Notre Dame jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks to an offensive and defensive touchdown, and the Irish never looked back in a 38-18 defeat of Michigan State.
The Spartans closed the lead to 14-7 before running back Dexter Williams pushed it back to two scores several minutes into the second quarter. Michigan State again appeared ready to respond as LJ Scott headed toward the goal line for a touchdown before defensive back Shaun Crawford punched the ball loose and recovered in the end zone.
That was Michigan State’s last chance as the Irish scored on their next possession to go out 28-7 and put the Spartans away early.
Head coach Brian Kelly and multiple Irish players said following the game they felt the team put together four quarters of good football.
While winning a game in the fashion the Irish did can be validation in a sense, Kelly sees it as an opportunity to continue growing and shoring up a few aspects of the team’s play.
“Well, you know, it was the first time we really faced a team that threw the ball quite a bit: 51 passing attempts,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “We have to play with a little bit more of a sense of urgency in terms of down and distance, recognizing game situations. So, there's some improvement there for us.”
The progression of the game provided Kelly a look at what the defense can improve on as it faces teams who will move the ball through the air.
“We've got to do a better job with just understanding passing off routes, underneath coverage, things of that nature, inside-out on slant routes in terms of down and distance,” Kelly continued. “So, there's a lot of things that we can improve on there, and again, seeing a team that threw it 51 times last night gave us a real good kind of snapshot of some of the things that we've got to really focus in on and work to improve this week.”
JOSH ADAMS UPDATE
Kelly provided an update on junior running back Josh Adams, who was limited in the second due to injury.
“Josh, when we got up at halftime, he felt some [ankle] stiffness, so we got a precautionary X-ray, which came clean, and at that point,” Kelly explained. “We had already started the third quarter, and so we started with Dex and made a decision that we wouldn't put him back in unless it was absolutely necessary. They put up three on the board, we respond, and at that point, we weren't going to get him back in the game unless we felt it was absolutely necessary.”
OFFENSE'S CONFIDENCE GROWING
Consistency is a focal point for Kelly and his staff during the season on both sides of the ball. The offensive side has garnered more attention through the first several weeks given the focus on starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
Kelly has noted in recent weeks that Wimbush had to throw the ball more consistent, but the other members on the offense needed to do the same in terms of consistency catching the ball.
Confidence is growing at quarterback and wide receiver, and Kelly expects it to continue as the season progresses.
“I think -- I knew that we needed to step up our play in supporting Brandon,” Kelly said. “He had to obviously throw it better, we had to catch it better. I wasn't alarmed, but it was certainly something that during practice -- there wasn't a time where if a ball was not caught there was not a comment about how important it is for us to focus on the football and catch that football. Again, intentional to make sure that our guys were locked in and focused in terms of catching the football.
“Again, we've got some guys that are gaining some confidence out there, and I think you'll see a better rapport as the season goes on here with Brandon and the receivers and confidence grow in that regard.”
PLAYING TO WIMBUSH'S STRENGTHS
Wimbush started off hot throwing the ball completing 4 of 5 passes leading a touchdown drive on the team’s first possession.
Heading into the game, Kelly wanted to make sure Wimbush was in a position to get off to a nice start and into the flow of the game early.
“… I just feel like getting the quarterback off with some quick throws, some easy throws to get into a rhythm was important,” Kelly said. “I wanted to make sure that Chip got some openers for him in his first nine plays that were high-percentage completions for him and get him into a nice rhythm, which he did. I don't know, I think he completed maybe four or five in a row to get into a rhythm before we took a shot down the field.
“So, it was orchestrated or planned or constructed that way, whatever word you want to use. But hey, I felt really good after we made a couple of adjustments, and it's not uncommon when you go through the volume that you do in terms of preseason camp and all the throwing that sometimes the ball drops a little bit. We just moved the ball up a little bit. It was just a slight adjustment, and he's throwing the ball perfectly. But we wanted to get him some completions, no question, and we set it up that way.”
LOCKER ROOM FUN
After the game, videos of Kelly and the Irish dancing in the locker room surfaced. Kelly was asked if it was the most fun he’s had post-game and what it says about the rapport between himself and the players.
“I love my guys,” Kelly said. “I love being around them. They're fun. They do the right things. We don't have a lot of guys on lists. They pay attention to all the things. So when you have those opportunities to enjoy it -- they're kids, they're young, and sometimes we need to share that with them and be young. Even though I might not look it or act it at times, you're with young guys all the time, and it's important that you get to share that with them.
“I made a promise to them that we'd get that megaphone back, so I wanted to make sure that we were able to present it to them.”
PREPARING FOR MIAMI (OHIO)
On Saturday, Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) will meet for just the second time in history with the first coming all the way back in 1909.
Kelly touched on preparing for a team that isn’t a consistent foe on the schedule. The Redhawks are coached by former Irish assistant Chuck Martin.
“Well, it's quite normal for us,” Kelly stated. “We're non-conference, so as an independent, we're used to playing teams for the first time. We hadn't played Georgia in quite some time, and so it's a common occurrence for us in terms of playing teams for the first time. We'll go back to work today, and we've already broken down Miami, and we've got a lot of respect for Chuck. Obviously I know him quite well, and he'll have his football team ready.