Noie: Notre Dame accepts, answers challenge from Brian Kelly
SOUTH BEND – Dropping the hammer on a third-straight opponent often saw Notre Dame instead drop the ball in recent football seasons.
Couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. Didn’t even happen in 2012. Or in 2015. The Irish would play well and maybe win easily one week, then struggle to succeed the next. And the next. Or even lose.
On a late-Saturday afternoon/early evening at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish distanced themselves a little more from 4-8 and took another step toward possibly something special following a 52-17 victory over Miami (Ohio).
Winners of three straight, the Irish (4-1) scored early, scored often and kept the hammer down. On both sides of the ball. They did what Brian Kelly wanted them to do when he talked about this one earlier in the week.
Don’t put a face on the opponent, whether that face is/was/will be Georgia, Michigan State, Miami or USC. Southeastern Conference or Mid-American. Didn’t matter. Nor did where the game was played or what time. Or cable channel.
Kelly wanted the Irish to carry a certain mental toughness that allowed them to dominate. From start to finish. Four quarters of full effort.
Consider Miami dominated. Basically from the opening kickoff.
“It was another real growth moment for this football team,” Kelly said. “Really proud of my guys. It’s a great group to be around.
“We’ve got really good players.”
There’s something different about these players. They believe. They want more. Now. It’s not enough to score on the game’s second play. They want to score again. And keep scoring. And then make a few plays on defense.
And keep rolling. Not just be good one quarter and OK the next. Sure and steady. And ready.
“We preach all the time we don’t want these up and down performances; that’s how you get beat,” said defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, who cradled the game ball during his post-game media session. “We were able to impose our will on this team consistently and that was our goal from the start.”
Why now? Why this team?
“It’s our preparation,” Tillery said. “We prepare so much to dominate games and beat people and not giving up.”
It was another week – the third in a row – of the Irish getting least 355 yards of offense (503), scoring 38 points and allowing fewer than 21. None of Notre Dame’s scoring drives took longer than 2:20. And no turnovers for a second-straight week.
Now that’s balance.
“This team is complementing each other very well,” Kelly said. “We don’t hurt each other.”
Saturday marked the first time since 2005 - and a quick show of hands if you remember how that season turned out - that Notre Dame has won three-straight games by at least 20 points. It also was the first time since 2006 - again, hands - that the Irish have scored at least 38 points in three consecutive games.
Again it was a big dose of Josh Adams early. Less than nine minutes in, Adams already had a ridiculous 151 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Adams carried eight times for 159 yards – an average of 19.9 per rush – before taking much of the final two-plus quarters off after limping off with an ankle injury. Nothing serious, though. Had the game been a bit closer, he’d have gone.
“We’re just excited on how far we’ve come,” Adams said. “To see it pay off is just a blessing.”
The home team’s drive chart barely five minutes into the first half looked good for an entire game. The Irish had the ball six times and scored five touchdowns. That included the first three times they touched the ball.
Game basically over.
Even before the first 15 minutes were played, it was time to start reaching for the history books. Notre Dame’s 28 points in the first quarter marked the first time in a long time – 12 years – that the Irish had erupted for as many as 28 points in a quarter.
And to think at this point last year – after the third home game - it was all about damage control and finding a replacement for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. After losing. At home. To Duke.
New season. New defensive coordinator. New resolve.
For the third-straight week, fans of the other team were headed for exits early in the fourth quarter. No chance. Not on this night.
“It’s amazing to see our guys get in the games and get reps,” Tillery said. “It means a lot.”
How bad did it get for Miami? How easy did it seem for Notre Dame? The Irish dusted off a fake punt call midway through the second quarter. It was wide open for backup running back Tony Jones, who picked up 32 yards.
The Irish were up 35-14 at the time.
With 10:08 remaining before halftime and the setting sun having dipped below the automatic shades lowered on the east side press box, viewing the field was nearly impossible. It didn’t matter. This one was long over.
Notre Dame led 45-14 at half. It was the most points for the Irish in a first half under Kelly in his eight seasons at Notre Dame. It was time to start getting other guys some time, time to start resting some of the main guys and time to start planning/thinking about the upcoming road trip to North Carolina.
The sun was down by the start of the second half, but Miami’s lights had already gone out. The final two quarters? Merely an exercise. Run some plays. Burn some clock. Pick some first downs. Work on some problem areas. Just stay healthy.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Notre Dame led by four. Touchdowns.
Running clock, anyone?
It had been over 100 years – 1909 – since the teams last met on the football field. It might be another century until the RedHawks again find their way to Notre Dame Stadium. Head coach Chuck Martin, the former Irish assistant and suburban Chicago native who made no secret his love for Notre Dame, wanted to make sure his team got to see the stadium and the campus and everything else about the place on Friday so his guys wouldn’t feel overwhelmed when it was time to play.
Overwhelmed they were. The moment, at least this one, was a bit too big.
Kickoff commenced at 5:18 p.m. Two minutes later, Justin Yoon was kicking through the first of seven point-after attempts.
An early hammer had been dropped by Notre Dame. It kept falling.