Picking up a 33-point win to start the season shifts the focus from the 2016 woes of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and on the potential of the 2017 unit. While Temple might not be seen as representative of college football elite, especially considering their heavy underdog status, they remained dangerous enough that any positives that could be gleaned from this game were welcome.
Brian Kelly’s squad delivered on the positive news, putting up some eye-opening numbers and avoiding the specter of seeing their momentum blunted with the Georgia Bulldogs next on the docket. Below are some takeaways from the 49-16 pounding of the Temple Owls:
The Commencement of the Wimbush Era
Given the fact that Brandon Wimbush had made only cameo appearances two years ago, it’s not a surprise that the Irish made a point to emphasize the running game. That took the pressure off the sophomore signal caller, who was seemingly more active with his legs than his arm, rushing for 106 yards on the afternoon and reaching the end zone on one score.
However, Wimbush did connect with Equanimeous St. Brown on a 33-yard pass to start the game, which led to a score on the next play. He finished with 184 yards through the air, tossed two touchdown passes and impressed on some others on some other passes, though he’s still a work in progress.
That’s because Wimbush forced some passes, one of which could have been turned into a pick-six, while his lone interception gave Temple the ball in the Irish red zone. The good news is that it’s a positive first step, with his mobility on display all afternoon.
Running Away with the Game
Offensive movement was constant on the day for Notre Dame as they racked up 606 yards of offense. More than two-thirds of that came on the ground as a trio of runners in Wimbush, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams each broke the 100-yard mark. Wimbush’s totals progressed over the course of the game, while the duo of Adams and Williams split up their damage and offered up hopes of creating a lethal one-two tandem
Adams handled the first half in reaching 100 yards by the time the first quarter closed and ended the day with 161 yards and two touchdowns. His gamebreaking potential saw his first score come with a 37-yard scamper on the game’s second play, while a 60-yard burst followed before the half ended.
After the half, Williams upped the ante by racing for 124 yards on six carries for a dazzling 20.7 per carry. That capability is what’s been expected of him, with his longest run of the day coming on a 66-yard push. Similar numbers won’t likely come against the likes of Georgia and Southern Cal, but it was nice to see Williams’ potential on display.
The Value of a Quality Offensive Line
The chief reason for the rampage on the ground was due to an outstanding start by the offensive line, which rightfully took its lumps last year for a decline in their collective play. Leading the charge against Temple was the left side pair of tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson, who made a strong opening argument for their All-American case.
Yet the fact that such play was fully expected of them indicates that the rest of the line also did their job. Going into the season, the remainder of this unit was something of a question mark, but at least for the time being, an area that had been a stronghold in recent years has gotten its tight grip back.
Could the Sacks be Back?
On the defensive side, the welcome sight of three sacks on the afternoon gave hope that this statistic becomes a little more familiar to Notre Dame’s defenders. Part of the 4-8 season last year can be attributed to opposing quarterbacks having more than enough time to pick apart an already-struggling defense, with the Irish collecting just 14 sacks over the course of the year.
The fact that the first sack of the contest took place on Temple’s opening series helped bolster this sector, with sophomore lineman Julian Okwara doing the honors. Once again, the level of competition certainly played a role in the final numbers, with upcoming weeks figuring to determine whether this is a resurgence or just a blip on the radar.
Dodging Some Bullets
In truth, perfection wasn’t in the cards for Notre Dame, even if the scoreboard might enhance that belief. Wimbush was able to avoid seeing his confidence shattered by Temple’s penchant for trying for the interception on his short tosses. The Owls only succeeded once but could have had as many as four picks had the luck of the Irish taken the day off.
Temple had a number of chances to reduce their deficit, yet couldn’t take advantage of the breaks offered. One of the more crushing moments came when they came up empty midway through the third quarter following Wimbush’s lone interception. Despite starting at the Irish 14, a missed field goal killed any real momentum for a comeback effort.
The Georgia Bulldogs make their first-ever trip to South Bend and began the year ranked 15th in the country. Emerging with a victory here would offer a healthy dose of momentum for the remainder of this season.