Nov. 15, 2016
By John Heisler
Notre Dame and Army met in the latest Shamrock Series outing Saturday in San Antonio-with the Irish roaring to a 38-6 halftime lead on their way to a 44-6 victory
Here are some Irish takeaways:
1.The Irish have regained some confidence.
Army coach Jeff Monken appeared to be almost in a state of shock after the game at the Alamodome. He couldn’t have been more impressed with Notre Dame’s play–and he couldn’t remember the last time his team had been dominated in that manner. That result provided a valuable dose of confidence for the Irish, who may not own a great record right now but certainly looked like a more than capable and improving team on Saturday.
2. There has been measurable progress on defense.
There’s no way to erase the 50 points scored by Texas or the 501 yards gained by Michigan State, nor the 498 totaled by Duke. But a variety of factors have produced a much-improved Irish defense. A month into the season Notre Dame’s defensive rankings were nothing to write home about. Today the Irish stand 39 th in total defense (371.5 yards per game), 28th in red-zone defense and 15th in passing yards allowed (188.5). This was Brian Kelly’s take Sunday on the change: “Well, first and foremost, it’s about a very detailed, organized plan, well-coached during the week of practice, a focus on the fundamentals, and in-game adjustments that have been followed through by the players. It’s just a coordinated effort that has seen this defense get better and better. I think it’s the utilization of some more of the freshmen that have really matured and have gotten better later in the season–they’ve gotten more and more playing time. But I think all of that has come together through really good preparation, great morale, and at the end of the day, kids executing the game plan.”
3. The Irish had a great day on offense.
Added Kelly on the high points, “Well, I think obviously you start with the quarterback (DeShone Kizer). I thought his leadership skills, his ability to make plays with his arm and his feet extended plays for us. I thought our running backs ran extremely hard. Any time you have 200 (rushing) yards, your offensive line has to be doing some good things, and it’s always good to see your tight end catch a couple of touchdown passes. But I think the story is the defense, the coordinated effort of 11 guys doing their job to hold a very good offense in Army down. Pretty good all-around effort.”
4. Freshman wide receiver Kevin Stepherson has a chance to be a star.
Army had no one who could run with Stepherson, and his numbers (five catches for 75 yards, including a 37-yard TD catch) easily could have doubled if not for a couple of near-misses on throws from Kizer. Said Kelly, “He continues to mature as a player in the understanding of where he needs to be and getting on the same page with DeShone. That’s the most important thing–where is he going to be? And when you are talking about a quarterback and a receiver hooking up consistently, they’ve got to know where each one of them is going to be, and I think that’s probably the biggest change in Kevin in terms of the past five, six weeks. A young, inexperienced group opened the door for him to go win a position. There were other guys there that certainly could have secured down that position, but he won the job. We didn’t give it to him. His skill set allowed him to go in there and win the job.”
Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been watching Irish football since he joined the athletics communication staff in 1978.