We have something to look at now. After Temple, Notre Dame has a product that is certainly, hopefully, not finished. The dust and shards of the preseason were once part of a slab carved and chiseled by Brian Kelly and his new staff since the year began. The clanging weights, whistle chirps, and screamed admonitions were the football-equivalent of the sharp hammer blows in the sculptor’s studio. The seasons have always started this way. In some, the team becomes Galatea. In others, Golem.
While this team is far from perfect, and “love” too strong a word today, there is a lot to like about the Irish of 2017 after Saturday’s demolition of the Temple Owls. A 49-16 romp does the body and soul good. Notre Dame easily outclassed Temple behind a productive rushing attack and an invigorated defense. Sure, they missed too many tackles, but there was an energy that was missing last season. The burden of BvG’s decided schematic disadvantage is gone.
Against Texas in 2016, Notre Dame rushed forty-three times in the first four quarters for 206 yards. Against Temple on Saturday, the Irish rushed forty-four times for 422 net yards. Three Irish players, Adams (165), Williams (124), and Wimbush (114), crossed the century mark. For now, Notre Dame is the fifty-ranked rushing team in the country.
Defensively, the Irish were improved over last year. Here, it’s worth noting that Temple’s O-line is not what Texas’ O-line was last year, but I can’t help but think about three sacks on Saturday versus none in last season’s opener. Notre Dame would not tally a sack until the Duke game and wouldn’t reach three sacks until the fifth game, against Syracuse. Against Texas, the Irish notched 5.0 tackles for loss for six yards. Against Temple, Notre Dame had four tackles for loss for twelve yards. Against Temple, Notre Dame hurried Temple’s QB six times. Against Texas, just once. The new rover position and, I think, Jerry Tillery’s solidity, made things tough for Temple’s signal caller.
Let’s return to the premise that Temple is not Texas. They’re not. But Appalachian State’s not Texas, either, and Notre Dame’s next opponent, the preseason fifteenth-ranked team in the country, Georgia, put up a desultory effort, winning 31-10. Nick Chubb, their freak-running-back-who-can-squat-six-hundred-pounds, managed 96 yards on 15 carries. Josh Adams carried 19 times for 165, two more yards per carry.
Offensively, the Irish were fine. We may, in fact, be at a point where Brian Kelly’s offense has reached the point of self-sufficiency. We’ve seen a slate of his QB1’s now in Golson, Zaire, Kizer, and Wimbush. Kizer and Wimbush have been remarkable in their competency, arm strength and athleticism, with Kizer’s debut, to be fair, by far the more dramatic. So Notre Dame is going to score points, unless there’s a hurricane.
The question for Georgia week is how many points the defense can keep off the Bulldog’s side of the ledger? If they miss tackles the way they did against Temple, Chubb’s legs of steel could make it ugly, and punishing. But if the line can get Georgia backwards enough, I think we may be on to something.