There wasn’t a whole lot that went down for the Notre Dame Fighting in their 27-13 win over the Duke Blue Devils that went according to plan — at least according to what our plans were. There’s a powerful scene in the Showtime series The Tudors that comes to mind in which Cromwell explains to Charles Brandon [The Duke of Suffolk] that the number of executions he performed against the northern rebels was insufficient, and further punishment was needed. The Duke was extremely upset, and struggled with the decision to go and do the king’s business — but ultimately carried out King Henry VIII’s wishes.
Welcome to the Notre Dame football 2020 season opener. It wasn’t the plan we wanted, but it still got the job done.
As with all college football seasons we develop and form opinions about how a team will play and look like based off of returning players and coaches. We also have those opinions put to the test in the spring and fall camp — except 2020 had no spring, and the media wasn’t allowed to be there at all for fall camp.
We were all flying blind this week.
The first clue that we were probably wrong about a lot of things was when Notre Dame released their depth chart on Monday. The wide receivers group especially was very perplexing based off of what we know about that particular group. Still, I think we expected more of a seamless transition than the truth that was presented before us on Saturday.
We were wrong — most of what we watched wasn’t what was talked about leading up to the game. Brian Kelly spoke to this and said HE expected the start to be rusty (although there was no hiding his frustration). It took a fake punt run by Jay Bramblett to spark a team that looked very inefficient with Ian Book at quarterback. Tommy Rees didn’t abandon the run, and instead he fed the ball to Kyren Williams who had over 100 yards rushing and over 90 yards receiving on the day to go along with his two touchdowns.
Book’s issues are noteworthy, but they seem to stem from an offensive line that had a hard time dealing with Duke’s stunts. Add that to a bunch of receivers that aren’t as experienced as what the Irish had last year, and it made for a lot of broken pass plays. Braden Lenzy didn’t play and Kevin Austin is still out with an injury. It eventually fell on Joe Wilkins Jr. and freshman tight end Michael Mayer to surface — and that takes time when the opponent isn’t some random FCS school. Avery Davis caught Book’s lone touchdown of the day just to add to the strangeness of it all.
The defense wasn’t immune either, but early poor tackling and scheme was corrected and they really held this game together and won it for the Irish. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had 9 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble and looked just as good as ever. Kyle Hamilton was also his freakish self and had 7 tackles and a pass break-up before he went down with an ankle injury early in the 3rd quarter. Isaiah Foskey was a serious problem for Duke, and the linebacker rotation got the job done.
I think we were all waiting for the truly spectacular to happen, and instead it was an “okay” performance by a good football team that needs more work. The coronavirus offseason has clearly affected Notre Dame, and now they need to build on the good things they did against Duke.
Remember... they still won by two touchdowns.
It wasn’t what we talked about. Chris Tyree didn’t explode on the scene and Ian Book’s Heisman campaign didn’t get off of the ground — but they won the game. Maybe that huge improvement between game one and game two will actually happen this year now that there’s a real starting line for the Irish. Until then, we have to change the conversation while still maintaining the same expectations.