Noie: Back to basics roots a boost for Notre Dame offense in opener
SOUTH BEND – Traveling from all directions – north out of Granger, east off the Ohio Turnpike, west from Chicago along the Indiana Toll Road and up from the south on U.S. 31 – they came to see the newness that’s now Notre Dame Stadium.
A massive video board on the south end of the seating bowl. Luxury suites on the east and west sides. An updated concourse. New life breathed into a building that sorely needed to pull Notre Dame to the present and into the future.
The Irish then stepped back in time Saturday. Back when stadiums didn’t require fan-friendly amenities to make football afternoons special. Back to a time that seems so long ago – a time of the old, uncomfortable bench seating and natural grass and 59,075 fans in the stands when the Irish dominated their opponents by doing something so simple.
By running the ball.
Left. Right. Right. Left. Power runs behind a mammoth group that controlled the line of scrimmage. Sweeps where quick backs ran away from slower defenders. With a plethora of carriers, all rotating with one another to make sure each guy got theirs. And when they got close to the goal line, an area where the first-time starting quarterback said afterward that they can just “smell” everything a bit differently, they again capitalized. Every time.
Six trips to the red zone resulted in six touchdowns in a 49-16 victory over Temple for a Notre Dame team that delivered some dominant run numbers.
Like 422 rushing yards on 44 carries for an average of 9.6 yards. Like three players all coasting past 100 yards. Josh Adams ran crazy from nearly the start, getting to 161 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. By the end of the first 15 minutes, he already had 112 yards. The game and the season weren’t even 60 seconds old and he was racing 37 yards down the near sideline for a score. Like Dexter Williams, showing a first step so quick and definitive that it would make a basketball point guard jealous, going for 124 yards, including 66 on one run, on only six carries. And then there was quarterback Brandon Wimbush, making his first collegiate start and still going for 106 yards and a score.
“It feels good when everybody on the team, and especially the offense is able to do their job and do it effectively,” Adams said. “That goes to really preparing and trusting each other.”’
On an opening college football weekend when the likes of Ohio State and Southern California and Wisconsin all were sluggish out the gate before eventually winning, Notre Dame was really good really early.
Less than four minutes into the second quarter, the Irish led 28-3. Game. Effectively. Over.
Early in the fourth quarter, Adams and Wimbush became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in the season opener since 1993 when Reggie Brooks and Jerome Bettis did it. That’s some seriously select company. Williams then hit for over 100. Getting three over 100 yards? That hasn’t happened at Notre Dame since at least 1953. There were no video boards with music of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and luxury suites serving fancy foods at halftime back then.
The carries kept coming. So did the yards. From all directions.
Notre Dame ran for five touchdowns, the most since getting six in the dismantling of Massachusetts on Sept. 26, 2015.
This was a long time coming. Too long.
Forget spreading the field with three and four wideouts. Of exotic multiple formations and a passing game production that might make a mathematician’s head spin. This was roll up your sleeves and do some serious work.
During last season’s 4-8 debacle, the best the Irish did on the ground was 261 yards. Against Army. They hit that number Saturday sometime in the second quarter, and had rolled up 293 by intermission.
Notre Dame once won long ago by just running the ball. It hasn’t won as much in far too long, maybe in part because it hasn’t been able to totally commit to the run.
Time to commit to it.
Coach Brian Kelly wasn’t surprised to see the Irish run into chunk play after chunk play. He half expected it. Put eight and sometimes nine men in the box, as Temple did, and a veteran offensive line with plenty to prove this season should blow open holes big enough to run a semi or two or three through. Temple dared Notre Dame to do something on the ground and the Irish proceeded to run away.
“When you play that kind of defense, you’re going to get some big runs,” Kelly said.
The more the Irish kept gaining big yards and moving the chains, the more they wanted to run the ball again. And again. And again.
Then they did.
Didn’t matter time or score or field position or even direction the guy with the ball was going to go. Everyone in the stadium, everyone on the Temple sideline figured that if the Irish were going to do anything offensively, anything running the ball, they were going to do it behind the left-side wall of tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson. It was going to be left, left and left again.
Notre Dame then went right, and right some more behind guard Alex Bars and the tackle tandem of Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey.
Kelly told his left side guys that they would run right. A lot.
“They,” Kelly said, “didn’t like that.”
Wimbush didn’t mind. Despite making his debut, he carried a veteran’s confidence that whatever direction the play started, it was going to end in the same way – somewhere down the field.
“That offensive line is pretty special,” he said.
When it was over, the left-to-right ratio of play calls was nearly 50/50. It gave the Irish even more confidence and allowed them to send a message to future opponents, like Georgia, up next at the stadium in the first of the season’s two night games Saturday.
Try and scout the Irish tendencies, and they’re going to do something different. And do it well. Such was the case Saturday.
This season is just getting started. So might be the Irish.
“The country’s seen what we can do,” Wimbush said.
“There's so much left in our pocket right now."