For those complaining about a decided lack of style points in Notre Dame’s win over Temple, remove the name from the opponent’s jersey. Had the Irish won a night game on the road against a ranked opponent in a sold-out NFL stadium, most would view it a success.
Just look at the team’s surrounding the Owls in today’s AP poll—there’d be a lot more smiles in ND Nation had the Irish beat No. 22 UCLA or No. 24 Mississippi State, the two teams that bracket Temple in the rankings. But the Owls are one of college football’s newest gate crashers, and while Matt Rhule’s team certainly silenced the skeptics last night—as evidenced by only dropping one spot in the polls to No. 23—they’ll need to prove that last night wasn’t the high-point of their season if the Irish want to cash in points on this tight victory.
Still, Notre Dame’s escape left both sides of the aisle with someone to yap about. Those that want to appreciate the mental toughness of this Irish team and their ability to play at their best when the stakes are highest certainly have more ammo. The complainers received plenty of gas for their bonfire as well, another game filled with red zone mistakes, missed tackles and defensive question marks that make you wonder how the Irish can survive a November spent mostly on the road.
A date at Pittsburgh is next, another sloppy-track and aggressive defense that’ll test the Irish’s toughness. So while we’re not done talking about Saturday night’s thrilling win, let’s get to the good, bad and ugly from Notre Dame’s 24-20 victory.
DeShone Kizer. The sophomore quarterback earned the game ball, a fitting tribute to the player who served as the engine of the Irish offense. Kizer’s 79-yard sprint for a touchdown was essentially the majority of Notre Dame’s ground game. And while his two interceptions in the first half kept Temple in the game, all you can ask for a quarterback is to not let his previous mistakes continue to beat him, and Kizer put them away and played with a steady confidence, especially with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter.
KeiVarae Russell. Good cornerbacks get beat. Right now, Russell is a good cornerback who still needs to get better. But he’s making progress and he’s now flipped two-straight games on their head by making huge plays.
Russell’s confidence has never been shaken—even if it maybe should have been. So after Russell gave up a fourth-down conversion that felt like a back-breaker, most Irish fans wanted the Seattle-native to run and hide. But Russell went the opposite way, breaking off of his coverage and sliding underneath Temple’s intended receiver with an acrobatic interception that essentially sealed the game.
Two games, two big-time, game-changing plays. Yes, this defense needs more consistency out of Russell and position mate Cole Luke. But with interceptions all but impossible to come by for this defense, Russell iced the game with a clutch play.
Sheldon Day and the Front Four. Notre Dame’s biggest advantage was at the line of scrimmage, with the Irish defensive line dominating Temple’s blockers. Sheldon Day started fast and spent the evening wreaking havoc. His 2.5 TFLs continue a hot stretch for him, and he forced a fumble as an edge rusher as well.
Day wasn’t alone in putting together a big day. Isaac Rochell was unstoppable early in the game. Romeo Okwara very quietly put together another big statistical evening, three TFLs and a sack, all while being asked to do everything from rush the passer to drop into coverage.
Given the chance to start at nose guard, Daniel Cage showed his size and held down the point of attack, notching a TFL as well. Even better? Everybody came out healthy and ready for another Saturday that’ll be essentially “man ball” with Pitt looking to run the football and win the line of scrimmage.
Will Fuller. It was a relatively quiet game on the stat sheet, but Fuller came through in the clutch with the game-winning touchdown in front of his hometown crowd. And while Temple did a nice job with him in coverage, Fuller managed to draw another pass interference penalty and show some patience converting underneath passes.
Fuller’s speed took a dent in the sloppy conditions, and he struggled at times with coverage that very kindly could be called “physical.” Both both of those situations—the mediocre field conditions and the physical defense—will be in effect next week, with Pat Narduzzi likely hoping to bully Notre Dame’s skill players like he tried to do as defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
Alizé Jones. Don’t look now, but Notre Dame’s tight end position might be coming alive. With Temple’s defense expecting just about every other receiving threat to do damage, it was the Irish’s talented freshman who made one of the biggest plays of the game-winning drive.
Jones ran a corner route and DeShone Kizer hit him in stride, as the freshman rumbled for 45 critical yards to set up the game-winning score. Yes, it was the only catch of the game for the position. But Jones spent some time attached to the formation as a blocker, taking valuable snaps that could point to an ascending player heading into November.
Want to find a way to open up the red zone? Throw it to the tight end. And if Jones is the guy capable of doing it all, he’ll continue to get the opportunities, especially after making a big play to help Notre Dame win on Saturday.
It was fun to see Jaylon Smith make some very impactful collisions. The 240-pound linebacker still runs like a deer, but he certainly packs a punch when he squares up a ball carrier.
