FOOTBALL

Noie: Notre Dame follows through on promise to be better

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Promise kept.

This much is known about college kids — a lot of whom still are teenagers, far from home, trying to find their way in the world, learning how to stay consistent — we don’t know.

Not how they’ll respond to challenges or how they’ll be one way next week after being another way the last. Or if they’ll even keep a promise. They’ll say they'll do this here, to be better there, but will they?

They might, but it might take some time to get there. They eventually got there Saturday when seventh-ranked Notre Dame kept its collective promise.

For much of the previous week, we heard how this day would be a lot different in terms of effort and execution in the home opener against New Mexico. How Notre Dame was none too happy how everything looked and felt 12 days prior at Louisville. How the Irish were going to be better for four quarters, which would set the stage for a certain big game between a certain set of hedges at a certain Southeastern Conference school.

It took a minute, OK, more like 16, but once Notre Dame got going, it got rolling. Los Lobos weren’t going to stop it. Not their starters. Or the backups or even the backups’ backups. It wound up the way everyone had expected (hoped?) — a 66-14 victory for Notre Dame (2-0).

It was the most points for Notre Dame in a home opener since 1932, when it hung 72 on some school named (not Eddie) Haskell.

Scrap that oft-implemented 24-hour rule of savoring wins before turning attention to what’s up next on the agenda. Irish coach Brian Kelly said just after 7 p.m., Saturday that a team meeting already was planned for Sunday at 10 a.m.

So the 24-hour rule would be more like a 15-hour rule. There’s a big game lurking. The Irish already can sense it. Can see it. It's there, but the Irish first needed Saturday.

Needed to start making big plays. Chunk plays. Scoring plays. The playbook-looks-different type of plays. On Saturday, the Irish made them. Down the field, into the end zone, more points on the scoreboard. Video game numbers. Seven of Notre Dame’s 10 scoring drives went for at least 54 yards. Four went for at least 60. Two went 80-plus. Seven Irish scored touchdowns. Two did so on flip passes, basically long handoffs, from Book.

“I think we needed this game to find some of the pieces needed to make explosive plays,” Kelly said. “We needed to see that happen today."

It happened to the tune of 591 total yards.

About time.

“It felt good,” Book said. “I was really happy with being able to make the big play when we needed it.”

Much like in the season opener, a similar storyline spilled over from Labor Day night in Kentucky — a few Irish that weren’t expected to make plays made plays. Yeah, there was Book, setting individual highs for passing yards (360) and touchdown passes (five). Yeah, there was Chase Claypool, establishing himself even more as a go-to guy. Yeah, there was freshman Kyle Hamilton in his second freakin’ game getting his first interception and touchdown on one play.

Yeah, those are the known guys.

But there was sophomore Lawrence Keys III announcing his ability eight seconds in with a 45-yard kickoff return. There was sophomore Braden Lenzy showing his play-making potential with his first career touchdown catch. There was senior Javon McKinley, who could have been thisclose from not only being off the team but out of school after a campus arrest in February, with a pair of touchdown catches.

How about Avery Davis, who jumped between quarterback and cornerback, coming back to the other side of the ball and playing running back. First time Davis touched the ball, on a shovel pass from Book, he raced 59 yards for a touchdown. Might have been the only (healthy) back to do that.

Davis earned the game ball for being a team guy first and second and third. For having the unselfishness to think not of himself and the snaps he wasn’t getting on whatever side of the ball, but doing what he can to help this team be good.

Forget some of the other stuff that have Irish wondering (OK, worrying) how it’s going to translate next weekend (cough, cough, run game, cough, cough), for the Irish to do what they did Saturday, for the different guys to do what they did, that’s big. How big? Time will tell.

“This team can roll,” said defensive end Daelin Hayes. “Y’all see it. When guys get their opportunity, they’re going to maximize it.”

Notre Dame took steps Saturday that needed to be taken. Only a few went backward. It may have taken longer than anyone would have liked, but the Irish got there.

“I thought our team kind of found themselves,” Kelly said.

In the process, it may have lost its way in the run game. Back to the drawing board, the meeting room, the practice field with all that. Tony Jones, Jr., was good the first game out and ran for over 100 yards. Not so much the second (six carries, 14 yards). At one point, the core Irish rotation (Jones, C’Bo Flemister, Kyren Williams) had a collective six carries for one yard.

Notre Dame stashed this one away with 28 unanswered points in just under 10 minutes. Everything afterward was just stats and stuff. Like sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s first pass going for a 52-yard completion. Like the Irish defense, after allowing New Mexico to convert two of its first three third down chances, limiting the Lobos to 2-of-15 the rest of the way.

Eventually, it even got a little silly.

At one point, New Mexico was tagged with a taunting penalty. While trailing 52-7. Who taunts down by 45? And what the heck can you say? Hopefully Lobos coach Bob Davie, who didn’t make the trip for health reasons, had long turned off his television back in Albuquerque.

That’s about the time when everyone else could stop watching, and start waiting for the next one. The big one. Georgia’s been on everyone’s mind for months.

Georgia week’s here.

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Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) tries to break free from New Mexico’s Adebayo Soremekun (95) during the Notre Dame-New Mexico NCAA Football game Satrurday, September 14, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble (24) pushes off New Mexico’s Letayveon Beaton (15) during Notre Dame's 66-14 win over New Mexico in an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.