Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish pitched a shutout on Saturday against the hapless South Florida Bulls. The result no doubt made Brian Kelly, who demanded a shutout from his team at halftime, a very happy man - the Irish not only delivered, but avenged one of the lowest moments of his career. With the first road trip of the season on deck for next week, what can we take away from this dominant win?
Persistent Questions in the Passing Game
Let’s get the one negative out of the way before we talk about some good things. Ian Book, while not obviously bad during a game in which the Irish didn’t ask very much of him, also did not show tremendous progress from the previous week. While his reads and progressions improved, he still missed several layup passes and had little to no downfield success, ending up at 12-for-19 with only 143 yards in a short outing.
Meanwhile, the Irish receivers offered a lackluster effort. Braden Lenzy made a splash with a few nice plays early on but then disappeared, and the only other catch by a wide receiver on the day was for seven yards by Javon McKinley. It is possible that this was just a by-product of the Irish gameplan, with their dominance in the ground game meaning they didn’t have to show much through the air. It certainly did not hurt their efficiency moving the ball, but one would still have hoped to see a little more production from an Irish air attack that likely could have had its way with the Bulls secondary.
The Irish Running Game Is For Real
Thankfully, Book and co. didn’t have to produce very much, as the Irish had a big day on the ground. Notre Dame had four different players rush for touchdowns (including three by Book himself) and racked up nearly three hundred total yards. The offensive line, which took a lot of criticism after an inconsistent week one showing, got a consistent push and created holes for a bevy of Irish backs, while Tommy Tremble was a monster of a lead blocker.
C’Bo Flemister led the way with a 13-carry, 127-yard performance, including an impressive 26-yard burst for a touchdown. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree each turned in solid days of their own, with the latter getting more chances to showcase his impressive speed and prove himself a complete back in extended playing time. It was great to see Jafar Armstrong get in the end zone as well, as the Irish continue to search for the veteran’s ideal fit. The Irish showcased some impressive athletes; if they can continue to get the same quality of play from the offensive line throughout the season go, I don’t see many teams on the schedule they won’t be able to run over.
This Team Has Serious Defensive Depth
Even against an overmatched opponent, pulling off a shutout in FBS football is a difficult task; doing it when your defense’s best player and three other key contributors are held out is near-impossible. And yet the Irish still shut the door, with standout performances from the likes of Jack Kiser, Houston Griffith and Clarence Lewis.
Days like this are important for the development of young players, and the Irish have struggled in the past to put opponents like USF away with enough authority to get a lot of garbage time. But between the successful blowout and the holdout of multiple starters, the Irish got more than they could have asked for, and used it - 18 different players registered tackles on defense. And more than that, the young guys on defense were successful in preserving the shutout their coach demanded at halftime. With gifted and game-tested reserves, Irish fans can go into future games confident that their defense will be able to stand up against attrition.