Notre Dame accomplished a lot of its goals in its game against UMass. Most importantly, the Irish won the game 62-27. The margin of victory meant a lot of playing time for many of the young Irish players. Also, the Irish emerged from the game injury free, a first for them this season.
But the game was far from perfect. With a game at Clemson next up on the schedule, the Irish have a lot to work on this week in practice.
Here are five thoughts on Notre Dame coming out of week four.
1. The Defense Has to Improve
Notre Dame came into the game with what seemed to be a stout run defense but questions against the pass. The Irish now have questions all around. UMass and the nation’s No. 121 running game put up 148 yards on the ground. A good chunk of that (83 yards) came on one run, but the Minutemen running backs were surprisingly effective. At the same time, UMass threw for over 300 yards. And it wasn’t like it was all in garbage time at the end of the game. Notre Dame’s defense better be completely different next week if the Irish are to compete with Clemson.
2. 457 Yards Rushing
UMass has a terrible rush defense. But 457 yards is 457 yards. It doesn’t matter if UMass had nine guys on the defense all day. That’s a lot of yards rushing. C.J. Prosise continued his spectacular play and freshman Josh Adams topped the 100-yard mark. The Irish offensive line abused the UMass defensive front and it got worse as the game wore on.
3. Getting Others Involved
The Irish offense had been very dependent on Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise through the first three games. While both of those players had big games, they also got some help. Josh Adams had 133 yards rushing and Dexter Williams had 48. They both had a touchdown. Amir Carlisle led the team with five catches and Alize Jones had three for 56 yards. It was nice to see Fuller and Prosise on the bench for much of the second half.
4. A Punt Return for a Touchdown
Notre Dame’s punt return game has been pathetic during Brian Kelly’s time at Notre Dame. The last time the Irish returned a punt for a score was in 2009, which was Charlie Weis’s final year at Notre Dame. But when freshman C.J. Sanders returned a UMass punt 50 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, it changed the entire complexion of the game. As a freshman, Sanders has made some poor choices on when (and when not) to fair catch a punt. But with the ball in his hands, he is the most natural punt returner Notre Dame has had in quite some time.
5. No One Got Hurt
When tackle Ronnie Stanley went down after getting rolled on by DeShone Kizer, all Irish fans had to think, “Oh no, not again.” But Stanley returned and there were no other injuries to Irish players. Tight end Tyler Luatua and wide receiver Corey Robinson didn’t play due to prior injuries, but nobody got seriously hurt in the game. That may have been the most important aspect of all.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.