There was a lot to like in Notre Dame’s 40 point win over Navy yesterday from the play of the running backs to the dominant performances along both lines of scrimmage. Here’s a recap of the things I liked seeing the most as I watched the Irish open the season at the crack of dawn yesterday.
1. A dominant offensive line.
Remember the days when Notre Dame would line up offensive linemen that towered over the Navy defensive front and would just run, run, run because the Middies couldn’t stop them? It has been a while since we’ve seen it consistently, but we’ve seen it two years in a row now. Notre Dame ran the ball at will on Saturday to the tune of 296 yards on 46 carries.
With a rookie quarterback, Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin relied on their ground attack to lead them to an easy win over a team that has given Notre Dame much more trouble than they ever should over the last several years. Their plan worked nearly to perfection with Everett Golson easing into his new role. He’ll be asked to do more in the coming weeks, but on Saturday he stood behind his stout offensive line and let them lead the way.
2. George Atkinson
Last year I really pumped up Theo Riddick in the pre-season and he didn’t quite live up to the hype I created. This summer George Atkinson was the object of my hypification and after one week he is making me look much smarter (no small task) than Riddick a year a go.. The sophomore running back picked up 99 yards on just 9 carries highlighted by a career long 56 yard touchdown.
Atkinson is going to be a dynamic playmaker in this offense. I have no doubt about that at this point and Saturday was the first time in which he started to show why. Even when Cierre Wood returns from suspension, I expect to see Atkinson getting plenty of carries and making the most of them when he does, just as he did on Saturday. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Atkinson ascend to the #2 running back on the Irish depth chart by seeason’s end as well.
3. Back to back 40 point wins over Navy
When was the last time Notre Dame won back to back games over Navy let alone back to back 40 point wins? You have to go back to 2005-2006 for the last time the Irish won back to back games over the Middies and all the way back to 1993-94 for the last time Notre Dame did so by 40 points or more.
Ten years ago wins over Navy were, for the most part a given, but after 3 losses to the Midshipmen from 2007-2010, a win over Navy had became anything but automatic.
In fact, I still remember sitting in the Meadowlands in 2010 and for the first time having the slightest bit of doubt that Brian Kelly wasn’t the man for the job. He still has a long way to go, but after Saturday Kelly has now done something that none of Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, or Charlie Weis ever did – beat Navy by 40 or more points in back to back seasons.
By the way, the last time and only other time Notre Dame beat Navy by 40 or more in back to back seasons before ’93-94 was 1969-70 under Ara Parseghian meaning Kelly has now joined Lou and Ara as the only Notre Dame coaches to post back to back 40 point wins over Navy. Not bad company.
4. Stephon Tuitt and the defensive line
Notre Dame may have lost pass rushing star Aaron Lynch to transfer in the off-season, but the Irish still have impressive depth up front and a bonafide rising star in Stephon Tuitt. I have watched his fumble return for a touchdown several times now and still can’t believe how fast he made it 77 yards for a 300+ lineman. I just can’t remember Notre Dame ever having a defensive lineman that big that could move like that in the 13+ years UHND has existed or the 25 or so years that I remember watching Notre Dame football.
Aside from Tuitt, who was really impressive, Kapron Lewis-Moore was all over the field, Kona Schwenke showed great pass rushing skills from the interior line, and Louis Nix was a nightmare to handle in the middle of the defense. Right now, the defensive line for Notre Dame is easily the strength of the defense. How nice is it to be able to say that?
5. The emergence of Ishaq Williams
Tuitt wasn’t the only sophomore defender to raise some eyebrows with his performance on Saturday. Outside linebacker Ishaq Williams started to flash all of the skills that made him a 5-star recruit two years ago. Williams forced two fumbles and just stood out every time he was on the field.
A year after adjusting to the college game coming out of a relatively uncompetitive level of high school football, Williams looks ready to emerge as a legit star defender for the Irish. Bob Diaco is going to have a great problem to have getting him and Prince Shembo on the field at the same time very soon.
Other things I liked in Notre Dame’s win over Navy
- Notre Dame’s new pants. For all of the consternation over the uniforms for the Shamrock Series, the uniforms on Saturday honestly looked better than I can ever remember. Notre Dame got their pants to match the color of the new helmets and the result looked great. Good job Adidas.
- Cam McDaniel looked more than capable of playing running back in this offense. Based on the need in the secondary he may end up back there, but I really liked what I saw from him yesterday.
- TJ Jones on wide receiver screens. Jones only had two catches, but I was impressed with both. Neither looked like they had much blocking but the junior turned both into 10 yard gains.
- Notre Dame continuing to be aggressive until the end. I loved seeing Notre Dam scoring a late touchdown with the backups in instead of taking the foot off the gas.
- Troy Niklas as a receiving threat looks like a potential replacement in the event Tyler Eifert leaves after this year (which appears more than likely). Niklas looked good on his only catch and will continue to see more plays called his way if backup Ben Koyack doesn’t know more consistent hands.
- In the brief glimpse we got of him, I liked the burst we saw from Davonte Neal. Kelly and Martin showed just enough to give Purdue something to worry about for next week. I would expect we’ll see him a little more next week but that we won’t see him fully unleashed until the Irish travel to East Lansing to take on the Spartans of Michigan State in two weeks.