Irish blow out RedHawks with rushing success
Ryan Kolakowski | Monday, October 2, 2017
Ground-and-pound football was featured before a full house at Notre Dame stadium.
The running game has been a major strength for the No. 22 Irish (4-1) offense this season, and that strength flexed its muscles early in the Week 5 matchup against Miami (OH).
On just the second play from scrimmage, junior running back Josh Adams cut through the middle of the RedHawks defense and broke a 73-yard rushing touchdown. Adams’ touchdown run, his third of the season, propelled the running back to 10th all-time in career rushing yards at Notre Dame.
The RedHawks (2-3, 1-0 MAC) attempted to respond after the early Irish touchdown, as redshirt-junior quarterback Gus Ragland completed a 22-yard strike to senior tight end Ryan Smith. Just as the Miami offense seemed to find its footing, Ragland misfired on a pass that was intercepted by Irish linebacker and senior captain Greer Martini. Martini returned the interception, Notre Dame’s 10th forced turnover of the season, 42 yards to the RedHawks 36-yard line.
After the interception, Miami seemed to curb the Irish offense, forcing Notre Dame into a fourth down.
The Irish opted against attempting a long field goal, instead converting on fourth down with a 21-yard pass from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool. The Irish then capitalized on the turnover, as Wimbush crossed the goal line for a one-yard touchdown run three plays later.
The Irish touchdown gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead over Miami (OH) less than 3:30 into the game.
The RedHawks offense was unfazed by the two-touchdown deficit. Miami quarterback Gus Ragland shook off his previous interception and drove his team down the field in eight plays, capped off by a 34-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver James Gardner. Sophomore kicker Samuel Sloman converted the point-after attempt to trim the Irish lead to seven points.
The Irish offense immediately returned to its strength — running the ball in the trenches. Led by Notre Dame’s commanding offensive line, Adams broke free on the fourth play of the drive. Adams found a hole on the right side of his offensive line and rushed upfield. After slipping from the grips of a first would-be tackler, Adams stiff-armed a second RedHawks defender to the ground and completed a 59-yard touchdown run.
“He’s really good. He’s been really good here,” RedHawks head coach Chuck Martin said of Adams. “He tends to break off big runs if you give him — he’s big and strong, but he runs through those — you can’t really make him miss. He runs through arm tackles.”
With the rush, Adams jumped from 10th all-time in career rushing yards at Notre Dame to eighth all-time. The rush pushed Adams over the 150-yard mark for the day on only his fifth carry.
Miami (OH) and Notre Dame proceeded to trade punts on consecutive possessions. On the following Miami possession, Irish junior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery sacked Ragland, forcing a fumble. Senior defensive end Jay Hayes fell on the loose ball, completing the 11th forced turnover for the Irish defense this season.
The offense took over with a short field after the turnover, beginning the drive on the Miami 30-yard line. After Adams came out of the game with an injury, Wimbush went to the air to complete the drive, finding Claypool in the end zone for the Irish touchdown. Claypool’s touchdown, the first of his career, gave Notre Dame a commanding 28-7 lead.
The Irish offense didn’t slow down as the second quarter opened. Wimbush found junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown for two first downs. Wimbush fired an incomplete pass toward St. Brown near the goal line, but a pass interference call against the Miami defense set the Irish up on the 14-yard line. On second down, Wimbush struck St. Brown once again with a short pass that the receiver took upfield for a touchdown, providing the Irish with a 35-7 lead.
Miami responded with a touchdown of its own, as Ragland completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Gardner, his second of the contest. The touchdown cut the Redhawks deficit to 21 points.
On the following drive, the RedHawks defense seemed to stifle the Irish, but Notre Dame ran a fake punt on fourth down, and sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. rushed for 32 yards and a first down. The Irish drive concluded with another score, as junior kicker Justin Yoon converted on a 43-yard field goal attempt to give Notre Dame a 38-14 lead.
With Adams sidelined, Jones Jr. carried the load from the running back position. A helmet-to-helmet hit on Jones Jr. sent golden flakes from his helmet flying into the air, causing a pause in the action. Following the hit, Jones Jr. walked off the field and the Irish continued the drive.
When asked about the enforcement of the targeting rule with regards to the hit on Jones Jr., Irish head coach Brian Kelly wasn’t about to offer a comment.
“He knocked the paint right off my kid’s helmet,” Kelly said. “You know, I really can’t comment on it because I know I’ll say something that gets me in trouble.”
Three plays after Jones Jr. exited, Wimbush completed a 51-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Miles Boykin, giving the Irish a 45-14 lead heading into halftime. The 45 points scored by Notre Dame in the first half were the most points ever scored in one half of play by an Irish team in the Brian Kelly era.
The Irish maintained their success on the ground in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Ian Book and sophomore running back Deon McIntosh led a scoring drive to give the Irish a 52-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame continued its success in the red zone throughout the night. In five games this season, the Irish have reached the red zone 22 times and have scored on each of those trips. Irish head coach Brian Kelly was particularly complimentary of his team’s mental toughness and ability to put the opponent away early.
“I’m proud of my football team. I challenged them on Monday to exhibit mental toughness … and they had that mental toughness today,” Kelly said. “They exhibited [it] right out of the gates — 45 points in the first half … and just to come out knowing that physically they were more talented than their opponent, to come out with that mindset was another real growth moment for this football team.”
And although the Irish were not perfect on the day, Kelly said the complimentary style of play between the two sides of the ball was a positive.
“This team is complementing each other really well,” Kelly said. “I don’t think you can look at this team and say, ‘Well, it’s a dominating defense, or it’s a dominating offense, or it’s the special teams.’ … Our defense takes it away, we go and score. Our offense doesn’t put our defense in a bad position.
“ … It’s working well together and we need to continue to do that if we want to continue to win.”
After securing three consecutive victories, the Irish will turn their attention to an upcoming road matchup against North Carolina. The contest against the Tar Heels will be the second of five matchups against ACC teams for the Irish this season.
Kickoff next Saturday is set for 3:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.