Noie: With the easy one over, now it gets interesting for No. 9 Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Leaving Notre Dame Stadium in a quick and orderly fashion for the parties and the parking lots elsewhere when it went final early Saturday evening was not an issue.

The majority of the place had emptied long before the clock hit zero on a 52-0 victory for No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) over Bowling Green (1-4). Large areas of the student sections, rows of which went unoccupied in what was officially consecutive sellout number whatever, continued to clear with still half the third quarter remaining.

Fans in the big-time blue seats and the high-roller sky suites soon followed. Fans wandered through the concourse over the closing minutes in near silence. No cheering. No yelling. No running. And, certainly, no bare feet. All in a lopsided day’s work for a good football team against a not-so-good football team.

The post-game picture had a spring game feel to it. No energy. No enthusiasm. Just (boring) business as usual. It was as if the crowd had just watched a controlled scrimmage.

Saturday basically was that. Favored by 46 points at the day’s start, Notre Dame never was challenged in covering it. This column could’ve been penned in the morning. Just add the final score and take the day off. Cut the grass. Do some laundry. Anything else would have been time well spent.

The second half was a time for the starters to step back and watch. The biggest burst from the No. 1 offensive line arrived after the alma mater when they ran up the tunnel and spotted former center Sam Mustipher standing outside the locker room. They swamped their former teammate as if it were fourth-and-goal from the 1.

In the run-up to this one, coach Brian Kelly preached perfection on the practice field. In the classroom. In the weight room. Everywhere. The Irish delivered Saturday because they delivered Monday through Thursday.

“We probably had one of our best weeks of practices,” said defensive end Julian Okwara. “We were locked in.”

It showed. In every area. Maybe not as dominating as the previous week against Virginia. This one was more methodical. Business-like. More of, just go out and take care of it. Get it over with.

Irish quarterback Ian Book finally had a Book game. He had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four). His quarterback rating was a video-game like (272.1). Afterward, save for the smudge of eye black down his left cheek, Book looked like he’d barely played Saturday. He was that clean. But he needed a game like this. To be crisp. To be decisive. To trust his eyes and not his feet and roll through his progressions instead of bailing on plays.

To be the Book everyone expected him to be. He delivered the ball when and where it needed to be delivered. The rest of the Irish offense followed his lead. Of Notre Dame’s first four scoring drives, none lasted more than 1:58. Much of the talk heading into this one was just how many points would the Irish score. They’d get 40. Likely 50. Heck, 60 and 70 weren’t out of the question. Not just from the fans.

“We wanted to go out there and put up a lot of points,” Book said.

It was nice to finally see the yards and the points pile up after a first drive that will go (somewhat) without mention (three-and-out, cough, cough).

Everything that was good Saturday — and there was plenty of that — it also came with a disclaimer. This was Bowling Green. Still, it was hard to find flaws. What about the continued lack of a run game from someone other than Tony Jones Jr? What about seeing more of the backup quarterback? What about this and that and...

What about it? Not today. Not after this one.

It was Notre Dame’s first shutout since 2014. No Irish talked about it publicly afterward, mainly because so few talked (two). But Notre Dame wanted that mark. Okwara did. His classmates did. They hadn’t had one since they’d been here. Now they have one.

Wouldn’t hurt to get a few more.

“Really pleased with the way our guys prepared this week,” Kelly said. “Felt really good about coming into the game because of that. There was a purpose to their work. They handled themselves like a team that has a vision of what they wanted to accomplish today.

“They went out today and did it.”

Saturday’s script couldn’t have gone any better for Notre Dame. Score a lot of points. Make a lot of plays. Get a lot of guys game experience. Leave the stadium feeling good about the day and the ones ahead.

Be elite.

“We were certainly a better football team,” Kelly said. “We were superior in terms of players today.”

That’s about to swing back toward the other direction. USC’s not Virginia. Michigan’s not Bowling Green. The Irish know that it’s not going to be easy. So get through this one and move forward. As quickly as the four quarters were played — name the last Notre Dame home game to go less than three hours — it seemed this one couldn’t get done quick enough.

Now get on with the rest of the schedule. It’s going to get way more interesting the rest of the month. As it should be. As it has to be.

Notre Dame’s Javon McKinley (88) makes a catch in front of JaJuan Hudson (28) during Saturday’s game in Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame’s Jamir Jones (44) breaks past Bowling Green’s Matt Tanner (75) during Saturday’s game in Notre Dame Stadium.