Sept. 3, 2017
By John Heisler
Perspective always is valued when it comes to season openers in college football. Hyped-up fans often struggle with that. One big win and they are ready to book rooms for the College Football Playoffs. One loss and they are prepared to jump off the tallest neighborhood building.
Perspective suggests no team is as good or as bad as it seems on week one.
With that in mind, consider some leftovers from Notre Dame’s opening win over Temple:
- How impressive will a victory over Temple look by season’s end? This was a Temple program that won 10 games in consecutive seasons. The last time the teams had squared off in Philadelphia in 2015, an Irish squad that ultimately qualified for a New Year’s Six bowl game had to come from behind on a late TD pass to Will Fuller to win 24-20. But Matt Rhule is now at Baylor, and new head coach Geoff Collier admittedly has a young defensive unit that didn’t exactly build any confidence Saturday in allowing more than 600 yards of total offense. It likely will take a few more weeks and games to gain a better handle on the caliber of this Owl squad.
- Being good at running the football is a valuable trait for a football team. Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush may not have spent hours scouring the Notre Dame football archives, but he had this to say Saturday: “I don’t know how many offensive lines there’s been like this one at this University. I know there’s been some great ones and some great guys, but this unit I think is really special.” Wimbush surely knows a thing or two about the subject given his work with the current unit all through the offseason. And Collier went on to suggest Josh Adams may go down as one of the better backs in Notre Dame annals. It’s now up to Adams, Wimbush, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and all the rest that one 422-yard rushing effort is more than a flash in the pan.
- The more dependable Notre Dame’s running game, the easier Wimbush’s learning curve will be. It’s unlikely to equate to 422 yards every weekend, but consistent production in that area will make it simpler for Notre Dame’s first-year starter under center to make progress and build confidence. It also figures to give Wimbush much more of a chance to throw the ball when he wants to throw it as opposed to when he has to throw it.
- Notre Dame’s defense will grow. It was telling last week when Kelly talked to the media about last year’s defense and noted that it was a mixture of too many big runs given up, too many big pass plays given up, poor tackling and a combination of all that that went south very quickly in 2016. So the idea that the Irish played anybody and managed four sacks and 11 tackles for loss has to be considered a plus ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” especially against an opening opponent with a new coach and an unsettled quarterback situation, meaning no one from a scheme standpoint had an exact idea of what to expect. Kelly loves using the trait “grit” when he talks about this team, and there certainly was some grit shown after intermission when Temple had notions of getting back into the game and yet the Irish still allowed only 123 total yards over the final two periods.
- A little success can be a helpful elixir. Maybe it was easy to assume that Brian Polian and Tom Rees, two of Notre Dame’s new assistants, knew their way around Notre Dame Stadium given their previous track records with the Irish. But don’t underestimate what it meant to have the combination of Chip Long, Mike Elko, Clark Lea and Del Alexander smiling at 7 p.m. Saturday after all the hours, weeks and months of work they put in since January. Those four, despite their overall level of experience, had never done business on a game day with interlocking NDs on their shirts. Now they know a little more about what it’s about on what was an emotional day for anyone connected with Notre Dame.