Vorel: Notre Dame serves up a beatdown, not a letdown, in third consecutive win

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The opponent shouldn’t matter.

Whether it’s Michigan State or USC, Temple or Boston College, Stanford University or Samford University, Notre Dame’s preparation, effort and execution shouldn’t change.

Coaches always say it.

They don’t always see it.

“We've only built one mindset. It's to dominate our opponent,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly declared in his weekly press conference on Tuesday. 

“This is really about inner focus on how we prepare for our next opponent, whether it's Miami University or the University of Miami.”

On Saturday, it was the former.

And, guess what?

In a decisive 52-17 victory, the 900th in program history, the opponent didn’t matter. Really.

"Coach Kelly challenged us early in the week not to put a face to a team — whether it's USC, whether it's Georgia, whether it's Miami (Ohio)," junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush said.

"You just want to execute. We took care of business tonight, and I think we could have even put some more points on the board."

Maybe so, but 52 was plenty. In another dominant display, Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams — who left the game with a minor ankle injury late in the first quarter — ran for 159 yards on just eight carries, averaging an astronomical 19.9 yards per rush.

That figure was fattened by touchdown runs of 73 and 59 yards, the second of which included a soul-crushing stiff-arm of RedHawk cornerback Deondre Daniels, who was decisively disposed of before Adams barreled into the end zone.

In Saturday’s win alone, Adams — a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior — passed George Gipp, Randy Kinder and Phil Carter on Notre Dame’s all-time career rushing list.

No. 22 Notre Dame (4-1) entered the game ranked seventh nationally in rushing, averaging 293.5 yards per game.

The Irish added 224 rushing yards … just in the first half. Throw in an extra 30 minutes, and ND ended with 333 rushing yards and 8.5 yards per carry.

Notre Dame’s 45 first half points, in fact, were the most of the Kelly Era, narrowly edging a 42-point output in a 59-33 victory over Air Force in 2011.

This was a beatdown, not a letdown.

"I'm proud of my football team," Kelly said. "I challenged them on Monday to exhibit mental toughness, and the mental toughness was really about accountability to a standard that we've set here of how we want to play.

"They had that mental toughness today."

Oh, and what about that turnover-inducing defense that forced nine of them in its first four games? On Saturday, first-year Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group nabbed two more — the first interception of senior linebacker Greer Martini’s four-year career, followed by a Jerry Tillery strip sack that defensive end Jay Hayes recovered.

Unsurprisingly, Notre Dame converted both of those turnovers into touchdowns.

Why isn’t that surprising? Because the Irish have forced 11 turnovers this season, and 10 of the resulting drives ended in the end zone.

Even Kelly didn’t treat Saturday’s game like a glorified scrimmage. Why else would he choose to go for it on fourth-and-11 with a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter? Why else would he call for a fake punt with a 35-14 advantage before halftime?

(Both of those drives, by the way, resulted in Irish points.)

Kelly didn’t take Miami (Ohio) lightly, and neither did his team. The effort was there. The mindset was there. Can you guarantee it would have been there last year, when Notre Dame never once won two games in a row?

Of course, the execution can be improved. The Irish managed just seven points in the second half (Granted, Yoon missed a 44-yard field goal and backups played the entirety of the fourth quarter). In 45 minutes of work, Wimbush was plenty wobbly, completing just 7 of 18 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns.

Notre Dame also surrendered 377 total yards, with nine RedHawk drives crossing the midfield stripe.

It wasn’t perfect. This team isn’t perfect. The Irish wouldn’t arrive at “perfect” if the season extended through June.

But there was no letdown on Saturday … and that’s another positive step.

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) stiff arms Miami (Ohio)’s Deondre Daniels (15) during the Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame NCAA football game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA