The ninth ranked Fighting Irish recorded their first shutout since 2014 with a 52-0 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday, improving to 4-1 on the year. As a shutout is not something easily accomplished, this is the third shutout in the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame. Coming into this game as a 45 point favorite, the Irish were able to take care of business without any significant hiccups and are now onto preparing for the Trojans of Southern California. Without looking ahead at that game yet, what did we learn from this weekend’s game?
In his post-game press conference, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that the team was “very business-like” in their performance this week. The challenge of coming out sharp and executing to a championship standard was the goal and Irish fans should be please with the product that was shown. This matchup showed that both teams were exactly who they were projected to be – Bowling Green as a young team deep in the rebuilding process and Notre Dame being the heavy favorite who was able to dominate early and use the rest of the game to get reps for the backups. I do not really feel like there was much to mention in regards to Bowling Green; they did not have a 100 yard rusher or receiver and their quarterback Grant Loy only threw for 106 yards. The Falcons leading receiver, Quintin Morris finished the game with 10 catches for 9.2 yards and Coach Kelly touched on this saying that the Irish need to “tighten up some things in coverage” in order to have success in the much more daunting upcoming part of the schedule.
Notre Dame ended the game with 573 yards of total offense with quarterback Ian Book responsible for throwing five first half touchdowns. Book finished the game completing 16 of his 20 attempts for 261 yards in the air – all of this coming during the first half and one drive in the third quarter. After that, Book’s backup Phil Jurkovec was responsible for running the Irish offense. Jurkovec finished five for seven for 79 yards in the air and one touchdown. He also carried the ball four times for 42 yards, showing his dual threat ability. It was nice getting to see Book take more shots down the field. This was the perfect game to do so, hopefully helping his confidence and getting more comfortable airing it out. Coach Kelly said that he felt Book saw the field well and is continuing to develop. Offensively, I think it is important to highlight the performances of Javon McKinley and Tony Jones Jr. McKinley finished the game as Notre Dame’s leading receiver with five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown – his first 100+ yard receiving game of his college career. McKinley also dropped another pass in which he easily could have walked in for another score, but that part of the learning process that will need to be tightened up come next week. Kelly addressed the point that they are working to get McKinley more involved in the offense and his confidence should be growing as the weeks go on. Kelly also touched on the fact that Book has a lot of trust in McKinley and he “would not be surprised to see him continue to grow into the offense.” In the running game, Tony Jones Jr. totaled 102 yards on only seven carries and showed his ability to help the offense get the big chunk plays that they were looking for to keep the scoring drives moving efficiently. Jones Jr. was able to eat up a lot of yardage on minimal carries which I think will be very beneficial going into USC week. With the possibility of Jafar Armstrong coming back, the Irish backfield will need to be operating on all cylinders moving forward.
Defensively, Notre Dame had 20 different players record at least one tackle with another four being credited with at least one assist. Jalen Elliott lead the way with four tackles and the lone Irish interception on the day and this was another dominant performance by the Notre Dame defense. The defensive line completely controlled the line of scrimmage and held the Falcons to a team total of only 118 rushing yards. Other than the relatively long drive that Bowling Green was able to string together to open the second half with, the Irish defense flattened the Falcons, not allowing any scoring. If we are going to get really nitpicky, I thought the pass coverage was relatively soft especially in the second half and there were some missed tackles by the Irish, but again…no points on the board. I do think that the defense in general, especially the linebacking core is way ahead of the developmental point in which I expected them to be at by this point in the year. Bowling Green head coach Scot Loeffler, commented on the Irish defense pointing out the fact that there was no area to exploit.
Although I think that is somewhat difficult to get a lot out of a game against Bowling Green, I was glad that Notre Dame did exactly what they were supposed to do – dominate early, get the second and third string players some game reps, and avoid any serious injuries going into USC week. For the starters, they proved that they could play to the championship standard that Brian Kelly has been emphasizing and for the backups, they should have gained more confidence getting game reps and proving their ability as well. This is a game that in the past, I think Notre Dame may have overlooked, causing them to play down to their opponent. I am very pleased with the way Kelly and the coaching staff has been preparing and stressing the message of playing up to the standard no matter who is on the field. The next three games on Notre Dame’s schedule will tell us a lot more about this team, but recording a shutout and putting up over 50 points is not a bad way to come out of the fifth game of the year. The Irish are continuing to improve both offensively and defensively and have significantly greater challenges looming on the horizon. At 4-1 on the year, it is now time to focus all of the attention on USC.