Notre Dame reached No. 7 in the Associated Press poll Sunday after dismantling Miami the day before at Soldier Field in Chicago. It’s possible with a win over Stanford this weekend the Fighting Irish crack the top five when the next rankings are released.
Senior tailback Theo Riddick is one of three players averaging over 50 rushing yards per game this season for Notre Dame
As of right now, the top-five teams, which are No. 1 Alabama (5-0), No. 2 Oregon (6-0), No. 3 South Carolina (6-0), No. 4 Florida (5-0) and No. 5 West Virginia, are all over the map offensively. In rushing offense, the gap is wide with Oregon’s 302.33 yards per game, which is fourth nationally, to West Virginia’s 164 yards per game, which weighs in at No. 65. The Seminoles (24th, 214.80), Crimson Tide (39th, 188.20) and Gamecocks (45th, 181.50) round out the category with average production. Notre Dame is 40th in the country with 187.40 yards per game — up nearly eight yards per contest from 2011. One major difference for the Irish (5-0), however, is they have scored 13 rushing touchdowns this fall compared to seven through the first five games of the 2011 campaign.
None of the top-five teams is particularly dominant when protecting its quarterback. Oregon and West Virginia are tied for eighth nationally in sacks allowed with eight apiece, followed by Alabama (72nd, 11), South Carolina (97th, 14) and Florida (tied for 110th, 17). Notre Dame is 40th in the country in that category, having allowed eight sacks, three more than at this point last fall.
With Heisman Trophy contender Geno Smith calling the shots at quarterback for the West Virginia offense, the Mountaineers are averaging just a hair under 400 yards passing each week, which ranks second in the country. It’s a dramatic dropoff for the other top-five squads after that. Oregon is 56th with 239.3, South Carolina is 72nd with 224.7, Alabama is 80th with 212.8 and Florida is 115th with 158.6. The Irish come in at No. 84, throwing for 211 yards per game.
One common thread for the top five and Notre Dame is in turnover margin; with each of those six programs residing in the top 33 nationally. The Crimson Tide have forced 15 turnovers and given the ball away just three times for the second-highest margin (plus-12). Notre Dame boasts a plus-nine, losing possession four times and forcing 13 turnovers. Florida (plus-six) is 17th, WVU (plus-five) is 22nd and Oregon and South Carolina are tied for 33rd with plus-three turnover margins.
Through five games, the Irish haven’t gotten exactly the kind of production from their offensive line as initially hoped, though the unit certainly hasn’t been a liability. Fifth-year senior center Braxston Cave knows the group can take away a lot of confidence from the performance against Miami.
“We’ve been focused on it every week,” he said. “To finally put it all together and see results from it feels really good. We just know we’re a physical front, and if we went out there and did what we needed to do, we were going to get the yards we needed. That’s where it’s at; it’s the foundation. If we’re not doing our job then nothing works.The biggest thing is everybody being on the same page and communicating. We’ve had some setbacks the last couple of [games] and didn’t do our job like we needed to.
“We’re never satisfied. We know we can continue to get better. We haven’t arrived; we still have a lot of games to play, a lot of football to play. If we keep heading in the same direction we’re going and keep communicating, I think we’ll get there pretty quick.”