Was I overly anxious and probably overconfident going into Notre Dame’s first game of the 2020 season? Yes. Am I disappointed now that the Irish are 1-0 and have their first official win as an ACC conference member? No. Granted, Saturday’s game against Duke wasn’t the flashy and high scoring affair that some of us were expecting but there were some key factors that I know I overlooked. In my opinion, the lack of off season practice and install time as well as the need for the Irish offensive skill players to build a rhythm and rapport with quarterback Ian Book are two components that may have hamstrung Notre Dame out of the gate. As the season goes on, I fully expect these categories to improve and we will know a lot more about the Irish after getting to see them play another game.
Saturday’s 27-13 win over Duke, as mentioned above, was nothing flashy, however the end goal was attained. Duke’s quarterback Chase Brice finished the game completing 20 of his 37 pass attempts for 259 yards and rushed for the Blue Devil’s only touchdown, coming in the third quarter. Noah Gray and Jalon Calhoun were Brice’s favorite targets, each tallying five receptions a piece while Eli Pancol hauled in three receptions for 78 yards. Defensively, I think there is a good amount of room for improvement as the season progresses but with Clark Lea leading the Irish defense, I am confident that the necessary adjustments will be made. Sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey looks like a force to be reckoned and I am very excited to keep an eye on number 7 this upcoming weekend to see what kind of pressure he will be able to get on the South Florida quarterback and backfield. Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah led the Irish defense with six tackles and one sack, followed closely by safety Kyle Hamilton adding five tackles himself. Hamilton went down with what looked to be an ankle injury – a moment in the game where it felt like my heart stopped. He is such a talent on the defensive side of the ball, that any sort of significant injury or extended loss of time for him would be rather detrimental. Head coach Brian Kelly commented on this injury explaining that Hamilton will be in a walking boot until Wednesday of this week and will remain day-to-day regarding his playing time on Saturday. The good news out of all of this is that Hamilton’s MRI was said to have come back clean, not showing any significant damage (thankfully). I would not be surprised if Hamilton sees little to no playing time this weekend against South Florida as a precautionary measure to not further aggravate his ankle injury.
Offensively, my biggest takeaway dealt was the production of sophomore running back Kyren Williams. Williams finished the contest with two touchdowns, 19 carries for 112 yards on the ground, and an additional two receptions for 93 yards in the air. Quarterback Ian Book posted the other Irish touchdown and finished the game completing 19 of his 31 pass attempts for 263 yards. Two notable freshman contributors on this side of the ball were running back Chris Tyree and tight end Michael Mayer. Tyree was responsible for six carries and 20 yards on the ground while Mayer added three catches for 38 yards in the air. I am hoping that both Tyree and Mayer’s production and involvement with the Notre Dame offense continues to ramp up as the season goes on. In my opinion, the hero of Saturday’s game was sophomore punter Jay Bramblett. After multiple three and outs to start the game, the Irish offense was looking rather stagnant before Bramblett took a fake punt 14 yards down the field, converting a huge fourth down and resetting the Notre Dame offense to get back on track. I was not particularly pleased with the lack of creativity in new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ offense, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that it could be due to the lack of install time throughout the offseason. I will be looking for an improvement this weekend against South Florida in the play calling – hopefully adding in some more misdirection, play action, and overall creativity to keep the defense guessing. The last point to touch on for the Irish offense was that graduate transfer receiver Ben Skowronek also went down with a hamstring in the game as well. At the time of writing this article, there is no significant updates on this injury however with it happening on a non-contact play, I am less optimistic about his return this week against South Florida.
After week one, the Irish are undefeated and will be looking to build upon their performance this Saturday. I fully expect to see some improvement on both sides of the ball as the players and coaches get back into the swing of being on the field and competing. It may not have been the grandiose performance that we wanted, but a win is a win and in 2020, that’s one step closer to competing for a conference championship! The Irish will look to keep the winning streak alive as they host South Florida on Saturday. Be on the lookout for a preview article coming out later this week.