Senior Chris Brown was a steady force for the offense. He paced the Irish receiving corps with six catches for 72 yards.
For as tough as the running was for C.J. Prosise, the senior still managed five catches for 43 yards. The screen game was close to a few big plays, too.
Boom & Bust defense. It’s not worth regurgitating what I wrote last night. But the only thing that’s consistent about this defense is the fact that it’s maddeningly inconsistent.
Upon rewatching this performance, it wasn’t all bad. And there was probably more good than I thought last night. But it’s hard to see how Notre Dame only managed two sacks, even as it destroyed the Owls up front. And it’s just as hard to see how the Owls matched Notre Dame’s big plays, considering their quarterback was running for his life.
If there’s one thing that’s really hamstringing this defense, it’s the inability to play in the nickel. When Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti are dropping back into zone coverage—and it’s not a one-time trick—you’ve got some personnel issues. And with the safety depth chart plundered and not a lot of trust in a third cornerback, the Irish are limited when teams try to spread them out.
The offensive line play. Again this is a redundancy from last night. But Notre Dame’s front five needs to win at the point of attack, especially in the run game. Temple’s front seven nearly matched Notre Dame’s last night, putting together six TFLs, a surprising number considering the Irish’s power advantage up front.
With Pitt coming to town, there’s little chance Pat Narduzzi’s going to change his DNA and lay back against the Irish offense. And after starting quickly with a nice opening drive Saturday night, the Irish need to show consistency on the road, something that’s been difficult to do.
Brian Kelly expected Joe Schmidt‘s production to be better in the season’s final five games. Against Temple the senior captain middle linebacker made just two solo stops, though broke up a pass in coverage. But once again, it felt like Schmidt was a step slow to make plays, leaving many Irish fans wondering how Nyles Morgan would fare in the same situation. I still don’t think Schmidt’s coming off the field, but it’s time for some production after some quiet games.
There’s taking advantage of opportunities… and then there’s Nicky Baratti‘s play on 4th-and-1. The seldom-used safety was put in a tough spot in space against Temple running back Jahad Thomas, and the Owls running back cut hard inside Baratti and cruised into the end zone.
Punter Tyler Newsome has had some very good games for Notre Dame this season. Last night wasn’t one of them.
Notre Dame’s skill players looked a step slower all night. Probably because of the slop they were playing on…Remember when people wanted that type of natural surface in Notre Dame Stadium because of, ugh—tradition?
I’ll wait to see what the grades come back as, but Steve Elmer had another tough day, especially on some noticeable missed blocks against Matt Ioannidis.
Brian Kelly didn’t want to expand on his comments from last night on his sideline incident with assistant strength coach David Grimes. The former Irish receiver works under Paul Longo and seemed to be expressing his opinion to a referee as Longo did his best to keep things calm.
From what we saw on ABC’s broadcast, Kelly didn’t think Longo was doing enough–and he forcibly moved the young assistant, creating quite a stir that even had Sheldon Day thinking he should step in.
Per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago, here’s what Kelly said after the game (link has video included):
“David was going to get us a 15-yard penalty, so I had to control the sideline,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t going to let that happen. He got a little too close and I backed him up out of the way to make sure that we didn’t get a 15-yard penalty.”
Whatever comes of the incident, Kelly doesn’t plan on discussing it with the media, nor does he think any of the snap judgments out there have much merit.
“They don’t know what happened. It’s typical of those that are just looking at the video without having any of the information,” Kelly said Sunday. “Only those that are clearly near the situation that have all the information can make those judgments. It’s an internal matter, and we’re handling it internally.”
For what it’s worth, in UND.com’s ICON trailer, Grimes is in the locker room after the game, standing right behind Kelly as he addresses the team. Let’s hope this is just one of those incidents where things got intense on the sideline, and everybody moves forward considering it a lesson learned. (This wouldn’t even be a story if this was still the Lou Holtz era…)
That Officiating Crew. Man, it wasn’t a banner night for the guys in stripes. While the AAC crew didn’t reach the level of idiocy that the crew working the Miami-Duke game did, both coaches were left scratching their heads last night, a sign that there was some questionable officiating.
Rhule’s in-game complaints seemed a bit more for theatrics. His defensive backs were playing Notre Dame in a very physical fashion, and for every pass interference call that was made, Irish coaches (and fans) could probably point to a handful more.
Conversely, Kelly was asked about an offensive pass interference call against center Nick Martin and he all but threw up his hands on Sunday. Between that, the terrible targeting penalty called against Elijah Shumate, and the penalty against Nic Weishar, Kelly said it best today without getting too close to drawing a fine.
“There were a lot of things that I can’t give you answers for from that crew that worked the game,” Kelly said.