Oct. 2, 2017
By John Heisler
The final score of the Notre Dame-Miami (Ohio) football game Saturday night from Notre Dame Stadium probably surprised no one. The Irish were expected to win and they did. But it’s another thing to handle all the circumstances the way the coaches and players want them to play out — so the night ends on a positive note and all involved walk away from the experience feeling like they’ve taken a step forward and not a step back. In this case, Notre Dame checked the box.
- The Irish established the tone. Notre Dame scored on the second play from scrimmage. The Irish had a two-touchdown lead within three and a half minutes and had scored 28 points by the end of the opening period. Josh Adams had 159 rushing yards after one period of play — imagine if he had played the rest of the football game? Notre Dame’s 45 first-half points approached the modern record (49) set 49 years ago. The Irish did a great job convincing Miami from the opening moments that they were prepared to handle their business. It’s been a dozen years since Notre Dame won three straight games by margins of 20 or more points.
- Notre Dame keeps down the TDs. Statistics say all kinds of things, but after five games Notre Dame has allowed only a single rushing touchdown to its opponents. The only other teams in the country that can say that are Alabama, Michigan and Miami (Florida). It’s also interesting that the two teams that have allowed the fewest overall TDs (four each) so far in 2017 are both on the Irish schedule — Georgia and Miami (Florida).
- The Irish remain perfect in the red zone. After five weekends of football, only three teams are perfect with 22 conversions in the red zone — Notre Dame, Stanford and the University of Louisiana. But the Irish — with 20 touchdowns (15 rushing) — tie Louisiana in that category. The only team in the country with more rushing red-zone TDs than Notre Dame’s 15 is Oregon with 23. Says Irish coach Brian Kelly, “It’s been a focused kind of development in terms of play-calling and really trying to put our quarterback in a position to minimize any mistakes down there. So it’s high-percentage running the football, going to our strengths and by formation putting us in positions where it limits a lot of the coverages you see down there. We spent a lot of time in the off-season wanting to be much more efficient down there, and those things I mentioned have helped us improve.”
- Kelly likes this group. Notre Dame’s head coach admits he is enjoying his 2017 team and season: “I like their ability to play at a high standard that we’ve set. They are a group that is extremely physical. They are very intentional during the week in their preparation. They have really done everything that we’ve asked them to do in terms of how to play the game. We’re very opportunistic in terms of what we do offensively. Defensively we’re taking the ball away. And a lot of this is the training that we had in the off-season. I just love the way that they have been extremely coachable and have shown all the traits that we’ve tried to build in our football team. It’s a fun team to coach.”
- The Irish don’t have to say it, but 2016 plays a role in this — and so it’s noteworthy that Notre Dame already has won as many football games (and in the month of September alone) than in all of 2016. Adds Kelly, “There’s no question that the not living up to the standards of Notre Dame football had an impetus on how we trained and how we went about our business in the off-season. There was an eagerness from the very beginning for them to want to get out and change the score card, if you will. But I think when it comes to enjoying it, you still have to create the right atmosphere. You have to create an environment where the kids enjoy coming to play every day and enjoy coming to practice every day and that is a positive coaching environment. And that’s the difference between last year and this year. We’ve got a great environment where our kids enjoy coming to practice every single day–coupled with the fact that they want to settle up a score and that is to bring Notre Dame football back to where it should be.”