Josh Adams, first quarter dominance set tone for Notre Dame in win
Joe Everett | Monday, October 2, 2017
During a break in action just four minutes into the first quarter, a graphic on the Notre Dame video board proclaimed that the No. 1 key for the Irish would be getting off to a fast start.
By the time the graphic showed, however, junior running back Josh Adams and No. 22 Notre Dame had already accomplished that goal.
With 14 points in the first four minutes and 28 in the first quarter alone, the Irish (4-1) avoided any type of hangover from their big road win against Michigan State last week or easing up of any kind. Instead, they went for the throat.
For years upon years, a common complaint has been that Notre Dame tends to play to the level of its competition. That was not so on Saturday. The Irish won the toss and elected to receive, and score, first. Why go 12 rounds when you can K.O. your opponent in the first few?
Dominate your opponent. Find the other team’s breaking point. These mantras have suddenly found their way back into the fabric of Notre Dame football, and it was clear from the get-go that head coach Brian Kelly’s squad wasn’t going to play around with the RedHawks (2-3, 1-0 MAC); they were preparing and aiming for dominance, he said.
“Proud of my football team,” Kelly said. “I challenged them on Monday to exhibit mental toughness, and the mental toughness is defined — was really about accountability to a standard that we’ve set here in terms of how we want to play and they had that mental toughness today they exhibited right out of the gate.”
Notre Dame put the game away in the first quarter, and Adams was its catalyst. On Notre Dame’s second play from scrimmage, the junior running back took a read-option handoff from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, made a jump-cut to the right and exploded through a hole, running through arm tackles and past defenders en route to a 73-yard touchdown run to put Notre Dame ahead for good, just 25 seconds into the game. The Irish have struck early and often throughout the season, and Adams spoke postgame about the team’s mindset of how to start off games.
“Just coming out with the mentality as an offense to go out there and dominate each and every week,” Adams said. “That’s what we work on each and every week as an offense is bringing it to the defense and executing our game plan. Each time we practice we’re going in with that mindset of dominating and doing better than we did last week — I think that really helps us come out strong and start fast.”
After the quick first touchdown, Notre Dame’s defense took its turn imposing a dominating mindset. Irish captain and senior linebacker Greer Martini intercepted RedHawks redshirt-junior quarterback Gus Ragland, returning it 44 yards to the Miami (OH) 36-yard line. The Irish defense has forced a turnover or punt on the opponent’s first drive in all five games this season, and the Irish offense once again capitalized on a turnover, with Wimbush eventually running it in from one yard out to give the Irish a 14-0 lead before fans had even settled into their seats. Duplicating its early success from Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten), Wimbush felt that the strong start once again made the game much easier the rest of the way.
“Yeah, it definitely gives us a good kind of momentum early in the game to kind of build off of, and to be up 14-0 early in the game, you know, it helps us mentally, and we just really wanted to just keep our foot on the gas throughout the rest of the game,” Wimbush said.
Although the Irish gave up a touchdown to Miami (OH) the next drive, the offense punched right back. The main production came through Adams, who took an I-formation handoff to the right side and broke loose down the sideline, drove a defender into the ground with a stiff-arm and strode into endzone for 59-yard run.
Adams’ run put him in eighth place all-time on the Notre Dame rushing records and helped him finish the first quarter with 162 yards on just eight carries. However, the junior credited the guys up front for Notre Dame’s start and the opportunities they gave him to find open space.
“We have a great offensive line — every guy on that line does their job fantastically,” Adams said. “A lot of credit goes to them — we’re just running the ball. … You see a hole open up that wide, and its definitely a great sight to see. Those guys do that each and every week, and it’s amazing just to run behind those guys.”
Not just any running back could do what Adams did after running through the holes, however, as Kelly said after the game his No. 1 running back should be a Heisman candidate.
“He’s a stud,” Kelly said. “I mean, look, [Saquon] Barkley is a great player at Penn State, but you know, Josh has got to start to get some kind of national recognition for the kind of season that he’s having. He is a load. He’s a big, physical runner who gets in the open and then runs away from people. So this is a special back who’s having a special year.”
All in all, whether Adams gets his recognition or not, Notre Dame put forth a complete performance in the first quarter, and left no doubt as to the type of game this would be by the end of the 15 minutes. The defensive line got to Ragland early and often, and even forced and recovered a fumble. Wimbush and the offense once again converted turnovers into points, as Wimbush and sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass after the fumble recovery to give the Irish a 28-7 lead heading into the second quarter. The first quarter was an all-around team performance that reflected the overall mentality of the team, according to Adams, and that’ll be one of the strengths of this team moving forward, he said.
“It felt good to make that stride as a team and as an offense of just going out there and trying to dominate, trying to get better and push our tempo,” Adams said. “I feel like we did a great job of doing that and staying focused. We didn’t really sway any way, we stayed on our goal that we set for ourselves, and it doesn’t matter what team you play — you just have to go out there and be your best you. I think we did that.”