Facing a school that fielded their first football team just two decades ago, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had little trouble against the South Florida Bulls on Saturday in their 52-0 win. The victory boosts the Irish record to 2-0 and gives them momentum as they embark on their first action away from home.
The contest was never in doubt, with both sides of the ball operating at a high level for Notre Dame. That allowed another socially-distanced crowd to enjoy the game throughout, in contrast to the tense moments against Duke just one week earlier. It also gained a measure of revenge for the Bulls’ shocking win over the Irish in their only previous matchup.
Below are some of the critical aspects of the game
Setting the Tone Early
Unlike that opener against Duke, when their offense remained stagnant during the first quarter, Notre Dame wasted no time making sure they gained the upper hand by scoring on their first four possessions. The first of those scores began when quarterback Ian Book found a wide-open Tommy Tremble for 24 yards and culminated with Book taking it in by himself for the first of three rushing touchdowns of the day.
The Irish notched a pair of touchdowns in the first eight minutes of action that gave them an early 14-0 cushion that they’d build on throughout the contest. Two plays into the second quarter, the Irish completed an 11-play drive to boost their lead to 21-0, then added two more touchdowns before the half had ended.
Even without an offense that was clicking on all cylinders, Notre Dame would have been in good shape in this contest because of their ability to shut down virtually everything South Florida did during the first half. During those opening 30 minutes, the Bulls could only pick up one first down and racked up just 65 yards of total offense.
That number is even more noteworthy when considering that 42 of those yards came on a single run by South Florida’s tiny running back, Johnny Ford, to start their second drive. The Bulls finished with 231 yards of offense, though a good portion of that amount came during nearly a half’s worth of garbage time.
Spreading the Ball Around
The rapid-fire takedown of South Florida allowed Notre Dame to give several players some action on the field. Eight different Irish players toted the ball on the ground. At the same time, an equal number had at least one catch on the afternoon, allowing Notre Dame to collect 428 yards of offense, including 280 in the rushing department.
In truth, a trio of runners supplied the bulk of those rushing yards for the Irish, led by C’Bo Flemister’s 126 yards on just 13 carries. Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams combined for 127 yards, with Williams one of three Notre Dame receivers to have multiple catches.
Shut Down Time
While Notre Dame’s first two opponents haven’t exactly engendered much awe, the Irish defense has made sure to limit any potential damage being done on either third or fourth down. Against Duke and South Florida, Notre Dame defenders have limited third-down conversions to just six times in 30 attempts and stopped their opponents on all but one of their six fourth-down efforts.
That type of success needs to be maintained as the level of competition improves within the Irish’s ACC opponents rises, with the better teams not likely to take risks that end up blowing up in their faces. Such was the case against the Bulls when an expected punt in the first quarter quickly shifted into a standard play call on fourth-and-five. The end result was Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey picking a sack for a nine-yard loss.
The Irish hit the road for the first time in 2020 and travel to Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, looking to remain undefeated in this series. Notre Dame has emerged victorious in all five previous matchups, the last also coming in a road clash two years ago. In that matchup, Book grabbed hold of the starting quarterback position with a 325-yard, two-touchdown performance that saw him complete 25-of his 34 passes and alet so rush for 43 yards. That was part of the 566 offensive yards on the day in the 56-27 blowout.