As you know by now, your 2012 Fighting Irish took to the field on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland, and kicked off the season against the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy. And down here on da bayou, we had quite a week, weather-wise, so by the time Saturday rolled around, I was definitely ready for some football, air conditioning and cold, cold beer. Truth be told, we got power back on Friday at the Bayou Ranch, but it WAS remarkably hot walking from my car to the pub for the game watch. And, despite the pit in my stomach as visions of 2010 danced in my head, the boys in the tri-color cleats did not disappoint. As opening games go, in fact, they put on quite a show.
What went right: From the opening drive, you could tell that the Irish were going to win the game in the trenches, and not just because of their decided size advantage. Parenthetically, we had a similar size advantage in 2010 and enjoy one of greater or lesser extent every year. Starting his first game for the Irish, Everett Golson effectively managed the game by handing off to a bevy of ball-carriers, exploiting the holes the Irish O-line opened for them all day long to the tune of 293 yards on the ground. On defense, LNIII, Kona Schwenke, Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt consistently blew the Navy line back into the play, harrying the once harrowing triple-option, or “flexbone,” offense, which requires precision blocking to work. And oh, by the way, we were plus three on the day in turnovers, giving it away once via a Golson interception and taking it away four times, including Te’o’s first fumble recovery (of his career) (seriously) and first interception (of his career) (again, seriously) and Stephon Tuitt’s first 77-yard fumble return (off an Ishaq Williams force) for a touchdown. This was impressive stuff.
What Went Meh: Less impressive was the secondary, but you kind of knew that was going to be a problem. I mean, maybe not so much against Navy, but when you watch the $C-Hawai’i highlights from Saturday evening, you can’t help but want to go with the “over” on November 24. To be fair, while Navy’s touchdown at 14:45 in the Third Quarter was a nicely thrown twenty-five yard pass from Trey Miller, freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell got twisted all sorts of wrong by Navy’s receiver. Russell’s error grew instantly fatal when the safety got caught in no-man’s land and couldn’t get deep to help in time. Still, as freshman, Russell’s learning and every game rep is valuable, even the bad ones. Zeke Motta flashed hot and cold, too, getting beat outside on Navy’s opening play and failing to contain the ball carrier on a twelve yard run.
More Awesome: Speaking of running, Notre Dame ran and ran often. Five players not named Andrew Hendrix ran the ball 39 times for 281 yards. Hendrix, who played most of the Fourth Quarter, carried six times for twenty yards. The vaunted third dimension that Golson brings to the offense and Tommy Rees seems to bring only to off-campus parties (zing!) was kept under wraps for at least another game or two as he DIDN”T RUN THE BALL ONCE. In fact, Golson’s stat sheet is decidedly Rees-like: 1 for -8. This is unfair, to Golson, as his only “carry” was a brutal blind-side sack/complete miscommunication between him and Zack Martin. Martin probably confused “hey! Zack! you need to block THAT dude!” with “I, for one, enjoy playing in a stadium that features BOTH ‘Crazy Train’ and a Jumbotron.” Author’s note: if you DVR’d the game, go back and watch the start of the second-half, in particular, as you can both hear ‘Crazy Train’ and see the jumbotron. AND THE EARTH DIDN’T SPIN OFF ITS AXIS PEOPLE. Wait, it was an away game. Never mind.
Speaking of running, Theo Riddick and GAIII shredded Navy’s defense. GAIII averaged 9.9 yards per carry, finishing a yard shy of 100, while Theo carried 19 times for 107 yards. Each picked up two TD’s. Robby Toma nabbed a very nice rushing touchdown late in the game and Cam McDaniel did well for himself, too, carrying 9 times for 56 yards. In short, Coach Kelly went to the run early, it paid off early, and he never took his foot off Navy’s throat.
And it helped Everett Golson, who played like he’d been there before, going so far as to correct a sideline reporter from Davenport who referred to the Aviva Stadium as “Croke Park.” But seriously, Golson was fine overall and very fine in spots. He played on a very tight leash, never once getting to display the elusiveness he did in the BlueGold game. While this was likely due to our dominant O-line, who gave up only two sacks on the day, it was more likely a scripted move by Coach Kelly to pay out plays to the young starter. When Kelly did let Golson throw, though, he was mostly rewarded as Golson was competent, tossing two nice lobs in a row to Tyler Eifert, just one of which was marginally out-of-bounds. Troy Niklas should have scored a second passing touchdown, but didn’t, stumbling just shy of the goal line on a 29 yard pass play. To be fair, he gained fifteen yards as he fell from 6’7″ to the ground.
All in all, this was a great, necessary win. As we often say in New Orleans, “you can’t go 10-2 without starting 1-0.” Which is silly, as you can, in fact, start 0-2 and run the table, but it makes it so hard. Just think back to last year’s rain-soaked stink-fest against USF.
But if you needed confirmation that the ship is headed in the right direction, Coach Kelly, at Sunday’s post-game presser, said that Tommy Rees would be allowed to start competing for the backup job. With that, Golson’s coming out party, such as it was, was complete. Well done, lads. Get some sleep, get back at it, and get ready for Purdue. Seriously, I mean that. Don’t look past them. Guys. Come on. Seriously.