SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame had a pair of good opening impressions in Saturday's 28-6 win over Temple in the season opener.
The Irish offense proved it can score quickly and make big plays, and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith wasted no time getting his first career tackle.
Smith became the first outside linebacker to start in an opener since Kory Minor did it in 1995. He only recorded one tackle, but it was on Temple's first play as Smith and defensive end Stephon Tuitt took down quarterback Connor Reilly after a 4-yard run.
"He looked good," linebacker Dan Fox said of Smith. "My first college game, I was so nervous. He looked real comfortable going out there and playing. I thought he did a good job."
The offense also did a good job at the start of the game.
The Irish scored its first two possessions with quarterback Tommy Rees finding receiver DaVaris Daniels for 32-yard touchdowns to end each series.
Notre Dame also showed it can make big plays on offense in its first two series. Running back Amir Carlise took off for 45 yards on the Irish's first play, and TJ Jones had a 51-yard reception on the first play of the second series.
Notre Dame's big plays were not limited to the first two series, tight end Troy Niklas scored on a 66-yard reception with 43 seconds left in the first half and Rees hit receiver Chris Brown for a 33-yard reception in the third quarter.
"Yeah, I mean, I never doubted the fact that we could drive the ball down the field, really make some deep throws for us," Rees said. "DaVaris did a good job getting open on the early ones. Then we had a couple there later. Good job by the receivers. I put ball where it needed to be and it worked out."
Rees' big day
Rees set a career-high for passing yards with 346 in the win over Temple. Rees' previous career high was 334 against Tulsa in 2010.
His three touchdown passes, all in the fist half, were one shy of his career high of four, which he set against Air Force in 2011. It was the third time in his career he threw at three TDs in a half.
Rees' 66-yard scoring toss to Niklas was also the longest passing play of the senior's career. Before that, it was a 56 yards pass against Navy in 2011.
"I saw some really good things, and some things that we're going to have to get better at," coach Brian Kelly said of Rees' performance. "We had six possessions in the first half, you know, and I think we missed a couple of throws that he'd like to have back. Obviously, missed field goal (Nick Tausch missed a 39-yarder with 3:19 to play in the second quarter). But I think we had four or five chunk plays of over 30 yards. Obviously a lot of the questions coming in is could we push the ball down the field?
"I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with his ability to push the ball down the field. I thought his patience was better, and it will continue to get better. So I was pleased with his performance, and he knows he can play better."
The biggest thing Kelly was probably pleased about was the Rees had no interceptions. Notre Dame didn't have a turnover Saturday.
"I'm not keeping a tally," Rees said of not committing a turnover in the win. "I'm just trying to put a ball in the right place. Always, every play, the concept is to give us a chance to be successful, limiting the turnovers and just knowing what the defense is doing. As long as I can keep doing that, I should be all right."
Smith wasn't the only freshman to play Saturday as the Irish used 10 freshmen against the Owls. Here are the other freshmen that played:
- Receiver Cory Robinson also started but didn't record a reception
- Safety Max Redfield mainly on special teams and recorded a tackle
- Receiver William Fuller played but didn't have a reception
- Receiver James Onwualu played had a tackle on special teams but didn't record a reception
- Cornerback Cole Luke played on special teams and had a tackle
- Defensive end Issac Rochell had two tackles
- Running back Greg Bryant ran for 12 yards on two carries
- Running back Tarean Folston ran for 14 yards on five carries and caught a pass for nine yards
- Cornerback Devin Butler had one tackle after playing special teams
Notre Dame missed both of its field goal attempts against Temple.
Tausch missed from 39 yards out, and Kyle Brindza missed for 44 yards out with 14:50 to play in the fourth quarter.
"I'll probably have to go through a couple of days and figure out what we want to do," Kelly said of his place kickers.
Brindza also had trouble controlling his punts early as he booted his first two punts from Temple's 47- and 37-yard lines into the end zone. The senior also dropped two punts inside Temple's 20.
- Kelly won his 200th game as a head coach and improved to 29-11 at Notre Dame. Kelly is 200-82-4 for his career with stints at Division II Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame.
- Jones recorded his first 100-yard receiving game as he finished with 138 yards on six receptions
- Niklas' 66-yard TD catch was the longest reception of his career. His previous long was 30 yards against Purdue, which he set last season
- Defensive end Stephon Tuitt recorded his 15th career sack in the second quarter. He is 10th all-time on the Irish's career sacks list.
- Brown had three catches for 57 yards. Last season, the sophomore had two catches total.
- Linebacker Dan Fox had 10 tackles against Temple. It was his first double-digit tackle total for one game and a career high.
The Irish will be in the spotlight for ESPN's "College GameDay" next Saturday when they travel to play No. 17 Michigan.
It will be Notre Dame's final trip to the Big House for the foreseeable as the series will take a hiatus after Michigan's trip to South Bend next season.
"College GameDay" was at the game between these two teams two years ago in Ann Arbor when Michigan won 35-31 thanks to Roy Roundtree's touchdown with two seconds left in the game.
The Irish and Wolverines are scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m.