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Carson: Notre Dame did what it needed to against Nevada

| Monday, September 12, 2016

Who said it had to be pretty?

No. 18 Notre Dame’s first quarter was pretty sloppy. After an offensive pass interference penalty negated a first down on the Irish offense’s first drive, the defense handed Nevada two first downs via penalty on the ensuing drive. That preceded a second-drive three-and-out for the Irish (1-1), who closed the game’s opening quarter deadlocked with visiting Nevada (1-1).

What followed, though, was everything a Notre Dame fan could have hoped would happen Saturday.

Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer? A cool 15-for-18 and two touchdowns through the air for the game while adding 35 yards and a score on the ground. All that in a performance that largely looked pedestrian.

The Irish ground game? It opened up really well, especially on the strength of sophomore running back Josh Adams, who rushed for 106 yards on 10 carries.

The receivers? Junior Corey Holmes was the only upperclassman to record a catch, yet you could’ve convinced most people the corps was full of veterans, not underclassmen. Between Texas and Nevada, sophomores Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders have shown they’re not the future of the Irish passing game, rather the present.

And while the defense got off to a bit of a shaky start — giving up those two first downs via penalty on Nevada’s opening drive — it responded exactly as it needed to, stuffing the Wolf Pack on fourth-and-1 early on. Going through a game without any adversity wouldn’t have been particularly productive. Notre Dame’s defense made a necessary big play, then followed it up with two three-and-outs and an interception.

If that isn’t everything you wanted and more, I don’t know what else to tell you.

When Nevada did move the ball again, the Irish defense was bending, not breaking — to resurrect everyone’s favorite 2012 phrase. That’s progress, the type that wins you games against better football teams. One more bend, rather than a break, a week ago at Texas means a win, not a loss.

But let’s face it: The only way we were really learning anything about this Irish team Saturday was if things went horribly wrong, one way or another. That hasn’t happened.

There are still things to worry about, sure. Tackling was a bit of a concern, as was the early-game sloppiness. Fail to execute in those places again, and next week’s matchup with No. 12 Michigan State will likely drop the Irish to 1-2.

Sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford’s absence will be a big hurt, too. The second cornerback spot, opposite senior Cole Luke, remains a concern.

But on the whole, if Notre Dame can replicate the gains it made between Texas and Nevada ahead of next week’s visit from the Spartans, they’ll be in a good spot to come away with a key win that’ll really kickstart the season.

Just look at junior safety Drue Tranquill, who went from getting benched against Texas to making back-to-back key plays — a pass break-up followed by a hurry — to force a Nevada punt.

Or how about the front seven as a whole, which held the Wolf Pack under 100 yards rushing on 30 carries? After getting bullied around a week ago by Texas’ ground game, largely in a 3-3-5, the core Irish 4-3 defense looked good Saturday.

If you’re looking for more improvement, just look at how the Irish coaches handled those aforementioned young receivers. Six days earlier, they passed up a chance to go for the sticks on third-and-long late in the fourth quarter at Texas. On Saturday, they got them involved in big plays from the get-go.

At the end of the day, what happened Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium was what — a bizarre safety aside — was supposed to happen. After last week’s thriller, ain’t that kinda nice?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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