Behind a dominant run game and an impressive debut from junior Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame opened its season with a 49-16 victory over the Temple Owls.
The Irish wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard as Notre Dame needed just :33 to score on their opening series of the season. Running back Josh Adams capped the drive with a 37-yard touchdown run to give the Irish a 7-0 lead.
The Notre Dame defense exhibited improved technique and awareness in the Mike Elko system, while the Irish offense scored a touchdown on four of its first five drives to take a commanding 28-10 lead at halftime.
After the fast start, the Notre Dame offense was stuck in neutral for most of the second and third quarters. However, after Temple missed a 36-yard field goal that would have cut the Irish lead to two possessions, the Irish went on a second scoring flurry as they scored three touchdowns in the final 16:22 of the game.
Wimbush finished his debut by going 17-30, 184 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT. The junior was efficient through the air, but was also a dynamic playmaker with his feet as he finished the day with 106 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown. Wimbush, Adams, and Dexter Williams all eclipsed the century mark as the Irish recorded 422 yards rushing.
Much was made about Wimbush not being hit in nearly two years, but he more than made up for lost time Saturday.
The quarterback was hit 16 times in vs. Temple – a number that has to come down if he is to make it through the season injury-free. Some of the hits were unavoidable, but others could have been prevented with a slide or throwing the ball away.
Wimbush was able to get away with taking those hits vs. Temple, but that won’t be the case moving forward, especially this week when Georgia comes to town.
“I have to get down a little bit more than I did today,” said Wimbush. “But I’ll learn. Obviously, I’ll learn today. I took a couple shots. I wanted to get hit, so that felt really good for me. I have to be smart and slide when the opportunity presents itself.”
In the pocket, Wimbush was decisive and he did not hesitate to run if his receivers were covered. The offensive line also gave the junior ample time to make his downfield progressions.
Wimbush is talented, but still a tad raw. The most encouraging sign was that he knew exactly what his mistake was on his third quarter interception.
“The interception, he’s got to key the corner,” Kelly said. “The corner came off, lagged. But he’s telling me on the way back, ‘I’ve got to keep my eyes on the corner.’ That ends the conversation pretty quickly with me.
“I love that about him. He’s very coachable and we’ll get better and he’ll be better next week.”
Wimbush showed plenty of flashes Saturday, but he also looked like a quarterback make his first collegiate start. He joined Tommy Rees as the only Notre Dame quarterback to be responsible for three or more touchdowns in his first career start and he proved the only thing missing from his skillset is experience.
Any defensive alterations heading into the 2017 season were going upgrades from the failed Brian VanGorder regime, but by how much?
The new-look Irish defense was not perfect, but they were much-improved. Notre Dame finished the day with 11 TFLs, the second-highest total of the Kelly era. A season ago, ND notched just 61 tackles for loss, which placed with No. 106 nationally.
The Irish finished the game with three sacks, a huge improvement as it took the Irish until the fourth game of the 2016 season before they recorded their third sack.
The Irish defense played reasonably well in the first half, but still allowed the Owls to rush for 80 yards on 21 attempts.
Elko then made the necessary halftime adjustments and held the Temple rushing attack to just five yards in the second half. Notre Dame only held their opponents to under 100 yards rushing four times in the 30 games with VanGorder as the defensive coordinator.
The Notre Dame offense provided plenty of highlights, but the most critical play of the game came at the 5:15 mark of the third quarter. Following Wimbush’s intercpetion, Temple had the ball deep in Irish territory with a chance to cut the lead to 28-17.
Facing a 3rd & 5 at the Notre Dame nine-yard line, Notre Dame linebacker Tevon Coney sacked Logan Marchi to quell the Owl threat and force a longer field goal. The subsequent field goal was missed and the Irish maintained their 18-point advantage.
On the third down play, Temple TE Chris Myarick was uncovered in the endzone and would have been an easy target had Coney not been in Marchi’s face. A touchdown in that situations would have established an uneasy vibe throughout Notre Dame Stadium.
Instead, the Irish took the ensuing drive down the field for a touchdown to extend the lead to 35-10 and put the game out of reach.
– Notre Dame’s fast start set the tone for the entire game, but the lull in the second and third quarter was very reminiscent of 2016.
– Wimbush was solid in his first start, but moving forward the Irish need to stay ahead of the chains and out of obvious passing situations. He is not going to be making complex reads in the passing game – he is still too young. WImbush will be at his best if the Irish can utilize their strong running game to open up things through play action.
– Wimbush’s legs are a tremendous weapon, but it needs to be used sparingly. There were more than a few instances in Saturday’s game where the redshirt sophomore could have slid or thrown the ball away, but instead took a hit. Wimbush will have to be smart about avoiding debilitating hits next week vs. Georgia.
– Wimbush was hit a total of 16 times vs. Temple, if this week’s totals are similar, Ian Book will be getting some time behind center.
– The Irish were dominant on the ground, accruing over 400 yards rushing, but how much was that the result of facing an undersized Temple defensive line? ND boasts as good of a trio as any in college football, but they will be tested next week vs. UGA.
– The defense was greatly improved, but it is till too early to tell if that was noticeable strides on ND’s end or a result of Temple’s offensive shortcomings.
– The Irish seemed to generate penetration, especially in the first half, but were unable to tun those into losses.
– Saturday was a good first step, but we will know much more about Wimbush and the entire Notre Dame team this week vs. Georgia.