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.