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Notre Dame Fighting Irish

ESPN analyst Greg McElroy: Notre Dame is back

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is a force to be reckoned with, ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy says.

The ESPN voice was impressed with Notre Dame after the Fighting Irish defeated Virginia Tech 45-23 last week.

“I’ve always been very cautious about jumping on board the bandwagon, especially when it comes to Notre Dame,” McElroy said on the Monday edition of ESPN’s College Football Live. “But if you look at the way the Irish have played since Ian Book has been thrust into the starting lineup, you welcome back Dexter Williams and what he brings to that running game and you look at the personnel they have on defense. All beat up in the trenches up front, down to only two defensive linemen and yet they are unfazed by what was a very difficult situation.

“Notre Dame is for real, guys. And at one point, there was a legitimate gap between the top-four teams and the rest of college football. After Saturday’s performance, I really am, I’m willing to put Notre Dame alongside that Alabama, which is a gap between them and everybody else, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State. Notre Dame is right in that mix.”

The Fighting Irish got a big contribution from Williams, who rushed 17 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns. The senior rusher was suspended for the first four games of the season, but he now owns back-to-back games with over 100 yards on the ground.

“Dexter has waited for his opportunity and he’s certainly making the best of it,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Sunday. Good blocking up front. You know, he found a seam there inside the kick-out block and obviously has got great speed. But you know, well blocked up front, and you know, he took advantage of a defense that doesn’t have a lot of layers to it. We talked about it all week: If you could catch a seam, you’ve got a chance for a big run.

Notre Dame was also able to hold Virginia Tech in check despite the absence of starting pass rusher Daelin Hayes, and other defensive end Julian Okwara was ejected in the second quarter for targeting.

“We went down without Daelin Hayes, so you’re down your two starting drops,” Kelly said. “Jamir (Jones) has got to play in there and then Adetokunbo Ogundeji has to go over and play a position he hasn’t played very much. I thought the kids did a really good job of not letting the adversity take advantage of the situation for them. They did their job. We’re better with Julian and Daelin no question, but those guys stepped up and played to a standard. That’s what we talk about with next man in. It’s not just the next guy coming and playing; he’s got to play well. I think that’s what stood out for me..”

No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) hosts Pittsburgh (3-3) on Saturday.

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