A Perfect Opener for Notre Dame Football?

Notre Dame got its 2017 football season off to a great start on Saturday with a 49-16 victory over the defending AAC champion Temple Owls.  The Irish ran for 422 yards with three players topping 100 yards for the first time in program history and the Irish defense held Temple in check most of the day.  Notre Dame was far from perfect in their season opening win, but Saturday’s performance might just have been a perfect combination of dominance and sloppiness to give the players a taste of success and the coaches enough to harp on all week in practice.

The Notre Dame ground game dominated

This has been discussed a lot over the last two days, but Notre Dame lined up and ran right at eight and nine fronts and didn’t care that Temple wanted to stop the run.  Notre Dame wanted to run it more.  How many times over the last eight years has Notre Dame gotten cute and did what the defense wanted them to do instead of what they wanted to do?  Too many.

Temple’s defense might take a step back this year after the talent they lost to the NFL, but this is still a good defense and their new head coach has a defensive background.  Notre Dame didn’t care and they didn’t abandon the run when they were only getting 2-3 yards at times against the stacked line.   Again, how often has that happened in the past?

All three running backs reached the end zone and the coaches can even use Tony Jones near fumble as a teaching moment this week.

But the passing game struggled and needs work

While the running game was busy racking up 422 yards, the passing game sputtered and looked like its timing just wasn’t quite there – especially on those wide receiver screens.  There were a couple of those screens that could have been disasters.  They weren’t against Temple, but it could be a different story against Georgia if they don’t clean those up.

Outside of Equanimeous St. Brown, no other wide receiver really stepped up either which is a concern.  Notre Dame needs another receiver or two from its deep corps to step up.  If that’s Chase Claypool and Notre Dame has to deal with some growing pains as he learns the position, so be it.  As long as someone steps up as a viable #2 option so defenses don’t just key on St. Brown.

Both Brandon Wimbush and Brian Kelly hinted that we did not see the full offense against Temple.  It’s not that Notre Dame held back purposefully either, but with the run game working, they didn’t need to get too deep into their passing game.  That passing game will be needed next weekend.

Brandon Wimbush flashed both elite skills and inexperience

From a coach’s perspective, Wimbush had a perfect starting debut.  He made plays, he made mistakes, and he got the win.  Wimbush flashed just how dangerous of a runner he could be by topping 100 yards but at the same time, he took way too many hits.  The coaches will undoubtedly be working with him this week on protecting himself better when he takes off.

Passing the ball, Wimbush made a really bad decision on his lone interception.  That is something that he’ll get better at in time and gives the coaches something else to work with this week.  We also saw Wimbush’s arm on his bomb attempt to Equanimeous St. Brown, but he put too much on it and it fell incomplete.  Wimbush had Durham Smythe streaking down the field in the 4th quarter shortly after but he overthrew him as well.

All of these things are to be expected with a first year starter.  Important thing here is that Wimbush showed his potential, but also made enough mistakes that it should be easy to keep him focused this week.

The defense kept Temple off the scoreboard most of the day

Temple moved the ball at times and had over 200 yards  of offense by halftime, but the Notre Dame defense kept the Owls off the scoreboard for most of the day.  Temple didn’t reach the end zone until they were already down 28-3.   The Notre Dame defense also kept Temple off the scoreboard at a crucial moment in the 3rd quarter when they could have gotten back in the game.  After Wimbush’s interception, Temple was knocking on the door of the end zone and could have cut the lead to 28-17 but instead Tevon Coney registered a sack to force a field goal and then Temple missed the kick.

Sacks AND tackles for loss without crazy blitzing?!?

Remember when Brian Vangorder would dial up a crazy blitz that never got home and just resulted in lots of big chunk plays for the opposing offense?  Well for at least one week, Notre Dame a lot of stops behind the line of scrimmage without needing to do that.  The Irish racked up 11 tackles for loss and 3 sacks while rarely blitzing.  They did send an extra man from time to time, but nothing too crazy.

Temple’s offensive line is pretty solid too so Notre Dame did all that against a team with a good front.  Georgia’s offensive line is not expected to be what it’s been in the past so this bodes well for this weekend.

But the secondary had several breakdowns

While the defense played reasonably well in Mike Elko’s debut, there were still enough breakdowns in the secondary for him to work on this week.  In fact, the score could have been a lot different if Temple wide receivers were able to hold on to several catchable passes throughout the game.  Instead, the Owls had a number of crucial drops that killed drives.

The secondary breakdowns were highlighted with Temple’s 4th quarter touchdown.  After one breakdown let Temple receiver Kenny Yeboah all alone in the end zone only to drop the perfectly placed pass, another breakdown on the ensuing play resulted in Temple’s second and last touchdown of the game.

There’ll be more breakdowns throughout the season.  It’s just bound to happen with a new defense.  What made the breakdowns “ideal” on Saturday was that they weren’t at critical junctures like we’ve seen in the past and they didn’t have any impact on the outcome.  Those are the kind of breakdowns you can live with and they are the best kind of mistakes for the players to learn from.

And missed tackles were still plentiful

Another area for Elko to work on this week was all of the missed tackles.  It wasn’t quite Brian Vangorder era level missed tackles, but there were still more missed tackles than you can really live with.  Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini actually were surprisingly sloppy in this department.  That will hopefully get cleaned up more this week and improve each week.

Both the breakdowns and some missed tackles are expected in the first game in a new system.  If they keep happening in week seven or eight, then we have some issues.

All of this came against a pretty good team too.  Temple won 20 games the last two years and they should still be a pretty good team this year despite the lopsided loss to Notre Dame.  So to recap, here is why the Irish had a “perfect” opener without playing perfect.

