Another long and tumultuous off-season came to an end on Saturday with a blowout victory for the Fighting Irish. With Everett Golson back under center the Irish offense flourished enroute to a 48-17 season opening win over Rice. Here are 5 things I liked the most from Notre Dame’s win yesterday.
1. The Return of Everett Golson
This one goes without saying almost, but seeing Evertt Goslon shred the Rice defense while accounting for five different Notre Dame touchdowns was a beautiful sight. Golson was 14 of 22 for 295 yards with 2 touchdowns to go along with 41 yards rushing and another 3 touchdowns on the ground in his return to action after missing all of the 2013 season. He looked a little shaky early on with his accuracy – and should have thrown an interception that was thankfully dropped – but once he shook off some rust, he showed the signs of being the big game, big play quarterback we’ve been waiting for him to become. The one play that stood out the most to me for Golson was his third rushing touchdown. Standing in the shotgun, Golson received the snap and turned to his left for a read option play. The problem was, Greg Bryant was on his right side. It was a busted play but Golson turned it into a touchdown. That kind of skill and ability can’t be coached – it’s just God given talent. Golson has it and the Notre Dame offense is going to benefit from it big time this year.
2. The Presence of a Punt Return Game
This one probably should have been number one, but Golson’s performance was too goo not to list first. Notre Dame’s punt return unit has been absolutely abysmal the last few years, but on Saturday we finally saw the signs of a punt return unit that can make plays. Last year Notre Dame had 105 yards returning punts the entire season. Against Rice, Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant combined for 80 punt return yards. In fact, Riggs averaged 24.5 yards per return on two different punt returns. Greg Bryant has one return where the ball bounced over his head and he ended up having to scoop it up inside the 5 yard line that I’m sure Brian Kelly will have a few things to say to him, but other than that it was amazing to see the punt return game make plays and switch field position instead of being a non-factor.
3. The Notre Dame Wide Receivers
The CJ Prosise drop aside, the Irish wide receiver played a hell of a game on Saturday. Will Fuller showed his big play potential with his 75 yard bomb from Golson in the first quarter. Corey Robinson looked so much smoother and faster than he did as a frosh. Amir Carlisle’s athleticism was on display with a couple nice catches. And Prosise, even with the drop, still added a long touchdown of his own. All in all that is a great performance from the group. The play from the wide receivers gave hope that the Irish can survive just fine if they are without Davaris Daniels for an extended period this season. The group may lack a true go-to guy but as a group all of the talent and potential was on full display yesterday. We didn’t even see that much from Chris Brown either who had drawn praise from Kelly all summer long.
4. Some signs of a Pass Rush
Notre Dame only had two sacks on Saturday, but the young defensive line did show some signs of being able to generate a pass rush without the use of the blitz. No, the pass rush wasn’t relentless and yes, it was just Rice. Buuuuuut considering the young and inexperience of the defensive line they should some encouraging signs. The defensive line is one of the units on the team that scares me a lot this year so maybe I am reaching here, but overall I was pleased with the play of the defensive line. Next week will be a much bigger test for the young defensive line when Michigan comes to town, but if they can generate some pressure against Michigan without having to blitz to much and open up the potential for too many long runs from Devin Gardner the Irish should be in good shape.
5. The Sophomore Notre Dame Running Backs
We’ve talked a ton about the young running backs and their potential this off-season and they didn’t disappoint. Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant combined for 20 carries for 142 yards and a touchdown. If Notre Dame gets that kind of production from them each week the Notre Dame offense is going to score a lot of points. If anything, I would have liked to see Kelly feed his sophomore backs the ball even more yesterday because it was clear Rice didn’t have an answer for them. There were a lot of other things I liked in the game as well. It was great to see Notre Dame up big in the 4th quarter and get the second units some experienced. I loved seeing Malik Zaire get some action and bust a huge run on the first play from scrimmage of his career. It’s a good problem when there’s too many things to list in this column. Let’s hope that’s the case next weekend too.