Notre Dame played an actual game of football today. It felt almost surreal given everything that has happened since Notre Dame last played in December, but the Irish did indeed play and beat Duke 27-13 to improve to 1-0 in conference play.
Here are my quick takes from the game.
Michael Mayer is already a dude for the Notre Dame offense
I heard the hype this summer and thought, sure, Michael Mayer could have a role this year, but wow. The nickname “Baby Gronk” seemed pretty fitting when Mayer took a pass from Ian Book well short of the first down on a third-down with a defender on his back essentially and turned it into a first down. Very few tight ends convert that play, let alone true freshmen.
Mayer was five yards short of the first down when he hauled in the pass, broke a tackle, and then bulled his way for the first. Big-time play from a true frosh. Mayer had three receptions for 38 yards on three targets on the afternoon. It was just one game, but it is very easy to see why the staff has been so high on Mayer.
Kyren Williams looks like a stud.
Speaking of studs, how about Kyren Williams. In the first start of his career, all the guy did was run for 112 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns while adding another 93 yards on two receptions. He should have had a whole lot more receiving yards too, but Book misfired on a screen in the third that was easily a 30+ yard play and could have even been a 70+ yard touchdown with the blocking set up.
Williams got off to a slow start while the offensive line struggled early, but he showed why he won the job with the kind of vision and patience we did not see from Notre Dame running backs in 2019. His 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter was a prime example of that. Instead of just running into the line to try and convert the 4th and short, he bounced the ball outside and ended up scoring. No Notre Dame back on the roster last year makes that play.
Notre Dame’s offense struggled, but we should have expected that
I admit, I got caught up a little bit into the Tommy Rees as an offensive genius notion this off-season and let that cloud my judgment a bit. We should have expected some struggles from the offense considering the lack of spring ball and all of the new weapons – especially with Kevin Austin out and Braden Lenzy apparently unavailable.
Still, the one issue that popped up on offense that can’t be explained away by the lack of practice was Ian Book’s early indecisiveness in the pocket. This is his third year as the starting quarterback. He’s got the experience so that was a bit alarming. Hopefully, it’s not a recurring theme.
On a positive, we learned Mayer and Williams are beasts and that Chris Tyree’s speed is as advertised. That’s something Notre Dame can work with until they get Austin and Lenzy back.
Where was Braden Lemzy?
Notre Dame entered the game without their best wide receiver with Kevin Austin out with an injury. They played the game without the second-best wide receiver – and their lone deep threat – Braden Lenzy. The reason for Lenzy’s absence isn’t known. Notre Dame said after the game that Lenzy was available for the game. He didn’t play though.
Reports started to surface before the game that Lenzy wasn’t on the field for warm-ups, but was then seen in uniform during the game. If the reason for his absence was some sort of disciplinary reason, we likely won’t get any official confirmation.
Hopefully, this was a one-week thing and Lenzy is back in action next week because the Notre Dame offense needed Lenzy’s big-play ability today.
UPDATE: Tim Prister reported late Saturday night that Lenzy had a minor hamstring injury.
Isiah Foskey is also a dude already
I’m not sure why Duke kept not blocking Isaiah Foskey, but future Notre Dame opponents probably want to account for #7 on Notre Dame’s defense. Foskey spent a lot of his day in the Duke backfield while picking up 1.5 TFL including a sack. Foskey owes the ACC replay crew for the sack since the play was initially ruled an incomplete pass with an intentional grounding call – ie there was no difference at all in the outcome of the play – but he earned it for all the time he spent in the Duke backfield.
In addition to his 1.5 TFL, he had two other quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. Foskey looks like he could be in line for an Aaron Lynch type sophomore season for the Irish.
Kyle Hamilton’s Injury Looked Back, But It Appears Minor
The biggest scare on Saturday was the injury to Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton got rolled up on in the third quarter and never returned. Early reports are that Hamilton just suffered an ankle sprain and could have potentially returned. That said, Hamilton was seen noticeably hobbling on the sideline.
Before the injury, Hamilton was his normal disruptive-self. He had four tackles on Duke’s first drive alone and just missed an interception on their second. He was seemingly everywhere on the field even though you would imagine that Duke would have coached Chase Brise to go away from him.
Kurt Hinish had himself a game
I spent a bit of time this summer writing about how Jayson Ademilola and Jacob Lacey could eventually unseat Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish this season. Welp, Hinish did not look like a player who is going to have his starting spot challenged any time soon. Hinish had two tackles and both of them were for a loss including a second-half sack.
The fake punt took a lot of stones to call
Notre Dame was struggling to move the ball offensively when Notre Dame called a fake punt on 4th and 8 from their own 21. The Irish were down 3-0 at the time and if they had not converted there, Duke would have had the ball in prime position with a chance to go up two scores. Instead, Notre Dame converted and ended that drive with their first touchdown of the year.
Calling that fake at that time, at that point of the field took a lot of guts for Brian Kelly and Brian Polain. It was a huge risk/reward play that worked out for the Irish. I can only imagine the internet’s reaction to it had it not worked out, but it worked and helped turn the tide of the game early on.