SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If Notre Dame and first-time starter junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush felt any nerves in Saturday’s season opener, a brilliantly-quick start eased them in the 49-16 victory over Temple. The Irish found the end zone three times in the first quarter alone, a feat matched only twice a year ago (the second quarter vs. Nevada and the first quarter vs. Army). By the end of the first half, the lead was a comfortable 28-10, the closest the Owls would get the rest of the afternoon.
Immediately following the game in an on-field interview broadcast on the new video board, Wimbush admitted he spent most of the day trying to stay calm for his debut.
“Before the game, I had a lot of nerves.”
Those nerves didn’t show on the very first play from scrimmage, when Wimbush followed a play-action fake with a 33-yard completion to junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
“That was good. That was great, actually,” Wimbush said. “It helped a lot, just to get my nerves, and then [St. Brown] made it easy, ran a great route for me. … The first play was huge for my confidence.”
A play later, junior running back Josh Adams broke through the left side of the line — in no small part thanks to a block from senior center Sam Mustipher — to score from 37 yards out. Only 33 seconds into the game, Notre Dame was leading and had twice shown big play capabilities.
“As an offense, we play fast, we want to dominate the line of scrimmage, we want to be aggressive coming out,” Adams said. “That’s what we want to do as an offensive unit, score fast and get points on the board as fast as we can so the defense can get the ball back and give it to us.”
Adams finished the day with 161 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Wimbush added 106 yards and a touchdown on the ground to complement his 184 yards and two touchdowns through the air, including a five-yard pass to St. Brown, part of his four-catch, 80-yard afternoon. Junior Dexter Williams took 12 carries for 106 yards and a score. Sophomore running back Tony Jones also found the end zone on a seven-yard rush.
Adams, Williams and Wimbush are, as far as anyone in the Notre Dame Stadium press box could determine, the first Irish trio to each run for at least 100 yards in a game since 1954, if not even longer ago than that.
PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
The opening two-play sequence, three plays if counting the near-miss of a kickoff return immediately preceding them, may have been a simple sequence, but the definitive start set Saturday’s tone and showed what the offense was going to do the rest of the afternoon.
Obviously the follow-up question will be if the offense can continue to do it against a stouter defense a week from now, but only time will reveal that answer.
The combination provided a tangible example of much of what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long looks to do with the offense. St. Brown was tackled out of bounds and immediately got up running to hand the ball to an official to expedite getting the line set. Notre Dame’s tempo was not lightning quick — there was time for a full replay from NBC, but only barely — but it was notable, nonetheless.
Long used the threat of a run to set up the pass to St. Brown, and then he relied on the strength of the left side of the offensive line to open a hole for the dynamic Adams. From there, Adams showed exactly what he has shown for the past two seasons and made a play.
This version of the offense will be tough for any defense to stop. By showing itself literally at the outset, nerves were eased and a rout was commenced.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Very clearly, Adams’ stats stand out. His performance caught the attention of Temple head coach Geoff Collins, too.
“[Adams] will probably go down as one of the great running backs of this school and that’s probably saying a lot,” Collins said.
Adams indeed received the game ball from Irish coach Brian Kelly, but his intentions for it show where the “Player of the Game” nod should really go. Adams said the game ball went to the entire offensive unit and would remain in the offensive line room.
That is not to say the five-man (actually, six-man, but we’ll get to that later tonight or maybe tomorrow) offensive line unit deserves the nod. It is to say the entire running game deserves it.
“It wasn’t just one individual,” Adams said. “It was everybody who contributed to a game like that.”
Notre Dame finished with 429 rushing yards on only 42 carries, an average of 10.2 yards per attempt. (As always in this space, sacks and yardage lost to them have been removed from the rushing statistics.) The Irish gained 16 first downs on the ground, including the five touchdowns.
If Long had decided to give Wimbush an abundance of experience and insisted on throwing the ball all of the second half, the Notre Dame day on the ground would still have been impressive, having gained 207 yards in the first half alone. Only twice last season did the Irish top that figure in an entire game. Fittingly, the two games are the same two mentioned earlier in terms of scoring three touchdowns in one quarter, Nevada (239 rushing yards) and Army (261).
STAT OF THE GAME
This is a simple one: Notre Dame went six-for-six for six touchdowns when it entered the red zone Saturday.
“[It’s] just our mentality when we get down there,” Wimbush said. “[Long is] hard on smelling the end zone while we’re down there. … To be six-for-six, that’s a great stat. I didn’t know that. We’ve been harping on that for the past eight months.”
QUOTE OF THE EVENING
It was an offseason of criticism, questions and perhaps even doubt. Come Saturday morning, though, Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian reminded Notre Dame whom and what fall weekends are for.
“We had a full-team special teams meeting this morning,” graduate student senior left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “Coach Polian addressed us and said the winter belonged to [strength and conditioning coordinator Matt] Balis, and the spring and the summer belonged to coach Balis. The fall camp belongs to the coaches.
“Saturdays in the fall belong to the players. We’re excited about that opportunity.”
LAUGH OF THE EVENING
Adams was asked how he thought next week’s opponent, Georgia, would react to now seeing Notre Dame has a strong running attack.
“On offense you can either run or pass, so it’s one or the other,” Adams responded. “I don’t know much about that.”
14:27 — Notre Dame touchdown. Josh Adams 37-yard rush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Temple 0. (2 plays, 70 yards, 0:33)
5:50 — Notre Dame touchdown. Brandon Wimbush eight-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Temple 0. (7 plays, 59 yards, 2:44)
2:23 — Temple field goal. Austin Jones from 36 yards. Notre Dame 14, Temple 3. (9 plays, 57 yards, 3:27)
1:13 — Notre Dame touchdown. Nic Weishar 12-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, Temple 3. (3 plays, 72 yards, 1:10)
11:09 — Notre Dame touchdown. Equanimeous St. Brown five-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 28, Temple 3. (8 plays, 76 yards, 3:40)
6:09 — Temple touchdown. Keith Kirkwood 12-yard reception from Logan Marchi. Austin Jones PAT good. Notre Dame 28, Temple 10. (11 plays, 75 yards, 5:00)
1:22 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tony Jones seven-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 35, Temple 10. (8 plays, 80 yards, 3:03)
12:05 — Temple touchdown. Brodrick Yancy 11-yard reception from Marchi. Two-point conversion attempt failed. Notre Dame 35, Temple 16. (11 plays, 70 yards, 4:17)
5:44 — Notre Dame touchdown. Adams one-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 42, Temple 16. (6 plays, 34 yards, 2:27)
2:29 — Notre Dame touchdown. Dexter Williams one-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 49, Temple 16. (3 plays, 69 yards, 0:53)