SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame wanted a fast start against South Florida. The Irish got it and then some.
After falling flat early against Duke, the Blue and Gold took the ball to start the game against the Bulls and on the first play from scrimmage quarterback Ian Book hit tight end Tommy Tremble with a 24-yard completion to move the ball well into Bulls territory. Within three minutes, Book had run the ball into the end zone from four yards out to put Notre Dame in front. By the end of the first quarter it was 14-0 and early in the second Book scored again to push the advantage to 21.
The Bulls were overmatched from the start on offense and defense and Notre Dame wasted no time in putting some distance between itself and it's only non-conference opponent this season. The offense was a model of spreading the ball around in the first half, with Book hitting seven different receivers on his 10 completions, making do with three top receivers (Kevin Austin Jr., Ben Skowronek and Lawrence Keys III) out this week. Book went 10 for 14 for 107 yards in the first half, getting in a much better rhythm than he did against the Blue Devils, with help from an offensive line that gave him more time to work than it did last week. He did miss a wide-open Javon McKinley on one clean-pocket throw (letting the ball sail behind his intended target on what should've been a big gain), but the fifth-year senior was otherwise solid.
The Irish also spread the wealth on the ground, using a different primary running back on each of its first three touchdown drives. Starter Kyren Williams got the first shot, then it was freshman Chris Tyree, followed by redshirt sophomore C'Bo Flemister (whom coach Brian Kelly said had maybe the best camp of any of the backs, but was slowed by a collarbone injury in Week 1). Each showed why the Irish want to get them involved in the gameplan this season, breaking tackles and refusing to go down on first contact. Flemister had a breakout half, running five times for 56 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown scamper that was the longest run of his career. It seems as though Notre Dame has an embarrassment of riches in the backfield.
The defensive performance was much the same, with some new faces doing significant damage. The most impactful youngster was 2018 Indiana Mr. Football Jack Kiser out of Pioneer. The redshirt freshman made his first collegiate start and delivered for defensive coordinator Clark Lea, making three tackles, including one for loss in the first half. Maybe his most impressive play was an open-field tackle of South Florida quarterback Jordan McCloud on a third down scramble that prevented McCloud from reaching the first-down marker. With "Buck" linebackers Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau out this week, Kiser made his case for increased playing time when they return.
Kiser's fellow redshirt freshman defensive end Isaiah Foskey had another big half after his Week 1 coming out party, getting the Irish the ball back with a fourth-down chasedown sack on South Florida's only foray into Notre Dame territory. Foskey continues to be one of the fastest players on the ND defense and eventually opposing teams might want to try to block him. Just a thought.
Despite Notre Dame missing four starters (including All-American safety Kyle Hamilton) and four key backups, this game isn't close. The Irish have been business-like in the first half, making few mistakes and showcasing the depth of talent on this roster. This one's more or less wrapped up and we'll no doubt get to see more newcomers get some playing time in the second half.