The season opener for Notre Dame could not have gone any better when the Fighting Irish defeated the Rice Owls 48-17 yesterday afternoon. The biggest story entering this contest was the return of Everett Golson, and the redshirt junior delivered in a big way. Golson and the Irish started off a bit slow, but the offense was clicking on cylinders after they settled in. Golson accounted for five total touchdowns on the afternoon by throwing for two scores and adding three more on the ground. Golson was able avoid a few sacks and extended several plays with his legs that resulted in either touchdowns or big gains. Golson’s mobility was most noticeable in the red zone where he was able to run the ball in the end zone when a couple of plays broke down. Golson’s presence will likely do wonders to improve Notre Dame’s red efficiency this season. In all, Golson completed 14 of his 22 passes for 295 yards and added another 41 yards on the ground. I think it is safe to say that any doubts about Golson’s ability to lead this offense are no longer an issue.
While Golson was the star of the game, he was also aided by his supporting cast. Yesterday was a prime example of just how deep the Irish are at their offensive skill positions. Greg Bryant (71 yards), Tarean Folston (71 yards), and Cam McDaniel (40 yards) split the ball carrying duties quite well by combining for 182 yards on 28 carries. At 6.5 yards per carry, the Notre Dame offense was able to do whatever they wanted against the Owls defense. The most encouraging sign of Golson big day through the air was how he was able to spread the ball around to several receivers. Seven Irish players caught a pass on Saturday, with five players hauling in a reception of 25 yards or more. Those type of big plays have been missing for the Irish in recent years, so hopefully that will continue and happen consistently throughout the year. Obviously, the Irish will face tougher defenses later this season, but this offense should be able to move the ball and put up some points against just about every team in the country. For the first team since Brian Kelly has arrived, he finally has the quarterback situation and an abundance of skill players to run his offense effectively. If Saturday is any indication of what the rest of the season will look like, then 2014 season will be very exciting to watch offensively.
Although the offense had a field day, the defense showed some weaknesses against the Owls offense. Prior to game, the Irish got some bad news with starting safety Austin Collinsworth who injured his MCL on Thursday. Collinsworth was unable to play Saturday and he is expected to miss two to four more weeks. Hopefully, his absence will be shorter than four weeks because the Irish secondary could use him. Rice was able to connect on two long touchdown passes, with Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield looking lost on the first score when Zach Wright ran directly through the middle of the Irish secondary. If Notre Dame wants to beat Michigan next week, the secondary will have to communicate better and sure up those mistakes. Outside of that, the Irish defense played fairly well. They were able to create two turnovers and they didn’t allow too much success on the ground. The most surprising aspect of the defense was Joe Schmidt’s performance. The senior linebacker made eight tackles on the day, and showed a lot of skill for a former walk-on. I was not expecting Schmidt to be a huge contributor this season, so hopefully there will be more games like yesterday.
Last, but certainly not least, it appears that the Irish might finally have a punt return game! Florida transfer Cody Riggs had two returns of 24 and 25 yards, while Greg Bryant added 31 yards on his three returns. Those 80 yards helped give the offense excellent field position and provided a spark in an area that has lacked excitement for several season now. Let’s see if that type of production is sustainable throughout the season.