Big 10: Notre Dame’s ‘D’ wins the weekend; Illini’s run-first QB; yikes, Alabama
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — No big deal, Notre Dame’s 24-17 season-opening upset of Michigan.
“It’s a good win,” said defensive end Khalid Kareem, “but it’s just one win on our way to the national championship.”
Hello — now that’s a mouthful.
But Kareem gets to say whatever he wants after a nine-tackle, two-sack performance that peaked when he dumped quarterback Shea Patterson, forcing a fumble and turnover on the Wolverines’ final drive.
It was a brilliant night for the Irish defense, which held Michigan to 58 yards on 33 rushing attempts. This defense is outstanding at what sometimes seems like a lost art — tackling. All night, the first guy to the ballcarrier brought the play to a halt.
“That’s just something you should expect from us,” Kareem said.
Take a bow, Clark Lea. What a strong debut as defensive coordinator it was.
“Look, it’s not rocket science here, right?” coach Brian Kelly said. “You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to be physical at the point of attack. Our guys do a really good job, and they’re well coached.”
No argument here. Then again, it’s barely September.
For more impressions spinning out of Week 1 of the college football season, here’s the rest of the “Big 10” (where 10 actually means 10):
2. A really big deal: We’re going to keep talking about the rare combination of size and athleticism brought to the table by Notre Dame’s pass-catchers until the rest of the country takes notice.
Tight end Alize Mack showed it on the catch of the game for the Irish. Wideout Miles Boykin dropped some jaws on a touchdown catch nullified by a penalty. And the more one watches wideout Chase Claypool, the more one’s imagination runs wild.
“You can probably imagine it’s a matchup nightmare for a lot of [defensive backs],” quarterback Brandon Wimbush said. “These [Michigan] guys were 5-9, 5-10, 170 pounds, and I have three guys out there at 6-5, 220 and up. Just right off the bat, you’re like, ‘All right, how are we going to attack these guys and use our size to our advantage?’ ”
Not many QBs get to ask that question.
3. Giving Chase: For much of the night, the best player on the field was Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich. Led by him, the Wolverines created almost instant pressure on Wimbush all game. If you’re going to beat Winovich’s team, your quarterback had better — like Wimbush — be able to run.
4. Bush league: Speaking of quarterbacks who can run, how about A.J. Bush’s 139 yards on the ground in his debut for Illinois? Sure, it came against Kent State. Sure, the Golden Flashes nearly beat the Illini, falling 31-24 after blowing a two-touchdown halftime lead. But still — you can’t fake 139 yards.
It wasn’t necessarily a proud day for the Illini, but take this away: Their QB has great legs, and three different running backs — Reggie Corbin, RaVon Bonner and Mike Epstein — scored touchdowns.
Bush’s running alone will keep the Illini afloat sometimes in Big Ten play. There’ll be a league foe or two that aren’t prepared to contain the fifth-year graduate transfer.
5. Just sayin’: On the other hand, imagine if the Illini had lost to a bottom-of-the-barrel MAC opponent. Coach Lovie Smith would’ve had a worse defeat on his shoulders than any suffered by constantly criticized former coach Tim Beckman. The “hot seat” talk would’ve been aboil.
Good thing they didn’t lose.
6. The Cats’ meow: Michigan underwhelmed. Michigan State was terrible in a narrow escape against Utah State. Wisconsin struggled to finish drives against Western Kentucky. Iowa scored all of three points in the first half of its victory over Northern Illinois.
These are all teams on Northwestern’s schedule. The Wildcats weren’t all that great themselves in Thursday’s victory at Purdue, but their early leg up in the conference standings — no one else is 1-0, baby — is looking better after the weekend than it did heading into it.
7. Did we mention Alabama? We probably should’ve begun with the Crimson Tide. They destroyed Louisville 51-14 in one of those hide-the-women-and-children mismatches that reminds the world there’s a monster atop the mountain that’s just daring everyone else to come and — shudder — get some.
8. Way off target: For all the targeting calls that stirred the pot in Week 1, perhaps the most egregious helmet-to-helmet hit didn’t even draw a flag — and that might’ve cost Washington a shot at a dream season.
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning took the shot in the fourth quarter of a 21-16 loss to Auburn. The Pac-12 favorites punted on the next play. They should’ve been in Tigers territory, driving for a game-changing score.
9. The Chipster: How did Chip Kelly’s debut at UCLA go? Well, he lost his starting quarterback, former Michigan signal-caller Wilton Speight, to an early injury. Also, his team was outscored at home by run-of-the-mill Cincinnati.
So, yeah, not well.
10. The “L’s” of Texas: Did you see the once-mighty Longhorns lost to Maryland for the second year in a row?
Texas is 23-28 since firing Mack Brown (record at the school: 158-48). Somehow that seems relevant.