining test will most likely be the away matchup with the current #8 Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, however, allow 180 rushing yards per game. The number six ranked Irish rushing attack could have a field day running over the Miami defense.

Though the pressure is on Wimbush and Adams to lead the Irish to victory, they have proven that they are not afraid of the spotlight. The defense will do enough to give the offense a chance to win games, and that is exactly what Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams will do. Look for the electric quarterback and running back duo to will Notre Dame to the playoffs. Watch out for the Fighting Irish!

Can Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams continue their dominate play and lead the Irish to the playoffs? Share your thoughts with us below.

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Micah Reum

Born and raised just outside of Detroit, Michigan, I can still remember watching Barry Sanders running away from defenders at the Silverdome. Those days are long gone, but the impact they had on me remains, as I've been an avid sports fan ever since. You can find me writing for the NFL and NCAAF columns of RealSport, where I hope my words can bring life to and fulfill your reading desires.

Notre Dame: How have the Fighting Irish become Playoff contenders?

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