  • Notre Dame asserted their will on Temple and ran when Temple tried to take it away
  • The offensive line was dominant against a pretty good defensive front
  • Both units had a lot of good to build on and enough mistakes to keep the players focused and keyed in this week
  • A lot of players played and got experience
  • Notre Dame dominated a pretty team from start to finish

Add that all up and the Irish were pretty perfectly imperfect this weekend.

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  1. A good and I think balanced analysis. ND accomplished what I wanted to see, a blowout win. I was happy to see an effective run game, and I think the two quick touchdowns were important here. Put Temple on their heels by the end of the 1st quarter. There are some areas that need work on the defense, which I expected, however I will say they still did better then I expected. They stepped up when it counted most. The most aggravating defensive mistake for me was the penalty that ended up giving Temple a key 4th down conversion that led to their final TD, but the offense took care of preventing any momentum for Temple. Special Teams also appeared to be better out of the gate. No real complaints about the play calling overall. I mean, they scored 49 points after all so it worked.

    All that being said, I still have my doubts about BK. I was happy overall with Saturday’s game and it is very much a step in the right direction. I figure Temple will have a winning record this year, but there’s no guarantees. But ND did what it needed to do, took advantage of their opportunities and scored a dominant win. Now the next step is to prepare for Georgia. Georgia, at least on paper, should be a better team then Temple. Georgia does seem to be perennial underachievers, having the players to contend for NC’s but never quite getting there. Based on what I saw an Saturday I figure they have a decent shot at a win if they continue doing what they did right, and take steps to minimize mistakes made on Saturday. I’d like to see more successful passing to other receivers, otherwise St Brown is going to get too much attention from defenses, and some improvements in our secondary. If ND can make some improvements in those areas, I feel they have a good shot next week. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    1. Oh, and this game was a reminder as to why players should never talk smack about the other team. The Temple players were right, it was a blowout, they just picked the wrong team to have the blowout :).

  2. Great post/comments below. Only 4 at this time , but some of the best I’ve seen on UHND. Really into the game of what transpired versus Temple and what lies ahead versus Georgia. And Frank’s article was spot on. My only added concern is the two running backs from Georgia. If any of you remember the 1977 season — Texas RB Earl Campbell was the Heisman trophy winner going into the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame. This guy had thighs like tree trunks and unstopable all season long. Until he met up with the Fighting Irish in the ’77 Cotton Bowl. Winner of this game would win the Championship. Well , Irish stopped Cambpell — held him to under 100 yards. The Irish used a 4 man D-line front — but used Middle linebacker Bob Golic as a rover — and he was everywhere. Most notably in the middle like a nose guard — over the center. So , this became a 5 man D-line so to speak , and Campbell was stuffed time and again at line of scrimmage. It was Earl Campbells worst outing of the season and Irish won the Title in ’77 coached by Dan Devine. Sorry , getting side tracked here — but what lies ahead are two Georgia RB’s with same physical traits as Earl Campbell. Both are beasts and with tree trunk thighs. I’m sure there will be pre game articles up coming by UHND authors — on how to stop these two “Game of Thrones” type creatures. Go Irish !

  3. Frank,
    Most of the tackling was outstanding! The two linebackers might have been the exception, especially Greer…Nyles did not get too many opportunities due to Temple’s play selection. He needs to get more active. The Tranquil/Hayes side of the line was nearly impenetrable. That edge always seemed to hold.
    We need to lose the stupid “screen” as you call it. It is always read immediately, and usually fails to get back to the line of scrimmage before first contact. It has been that way for years. RUN A REAL SCREEN COACH… run a center screen or a Rocket Ismail Screen, or a Tight end iso screen! Do something that actually hurts them!
    And Frank, you are right, it was a great first game situation and result.
    Winbush locked his eyes in on his receiver on the interception – totally! A rookie mistake! That’s OK, overall he acquitted himself very well. He needs to LOSE the 360 degree spin move NOW…before someone breaks him in half. He needs to understand that he’s NOT a running back and he’s NOT expendable, like a WW II PT Boat crew!

    Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  4. Right on the mark, Frank V.

    Enjoyed the blowout, and there’s not much to disagree with about this article. That stop from the 11 after the interception brought back memories of the 2012 D’. Coney was key! I also enjoyed ND finishing strong with two fourth quarter TDs and not reverting to a defensive offensive strategy like they have so often recently by settling for hanging on to a lead instead of expanding it.

    Moving on, Georgia’s pre-season positions’ rankings in some publications included #4 best team re: their LBs and #6 with their DBs, a major step-up from Temple, who graduated a ton of starters from last year’s ten-win team and their impressive D’. But let’s not underrate; instead, let’s appreciate the ’17 ND opener.The stats show NDs DL was involved in 20 + tackles/assists, which is more evidence of their improvement and involvement.
    The Dawgs are going to run right at ND, so the DL will have to keep Georgia’s OL off NDs LBs, and NDs LBs and safeties are going to have to miss fewer tackles for ND to be 2-0. As is often the case, this game will probably be decided by the quality of NDs OL and DL play.

    More Dexter Williams, please!

    1. Georgia will throw slants at us – just to see if we can stop them (and who moves where on our defense when it looks like a slant is coming). If you expect Georgia to just run the ball you are in for a surprise – hopefully our secondary won’t be surprised.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  5. Everything functioned well last time out. But, the next opponent knows to stack at our all american side. I was very impressed by our special team play, limiting the Owls to mediocre field position. And I liked the tight ends in on KO returns. We must hold onto that ball tightly against the next opponent. Also no heroic flat passes, that could be intercepted and go the other way. However to be for real we have to get the tight ends to catch the ball in the middle and risk getting smacked. I don’t put any faith in the field goal kicker except if the game is on the line. Yoon will deliver that kick when need be rest assured.

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