BREAKING NEWS: Notre Dame played and completed a football game without losing a starting player to a season-ending injury!! HURRAY!!!!
Outside of that, we didn't see anything from which to draw lasting conclusions in Saturday's 62-27 Notre Dame win over UMass, but we did see a nice sampling of the kind of depth the Irish have, the best depth of talent that many of us younger ND fans have seen in lo these many moons. The younger Irish saw plenty of the field later in the game, and four freshmen scored.
Some props to UMass for a well-played first half. It's easy to conclude that ND was "sleepwalking", as UMass coach Mark Whipple himself put it in his halftime interview with NBC, and they probably were, but UMass took advantage on a simple draw that went for a TD, and again on a gadget play that set up another score and made the Irish sweat early on, pulling within 21-20 at one point. Luckily for those of us on this board, ND snapped into life and controlled the rest of the game.
A few brief key takeaways:
Let's see more Josh Adams
C.J. Prosise was outstanding, again. His 57-yard burst was a perfect example of the type of run that no Irish running back in a very long time could have made. C.J. had the burst to get the corner and the speed to pull away. And Will Fuller finished it with a great block near the goal line.
But, as coach Brian Kelly has said, ND can't rely only on Prosise in the run game, and that's why it was nice to see Josh Adams replicate Prosise's awesomeness through much of the second half. (We'll acknowledge the "but it was UMass" caveat up here once, so just consider it implicit in the remainder of this piece.) Adams went for over 10 yards a carry (Prosise almost had 10 per as well), and his 70-yard burst was just as impressive as Prosise's 57-yard jaunt early on. It will be important to ND to get Adams more carries to keep Prosise from running up too many miles on the odometer, starting next week against Clemson.
Special teams excellent
A major complaint many, including sometimes myself, have had with Brian Kelly is the special teams unit during his tenure. It's been occasionally substandard and rarely a positive. Today it was excellent. Tyler Newsome had a terrific punt in the second quarter, with the Irish up just one, that pinned UMass inside their own one-yard line and set up an equally impressive special teams play three downs later when freshman C.J. Sanders took advantage of the ocean of room he was given and returned the ensuing punt to the house. (First ND TD on a punt since Robert Blanton's scoop-and-score in 2010 against Utah, and the first true punt return TD since Golden Tate against Pitt in 2009. We'd waited a while.) That quick strike, in turn, allowed ND to get the ball back again with two minutes to go, get down the field and score again before halftime, turning a wildly frustrating 21-20 game into a relatively comfortable 35-20 halftime edge.
The kick coverage units were terrific as well, both kickoff and punt. The PATs ran much smoother than they had the first three weeks, and I'll overlook the poor snap and hold that led to Justin Yoon's PAT miss because the other eight (how nice is it to say 'the other eight PATs?!?') were flawless, and there was so much other special teams goodness.
Kizer continues to grow, and how about Wimbush?
It was a nice day overall for DeShone Kizer, who again did not make a key mistake. His one interception probably should have been a catch by Will Fuller, and beyond that he did what he's supposed to do, namely distribute the ball to the playmakers the Irish have all over the field. I continue to be impressed by how unflappable the young sophomore looks whenever he's on the field.
Brandon Wimbush finally got some run late in the game, and he lived up to expectations. Clearly Wimbush wasn't running a full playbook - I don't recall many intermediate throws, to be specific - but his athleticism was apparent on his long touchdown run and on some other plays throughout his time. (Who knew you could overthrow Will Fuller? Barely, but still.) He clearly was having the time of his life, and I made the comment late that he wished there were a fifth quarter to get more time. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Kelly try Wimbush in some sort of limited package if the opportunity presents itself against Clemson.
This game was, more than anything, a chance for a somewhat stress-free game for the ND players after an emotional and workmanlike first three weeks. It was good to see that come to fruition. Next week, it'll be back to the living and dying with every play most likely, with ND headed to Death Valley to face a talented Clemson team that will have had over 2 weeks to prepare. It projects to be the biggest game yet for the Irish, and it's nice to be headed into it on a good note.