Notre Dame’s most physical challenge of the early portion of the season comes this weekend when Michigan State visits Notre Dame Stadium. The Fighting Irish (1-1) had a chances to heal their wounds with Saturday’s 39-10 win over Nevada.
The Wolf Pack didn’t have the talent of ND’s season-opening opponent — Texas — and they don’t have anywhere near the physicality of Michigan State, but they did give the Irish the opportunity to shore up some weaknesses with the meat of the 2016 schedule on the horizon.
Here are a handful of takeaways from Saturday:
1) The defense played much better in the trenches. Nose guards Daniel Cage and Jarron Jones, who struggled against Texas’ tempo last week, played much better at the point of attack against Nevada.
The Longhorns rushed for 237 yards and averaged 4 yards per carry, but the Wolf Pack managed just 99 yards for a 3.3 average. The Irish didn’t do anything fancy to make it happen. They just lined-up and played more physically up front.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we still came together after the first quarter,” Cage said after the game. “We got on each other and we took over the game.”
Cage had a quarterback hurry on a play that was originally called a fumble, but was overturned by replay. Jones also had his first career interception on a screen pass.
2) While the defensive front looked good, the secondary is going to be an adventure for a while. An already shaky unit took a big hit when cornerback Shaun Crawford suffered a season-ending Achilles injury on Saturday.
Crawford’s absence means more of sophomore Nick Coleman as well as freshmen Troy Pride, Julian Love and Donte Vaughn. Coleman struggled against Texas and eventually came out of the game and he gave up a 44-yard completion to the Wolf Pack’s Wyatt Demps after Crawford went down.
3) DeShone Kizer went into the Texas game as the co-quarterback with Malik Zaire, but he had Saturday’s game to himself and he showed why once again. It took a while (the 10:35 mark of the second quarter to be exact) for the Irish offense to find the end zone, but despite the sluggish start, Kizer ran the offense well once again.
Kizer didn’t have the five touchdowns he had against Texas, but he was more than efficient by going 15 of 18 for 156 yards, two touchdown passes and adding a touchdown run. However, he did throw his first interception (Notre Dame’s only turnover through two games).
4) The stable of running backs Kizer has will keep opposing offenses honest all season. Sophomore Josh Adams topped the 100-yard mark for the fifth time in his career with 106 yards on just 10 carries. His biggest run was a 43-yard burst.
Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams also combined for 86 yards on 18 carries. They each scored a touchdown as well. In all, Notre Dame tallied 239 net rushing yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.