Perhaps after Saturday’s ground-based successes, Notre Dame will deliver more of the same moving forward. Entering the season with a promising but unknown commodity at quarterback, the Irish may have needed a few weeks to learn what exactly would and would not work when facing live competition.
“I really didn’t know how this offense was going to be from the quarterback position in terms of where [junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush] was going to take it until we actually got into a few games,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Notre Dame’s 49-20 victory at Boston College. “Now I think we know what part of the library we need to move toward, and we’ve got plenty of offense.
“We can start to really focus in on the things that he does really well, and that’s where this offense will continue to grow and develop.”
Wimbush does many things well. Currently chief among them, as illustrated Saturday, is evade defenders as he works his way down the field.
Saying the Irish will rely on their running game moving forward because it fits Wimbush’s skill set is not a shot at the quarterback. The Notre Dame rushing attack hinges on him being a contributing factor.
“You’ve just got to find a way to find something that’s working for you,” Wimbush said. “It happened to be my feet during this game.”
It was not only his feet, it was any Irish ballcarrier’s feet. It took a group effort to rush for 515 yards on 51 carries, setting a modern-era school record for average carry at 10.1 yards.
Wimbush went for 207 yards on 21 touts. Junior running back Josh Adams needed only 18 rushes to gain 229 yards. Classmate Dexter Williams took six attempts for 50 yards. Sophomore Deon McIntosh used his four closing opportunities to gain 24 yards, and sophomore Tony Jones gained five yards on two carries.
The one of those warranting the most notice is Adams. He gained in big chunks and small ones. He broke tackles. He reached for extra yards.
Adams became the first rusher to break 200 yards during Kelly’s eight-year tenure at Notre Dame. His 229 yards were, in fact, the fourth-most in a single game in Irish history, only 33 yards from matching the record set by Julius Jones in 2003. In a closer contest, it seems likely Adams would have exceeded that mark of 262.
Much of the credit naturally should go to the Notre Dame offensive line. Take Adams’ 64-yard run shortly before halftime. He started toward the middle of the line, setting up the Eagles defense for a designed counter, something the Irish expected to work from film study.
“[Boston College has a] very aggressive group, downhill linebackers, and we wanted to create a little bit of misdirection and pull,” Kelly said. “That’s a play that we use against certain defense that have had that very aggressive to the line of scrimmage.”
Sure enough, senior right guard Alex Bars and sophomore right tackle Tommy Kraemer opened a massive hole for Adams to break through.
After Saturday’s career day, Adams now has 2,211 career rushing yards, the 17th Notre Dame rusher to exceed 2,000 yards. He would still need to nearly double his career total to reach the career record of 4,318 set by current Irish running backs coach Autry Denson. However, the strong start to this season has Adams in position to make a run — pun intended — at the single-season record. The top three in that category:
Vagas Ferguson in 1979: 1,437 yards on 301 carries.
Allen Pinkett in 1983: 1,394 yards on 252 carries.
Reggie Brooks in 1992: 1,343 yards on 167 carries.
Adams has 443 yards through only a quarter of the season. Clearly, he is ahead of pace.
What about a Wimbush record?
With four rushing touchdowns Saturday, Wimbush raised his season total to six. The single-game total is a Notre Dame record for a quarterback. With that in mind, it should be no surprise the season record for a quarterback is 10 rushing touchdowns, set in 2015 by DeShone Kizer. Wimbush already has six.
A few firsts
— Sophomore receiver Chase Claypool got his first career start. Junior Chris Finke would have, as well, if the Irish had not utilized two tight ends on their first snap. Perhaps next week for the former walk-on.
— Sophomore quarterback Ian Book attempted his first collegiate passes, though all three fell incomplete. The lopsided score gave Kelly the chance to see Book in a situation more meaningful than a practice or intrasquad scrimmage.
“I looked at the score as zero-zero and an opportunity for him to get in and really get a look at what he’s capable of doing in a game situation,” Kelly said.
— Freshman kicker Jonathan Doerer handled kickoff duties. Notre Dame recruited Doerer with that specific duty in mind, but he wore down toward the end of preseason practice, so Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian opted to let Doerer rest for a couple weeks before turning to him.
Jones suffered an ankle injury, but Kelly said an x-ray came back “clean,” meaning the sprain should not end Jones’ season, though it could certainly limit him in the near-term.
During the week’s practices, fifth-year receiver Cameron Smith also suffered a sprained ankle, cutting short his preparations, per Kelly.