Earlier this week our own Eric Murtaugh asked if an Irish Upset of Utah would trump any Weis era win? His thoughts made for a great discussion and while we never really came to a consensus on any metric everyone pretty much agreed that an "upset" of the Utes would indeed be a "Big Win."
So just how big of a win is it? Like all perceived big wins the 28-3 thumping of the Utes inside Notre Dame Stadium today provides this team with a much needed shot in the arm at a very critical point in the season. It was also a nice change of pace after the last couple of Senior Day debacles.
We will find out how big it was for the program as a whole another season or two down the line but this was definitely the type of game that Brian Kelly and the staff can build on going forward. For those of us outside the program this is the type of game we might all still be talking about a few years from now. I can already envision a post from Eric in the future about how the program started turning the corner under Coach Kelly with that upset of Utah back in 2010…..
Now back to the present. I won’t get too far into the details about the game itself as I know Eric will do that with his "Outside the Irish Huddle" post in the next 24 hours or so. But there are a few things I feel compelled to comment on.
The defense was outstanding today. As a unit I have felt pretty good about their development throughout the season. The obvious exception was the Navy game which I still put on the staff and not the players. But today they held a Utah team that had been averaging 41 points per game to 3 points. THREE points! And those three came off of Utah’s first possession in which a questionable 4th down call gave the Utes a short field.
The front seven played pretty lights out all day. The Utes ran the ball 29 times but only averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Cwynar did a nice job filling in for Ian Williams and the Defensive Ends also played very well. Ethan Johnson had a nice game and freshman Kona Schwenke had some very promising flashes in there too. They stuffed the run and got pressure on the QB with a 4 man rush. Impressive.
The Linebackers also played great. Manti is Manti and continues to develop. Brian Smith played what was by far his best game of the season. The OLB’s also played pretty well and like fellow freshman Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo was also impressive.
I also thought that the Secondary as a whole had their best game of the season. Coverage was good all day as was run support. The secondary made a lot of big plays today. That was very encouraging.
The special teams were also outstanding as highlighted by Robert Blanton’s punt block to a scoop and score in the first quarter. But the thing I enjoyed the most about the special teams today was watching Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth on punt and kick coverage. There are two true freshman receivers that came in without shiny star ratings that keep showing up and getting after it every week. They make plays. They are football players. You can win with kids like that.
On offense I liked the game plan and the overall execution. Much has been said about Coach Kelly’s commitment to the run or lack thereof, but today the Irish steadily worked the ground game and averaged 4.4 yards on 29 carries. I’ll take it.
While I agree that Rees is most likely not the future he is going to be a very nice option to have in the mix for the next three years. The importance of a good backup QB cannot be understated and he is getting a ton of valuable experience right now.
Hat tip to Duval Kamara for coming up with a couple of big touchdown receptions in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. Kamara has been MIA for what seems like forever but those two TD’s today were huge.
Some will say that Utah is a paper tiger that never deserved to have been ranked that high. I personally don’t think it really matters. The Utes came into the game as an 8-1 team ranked #14 in the BCS and Notre Dame beat them soundly. In the words of William Munny "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
So yeah, I think it was a big win. It was a win that Kelly and the players all needed. The fan base needed it. It is the kind of win you can build on. It is the kind of win that could be a catalyst for a nice finish to the season. The benefits of an extra 15 practices for a bowl game are obvious. A solid November could also go a long way with this recruiting cycle. End this season on a positive uptick and things look a lot better heading into the spring.
So will Eric be writing that post in a year or two? I don’t know but today I have a renewed sense of optimism about the future and I am certain that I am not alone in that regard. Go Irish!
On a quick side note I won’t be able to post much if at all over the course of the next three weeks as I have some more pressing matters to attend to out in the Mojave Desert. Eric, Michael, Mouth and Pablo are more than capable of keeping our never ending conversation about Notre Dame Football going in my absence. I fully expect that when I am able to get to a computer and stop by there will be plenty of great posts and great conversations to chime in on. Keep doing what you do and as always thanks for stopping by.