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Notre Dame Football: Three Things After Season Opener #2

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Shaking off the rust, knocking off the ‘Noles

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Returning to action after a three-week break that included a temporary shutdown of the football program, your Notre Dame Fighting Irish overcame some early hiccups to cruise to a 42-26 win over the Florida State Seminoles. The long break gave this game the feel of a second season opener, and it played out like one: while the Irish played a sloppy game and had plenty to work on, it never really felt like the result was in question. Let’s take a look at three of the dominant threads during this game.

The Bellyman Strikes Back

One of the Irish players who had to overcome some early-game yips was Kyren Williams, whose opening-drive fumble allowed the Seminoles to take an early 3-0 lead. It was gut-check time for Notre Dame’s young lead back, and he delivered.

On the next offensive play for the Irish after his fumble, Williams took the ball 65 yards to set up an easy touchdown pass from Ian Book to Michael Mayer. He scampered for a 46-yard touchdown on the following drive, then notched another TD to give the Irish a 21-17 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game. Williams ended the day with 19 carries for 185 yards and two scores, showcasing not only his prodigious skills as a ball carrier but the courage and mettle to bounce back from an early setback.

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Chris Tyree had a big night of his own, notching 103 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. But the lead role belonged to the Bellyman, and he proved himself more than worthy.

The Offensive Line Has Arrived

For the last few years, the Irish offensive line has received a lot of preseason hype; so much that its performance, while not terrible, has felt underwhelming. Fans - myself included - particularly pointed out the struggles the Irish had in run blocking as evidence that Jeff Quinn was failing to develop the high-level talent that Notre Dame was bringing in year after year.

Not so this Saturday, as the Irish line - led by newly minted pirate captain Liam Eichenberg - overpowered and manhandled a Seminoles front that includes a likely first-round draft choice in Marvin Wilson and has talent and experience from one end to the other. Williams and Tyree ran through the kind of holes that helped Josh Adams become a Heisman candidate back in 2017, while Ian Book had plenty of time to expand the Irish passing attack and finally start finding some wide receivers. If the linemen continue to play at this level, I don’t think there is a team on the schedule not called the Clemson Tigers that can stop them.

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Maybe Missing Practices is Bad?

Williams was not alone in having to knock off some rust. With the Irish up 14-3 and poised to take a commanding lead, the normally sure-handed Lawrence Keys III muffed a punt that allowed the Seminoles back into the game. There were also dropped passes - including a key one from Joe Wilkins that stalled an Irish drive with the score at 14-10, after which the ‘Noles retook the lead - missed tackles, and blown assignments in the secondary.

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The Irish also suffered from missing personnel on defense, with Nick McCloud, Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart either limited or unavailable as result of missing practice for COVID contact tracing. Although the Irish front got consistent penetration against FSU’s tissue-paper offensive line, the weakness on the back end and the athleticism of Jordan Travis allowed Mike Norvell and co. to build a gameplan and make plays. Credit Travis and Tamorrion Terry for taking advantage of an Irish defense plagued by rust and roster depletion and keeping the ‘Noles in the game longer than we would have liked - and credit Clark Lea for still finding a way to shut them down and allow only six points in the second half.

In the long term, I think most if not all of these problems can be traced back to the forced break the Irish took in the lead-up to this game, and we can expect cleaner efforts going forward. With the reeling Louisville Cardinals coming to South Bend next week, the Irish will get another opportunity to work out the kinks.