Like Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly, I had an opening day dilemma. His was which of three inexperienced quarterbacks to start; mine (due to the unusual starting time) was whether to miss the Notre Dame game opening kickoff or skip the First Saturday Liturgy dedicated to none other than–Our Lady! But suddenly, I was filled with the nightmarish image of me turning into Rick Reilly, and I knew what I must do. I headed to the nearby nursing home, picked up my 85-year-old dad (and second generation Domer; his father played under Rockne) and together we went to church first, and big screen paradise second. And, although the priest was a dozen minutes late and gave an excruciatingly long sermon for a Saturday (I think Father must of been a Michigan man intent on making the Irish worshippers suffer) I knew we made the right decision.
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’ –Mt 25:20-22, from today’s gospel reading
You bring forth food from the earth, and wine to cheer men’s hearts. –Psalm 104:14-15, today’s Communion verse
I don’t know if our extra penitential prayers aided the excellent Irish pre-game preparation, but the Irish sure looked sharp in pounding the Naval Academy 50-10. By the time we got back from Mass, I had to see Theo Riddick’s and George Atkinson III’s first touchdowns (they each scored two!) in retrospect, but it was worth it. Notre Dame scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and was never really threatened. By the time #7, Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt, rambled 77 yards for Notre Dame’s fourth touchdown, it was all over but the singing of the Alma Mater.
In fact, the game was almost a statistical reversal of the usual ND-Navy skirmish; with the Irish nearly producing two 100-yard rushers (Riddick had 107 yds. on 19 carries while Atkinson went for 99 on only 9 attempts) while nearly doubling up the Midshipmen’s usually formidable rushing total, 293-149. Still, although I run the risk of sounding like Lou Holtz worrying about Rice after the Irish just won by forty points, there were several causes for concern heading into Purdue.
First, although the Irish stymied the Navy ground game, the Irish pass defense through the first thirty-some minutes was virtually nonexistent. At one point, Navy quarterback Trey Miller was 13-15 for nearly 200 yards, looking more like Heisman candidate and future ND opponent Matt Barkley than a typical option quarterback. Also, the Irish missed not one but two PATs (and I don’t mean trying to locate which pub my son Pat was at), a great concern for the kicking game once the games get closer. Finally, while new quarterback Everett Golson (12-18, 144 yds. and one TD toss to Tyler Eifert) played okay before the first team offense gave way to the subs near the end of the third quarter, he did throw one really bone-headed red zone interception, not fatal in this game but hauntingly reminiscent of passes that lost big games last season and cannot happen against better teams, of which nearly all of the Irish’s future 2012 opponents are.
Still, on the whole it was a game in which the Irish used their considerable talents well, making the rest of this opening college football Saturday a time for its legions of fans to share their joys. But judging from the Guinness many of them were openly imbibing (one advantage of playing in Dublin rather than South Bend) in the stands, it doesn’t appear that wine is their celebratory beverage of choice.