It wasn't pretty, it wasn't exactly easy, but it was a win. Take it and move forward
SOUTH BEND — It was too nice of an October afternoon, too needed of an outcome, to focus on the flaws.
There were a few. Maybe more than a few. Stuff that the offense and the defense and even the special teams could and should do be better, but at the end of four quarters, at the end of a Chamber of Commerce afternoon across Northern Indiana, the most important aspect of a home game for Notre Dame against UNLV was the final score.
Notre Dame 44, UNLV 21.
Finally, a home game/win to feel good about. To savor. To build on. There haven’t been many — OK, any — where Irish coaches and players alike have left the north tunnel long after dark without concern that their season might be headed south, straight into some abyss.
How the points were scored:How the points were scored: Notre Dame football 44, UNLV 21
Take this one and embrace this one, because memories are still fresh of Marshall. Of California, when even that win in some ways felt like a loss. Then, Stanford. Sorry, still gotta pick that scab.
“We haven’t had the greatest of showings in our home games,” said first-year coach Marcus Freeman. “This (stadium) is an advantage for us. It has to be advantage for us.”
Saturday, it was. Kind of. Notre Dame (4-3) didn’t play a perfect game against an overmatched UNLV team that looked in scramble mode from the start. There were mistakes and missteps and calls that the Irish would want back. That’s going to happen for a program still searching for its collective firm footing. Even at home. Even as November nears.
For this team, at this time, the most important part of Saturday was the win. To get No. 4. To see some other guys do some stuff that maybe they hadn’t previously done.
Like tailback Logan Diggs going for career highs in rushes (28) and yards (130) and looking like the No. 1 tailback that this offense has so needed.
Like a tight end not named Michael Mayer, though he was his usual stud self (six catches, 115 yards, one touchdown), finding a way to impact a game. Though nobody in the stands — which, not surprisingly saw its share of sparse sections — could’ve predicted that the tight end would be named Mitchell Evans. In his second game back from injury, Evans made an impact by taking not one but two direct snaps, scoring a touchdown off one.
Like Braden Lenzy finally connecting with Drew Pyne, albeit on a jet sweep, and another score.
Like Isaiah Foskey — yes, that Isaiah Foskey, who was supposed to be on track for a monster season but had spent way too much time in the shadows. He blocked a pair of punts. He finished with a trifecta of sacks. He played like the problem he was supposed to be from Labor Day night. It took until nearly Halloween for Foskey to leave his imprint on the game.
The Foskey game.
“Everything just came together for me,” Foskey said. “I felt like we were way more motivated.”
Motivated to start fast. Motivated to figure it out. Motivated not to walk off the field wondering what in the world had just happened. Not to let Marshall and Stanford happen again. Not to feel what they've too often felt at home.
Yes, the Irish offense still has issues. Yes, the defense still has issues and there’s still a bunch of stuff when the staff goes back and looks at the film that needs to be cleaned up, but set all that aside. For now. For the next week.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Freeman said. “At the end of the day, we needed this. We needed this for our confidence.
“It was a huge with for our program.”
That’s where we are. That’s where the Irish are.
Coming clear of the inexplicable/inexcusable loss to Stanford the previous Saturday, the last week felt like a month for Notre Dame. Long days. Longer nights. Some soul searching. Again. Even Saturday felt like a slog, a game that kept going and going and going. Would it ever end? Could those Atlantic Coast Conference officials go a series, then a down, without having to review this play or that one?
What the numbers tell us:Team and individual game stats from UNLV vs. Notre Dame football
It was enough to force the casual fan to go for a walk, to get outside, or to doze off on the couch. A nap seemed a better alternative to watching much of this one.
Last week could’ve suffocated the want-to of this staff, of this team, of this season, but Notre Dame decided somewhere along the way out there on the practice field to turn all those negatives — and man, there were a lot of them — into positives. Then, to back it up.
Instead of harping on execution — we got a little tired of that word being tossed around after Stanford – the Irish focused all of their energy on urgency. Start early. Start fast. Play urgent. It all helped flip an offense that couldn’t find the end zone the first six games of the season into a group that couldn’t stop visiting that area of real estate on Saturday. How about 23 first-quarter points?
Think that pushes offensive coordinator Tommy Rees back into the good graces of the fickle fan base? Yeah, right. Think again. Don't think he's ever getting off that list.
All those points were necessary and they were needed because eventually, this one got weird. It felt like someone kicked the Irish power supply from the outlet after those first 15 minutes. What felt like a four-touchdown advantage at halftime soon became a two-score tussle. One big drive on offense, one big stop on defense, and UNLV might be in this one. Would it? Could it? Might it even win this one? Given what we’ve seen from the Irish on their home field this season, was it that wacky an idea?
It didn’t get anywhere that close, but for some, it was too close for comfort. Not enough that you have to win, you have to win big. Win big going away.
Average teams — and Notre Dame is still that — don't drop the hammer when the hammer’s in hand. Average teams do just enough to win.
Sitting high above an empty Notre Dame Stadium early Saturday evening, pounding out the words to capture this one as the sun was just about to set, offered a quiet moment. What had just happened. How it happened. Under blue skies and 70 degree temperatures.
This one was a good day.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.