Notre Dame kicked off their 2018 season last night with a 24-17 victory over the #14 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Fueled by their defense the Irish jumped out to an early lead and then held on for the win. Facing the stout Michigan defense, the Irish offense did just enough to win while giving Brian Kelly and Chip Long a lot to build on over the next few weeks.
Here’s this week’s post game 6-pack.
1. Notre Dame just might have itself a pass rush.
The Notre Dame pass rush made strides last year and the hope was that this year it would continue that trend. If Saturday is any indication, it looks like that will happen. Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey didn’t have much time to pass all night long as the Irish kept getting pressure rotating their linemen.
Notre Dame picked up three sacks on Saturday night and had a fourth slip through Asmar Bilal’s hands when he went for the strip and Shea Patterson slipped his grasp. Khalid Kareem had himself a night with two sacks including the game clinching strip sack. Jerry Tillery had the third sack of the night for the Irish.
Now, we’ve seen Notre Dame harass Michigan quarterbacks early in the season only to fall off before – see 2014. At the same time, we saw Notre Dame shut down the Wolverines in 2012 as a sign of things to come so we’ll see which it is this year. Saturday night was a great start to the year for the Notre Dame pass rush though and hopefully is a sign of things to come.
2. Brandon Wimbush showed signs of improvement but is still a work in progress.
There were times Brandon Wimbush showed everyone why Notre Dame has been so patient with him as the starting quarterback like when he ripped off a first down run on 3rd and 18. There were other times though when Wimbush showed why some felt that more of a quarterback competition should have been held this off-season. It was a little of an uneven performance, but that much should have been expected going up against the Michigan defense. Better quarterbacks have looked worse against Michigan.
Notre Dame didn’t ask Wimbush to do too much last night as they went run heavy and relied on their defense. That could very well just be the offense we see all year. What was encouraging though is that Wimbush showed better downfield accuracy when they did take their shots such as the Chris Finke 43 yard touchdown. The short game still looked like a work in progress though.
The performance gives Wimbush and the Notre Dame staff enough to build on for the next few weeks before their next big test at the end of the month against Stanford. And give Wimbush a ton of credit for taking an absolute beating last night. He got hit a lot (too much actually) but he just kept at it.
3. The hype around Alohi Gilman looks like it was legit.
The Navy transfer was all over the field last night with 7 tackles (1 TFL) and 2 pass breakups. Gilman nearly added an interception as well on an errant pass but jumped just a bit too early to come down with the ball. For the first time in a while, Notre Dame had someone roaming the field at safety that wasn’t a liability.
The one area that Notre Dame will need to work on is when the quarterback buys time and scrambles. In the second half Patterson started to make Notre Dame really pay when he extended plays. Part of that is likely from Notre Dame’s last minute shuffling of the secondary following the season ending injury to Shaun Crawford so that shouldn’t be too much of a concern now that Notre Dame has three weeks until Stanford to get that squared away.
We heard all off-season that Gilman was going to be a player and on Saturday he showed that all of that hype was warranted.
4. The Notre Dame offensive line has work to do.
We always knew that facing Michigan in the first game after replacing Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey was going to be a tall task. Michigan’s defensive line is one of the best (maybe the best) in the country. Predictably, Notre Dame’s line struggled at times. Robert Hainsey ended up getting pulled and Josh Lugg got inserted at one point and running room was tough to come by after those first three drives.
Like Wimbush though, some great offensive lines have looked worse against this Michigan defense before. So to me it’s encouraging that the offensive line didn’t just get completely overwhelmed by the Wolverine front. Jeff Quinn now has three weeks to get the line in order before Stanford.
In general the game gave the Notre Dame staff plenty to work on which in a way makes this an almost perfect opener.
5. Special teams have even more work to do.
The one really negative from yesterday was the special teams. Notre Dame gave up a kick-off for a touchdown in the first half that changed the momentum completely. The Irish were up 21-3 at the time and Michigan had very little to feel good about at the time. Those kind of plays can be killers. Luckily for the Irish it wasn’t the difference in the game, but they need to clean up the return units moving forward.
Kick-offs in general were a problem for Notre Dame with another kick-off sailing out of bounds before Notre Dame swapped in Justin Yoon and had him handle both place kicking and kick off duties. He added a 48 yard field goal in the fourth as well as one of the few special teams bright spots.
Tyler Newsome had an uneven game punting. He had one real beauty that was pinned inside the five but his first punt was a complete shank and he added another punt in the fourth quarter that he kicked out of the back of the end zone.
6. The Green Out was actually pretty effective.
I was skeptical that the Green Out would work, but overall it was the most successful color coordination attempt Notre Dame has made. The one criticism of it I have was that Notre Dame spent a lot of time marketing the event and sold a lot of merchandise for it but didn’t pass out towels or pom-poms or anything to the crowd. If you are going to invest time and money marketing it – and you sell merchandise specially for it – at least go all out and have a give away. Notre Dame’s handed out towels before on games even when there wasn’t a “Green Out”.
If Notre Dame attempts another one for Stanford it should be even more effective since there will probably be far few Cardinal fans than there were Wolverine fans there last night.