NCAA Football Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Top 5 Players So Far This Season

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Top 5 Players For Notre Dame So Far

Notre Dame
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After their 17-13 victory over the Michigan State Spartans, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish bring their record to 3-1 and head into a rough stretch of games that include games against the Oklahoma Sooners, Arizona State Sun Devils and archrival USC Trojans.

The first four games have had no shortages of big plays, close games and frustrating play on both sides of the ball. The Irish offense has sputtered to an average of 393 yards per game, good for 72nd in the nation. Shaky play at quarterback was never more evident than against the Spartans, where starter Tommy Rees barely completed over 40 percent of his passes. Some of it was the Spartan defense, some of it was Rees, as when there was an open receiver he missed him. The offensive has played great, especially in pass protection, giving Rees plenty of time to try and find the open receiver.

The mighty defense that was the reason the behind their run to the National Championship game has felt the blow that was losing Zeke Motta and Heisman runner up Manti Te’o, struggling against the pass. Despite allowing 224-yards through the air, that average took a dive for the better after facing a bad passing team in the Spartans.

Before the Irish hit the grunt of their schedule, we look back at the first third of the season and look at the top five players for the Irish through the first four games.

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5. Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees
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Rees makes this list despite a bad game against the top ranked defense in the nation. He has been exactly what the Irish has needed, a smart game manager. Rees doesn’t have the arm or athletic ability to take a game over himself but with the playmakers around him he doesn’t have to. He has done a great job of putting his players in a position where they can succeed, and checking down when need be. The offense hung around the Michigan Wolverines game mainly due to Rees checking down to the right play after reading to the defense.

His numbers speak to his ability to get the ball to his playmakers, as he has thrown for 1,111 yards with eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. That comes to a 138.1 rating.

Rees has everything working for him, a stable full of running backs, two of the best playmaking receivers in the nation, a 6-foot-7 emergency blanket tight end, and one of the best lines in the nation, so as long as he stays within himself, he will continue to have success.

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4. Cam McDaniel

Cam McDaniel
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Statistically speaking, none of the running backs have emerged from each other and they have all gotten about equal work. But it has become clear the last two weeks who the go-to player is during crunch time. He has rarely lit up the scoreboard, but after his performance against the Spartans he now leads the team in rushing. His tough, physical running style has produced two of the team’s three rushing touchdowns and in the drive that put away the Boilermakers he carried it 10 times.

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3. T.J. Jones

TJ Jones
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It would be easy to have DaVaris Daniels, or have them share this spot but T.J. Jones time in and time out has been the Irish’s most clutch player. When the Irish needs a third down conversion, you can bet Rees will look Jones’ way. Third and goal from the two yard line? Jones comes down with a beauty on the end zone boundary, getting both feet down. Jones and Daniels have almost identical numbers, with Jones having one more catch (21-to-20) than Daniels, and Daniels having one more yard than Jones (305-304). The difference has been Daniels’ four touchdown to two advantage, but nonetheless, Jones has been the go-to guy in crunch time.

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2. Louis Nix III

Louis Nix
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Louis Nix III will never have eye popping numbers, but he has arguably been the most dominant player on the Irish all season. He has been double teamed almost all season, for just cause, as against Michigan State he showed what happens if you don’t. Nix punished the offensive lineman, pushing him back, and when he saw the quarterback about to throw the ball, stuck his hand up there and batted in down. Nix seems well on his way to being a first round pick, and has been one of the few bright spots this season so far for the defense, even if the numbers aren’t there.

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1. Offensive Line

Notre Dame
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As a unit, the Irish offensive line has done an unbelievable job at protecting Rees in the passing game, picking up blitzes and stunts almost to perfection. Through four games, the Irish quarterbacks have dropped back 150-times and have only been sacked three times, including none against the Spartans tough front seven.

If there is one thing the Irish’s line could improve on is run blocking. With the beef, talent and experience up front, they don’t seem to be creating the running room you would want to see the running backs get. The team’s total rushing yards have dropped in each game this season, but some of that could be attributed to the defense getting tougher and tougher each week. In the end, the Irish have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, so they will have to push through and create the holes so that the offense can find some consistently.