With a power running game and stifling defense (note: neither of them Irish strong suits this season), ND was able to take care of business and gain their first road win of the season. While the final score was certainly commanding; a combination of offensive rust, liberal substitution and a refusal to pour it on kept it from being much worse.
This was a very important win for the Irish as they are now one 'W' away from bowl eligibility with five games to go. Furthermore, they were able to bounce back from a devastating loss to UNC and get a win against a team very motivated to play them.
A few other observations from the game:
- Jimmy was very rusty. Particularly in the first half, he forced a number of passes, held on to the ball far too long and was generally off-target. In spite of this, he still put up over 200-yards in the air and, by the second half, seemed to have gotten into a rhythm. He'll be much better in the next few weeks.
- The running game looked very good (as well it should have given the sieve of a defense they were facing). It was great to see Aldridge getting so many carries. I have long thought him to be the most complete back in the Irish stable and he showed why last night; combining power, speed and moves to lead the attack. In addition, it was tremendous that Jonas Gray got some PT. I have been excited to see him carry the ball in live action since hearing reports about his ability going back to training camp. He did not disappoint. This kid is going to be a star before he leaves South Bend.
- The offensive line was a bit inconsistent. They looked great in run blocking, but their pass blocking left something to be desired. Clausen was rushed and sacked (2-22 yards) far too often against a bad defense. They need to get back to the form they showed earlier in the season before playing Pitt and BC. Sam Young looked very good on the two Irish touchdowns in the first half and is really starting to show the skills Irish fans have been waiting to see from him since he arrived on campus. It would be a huge loss if Olsen's injury were serious. Here's hoping he was kept out as a precaution rather than a necessity.
- Michael Floyd turned in another 100-yard receiving performance and just missed on a few other passes during the course of the game. I absolutely love watching this kid play. The level of excitement he brings is unbelievable. He is electrifying.
- This was absolutely the best the defense has looked in years. Yes, it was a terrible team playing without its star QB and, yes, there were several dropped passes by Husky receivers, but the Irish 'D' was still dominant. Anytime you are able to hold a team under 60 yards in a half, you are imposing your will upon them. Most impressive was Notre Dame's ability to stuff the run; holding the Huskies to 26-yards on 23 carries for the game.
- Overall, Notre Dame's defense held UW to 124 total yards (most of them coming on their lone touchdown drive at the end of the game) and just nine first downs. Regardless of the opponent, this is impressive. Going into a tough two-game stretch, this was exactly the kind of shot-in-the-arm the Irish 'D' needed.
- Harrison Smith looked unreal. He led the defense with two sacks (the team had four), had five tackles AND had a 35-yard run on a fake punt. He is an absolutely remarkable talent and it was great seeing him show his athleticism and versatility against the Huskies.
- Good for Brandon Walker! The much-maligned kicker went 3-3 on extra points and, even better, 2-2 on field goals. While his first field goal (a 28-yarder in the 2nd quarter) just about made it, his 42-yarder in the 3rd quarter was straight down the pike. I remain convinced that Walker has all the physical tools to be a very good kicker and just needs a slight correction in technique and a huge boost in confidence. Hopefully, he got both against UW.
The next two games for Notre Dame will be very telling. It is undoubtedly their toughest two-game stretch of the season and how they perform will go a long way towards determining what kind of season this will be and what type of bowl they'll be going to.
Both Pitt and BC are tough opponents, but were humbled this past weekend. Pitt was thumped at home by lowly Rutgers, 54-34, and the Eagles were toasted on the road by UNC, 45-24. A big question this week will be, how does Pitt respond? Resilience has not been a hallmark of the Wannestedt era, so it will remain to be seen if this team can bounce back from such a humiliating defeat. BC, conversely, was largely exposed. They have a mediocre offense and a defense who has overachieved against average competition. In short, these suddenly look like two winnable games. If Notre Dame wins both, this season suddenly becomes very special (9 wins likely). If they split them, this season is very good (8 wins likely). If they lose them both, we start looking at the games against Navy and Syracuse as "must wins." Regardless, Irish fans should feel very good about what this young team has been able to do this season and what promise the future holds. Judging by the current state of Washington football, they should also be thankful that Willingham was sacked when he was.