Ishaq's AscentAs a true freshman in 2011, Scout.com 5-star prospect Ishaq Williams shared none of the accolades showered upon similarly rated first-year defenders Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt. Williams' 11 games played produced just six stops in a backup role, and his oft-scrutinized body language rarely suggested more than a passing interest in the proceedings.
Saturday in Dublin, Williams played the best game of his young career, forcing two fumbles, one of which resulted in a 77-yard recover touchdown by the aforementioned Tuitt, and recording a career-high four tackles including one for lost yardage.
His cohort at Cat 'backer for the season and defensive end for the contest, Prince Shembo, also recorded a sack (with a second negated by the latter's face mask penalty on the play). The pair will be counted upon to continue those lines of production in the wake of proven pass-rusher Aaron Lynch's spring transfer.
Said head coach Brian Kelly Sunday of Williams: "t was certainly his best game since he's been here at Notre Dame, and that comes with the maturity and the opportunity, which both are coming his way now. And he's playing the game the right way. He plays with an energy that you need, and he was definitely somebody that we were pleased with after we watched the film."
Rookie ReviewNine freshmen debuted for Brian Kelly's third Irish squad. So too did 11 redshirt-freshmen, each withheld from action last season. The bulk of the work was performed on the Irish special teams, with six first-timers on kick coverage and five on the return unit.
Barring injury over the next two contests, each will begin his collegiate time clock this fall.
"Guys that can contribute. We all know this is going to be a long season and we're going to need all those players to play a role for us. You cannot go through a season with the kind of challenges we have week-to-week and expect that (the same) 22 guys are going to line up each week. So you have to prepare your football team for the long haul.
"Quite frankly they can help us win. That's why they play. They're not playing because we're nice guys. We want to make sure we get guys in the game that can help us win football games."
First-timers in starting roles included redshirt-freshman Everett Golson, classmate Matthias Farley, who started at outside linebacker in an alignment unique to defending an option attack, and true freshman Keivarae Russell.
Elijah Shumate (CB), Nick Baratti (S), Justin Ferguson (WR), Davonte Neal (slot), Chris Brown (WR), Ronnie Stanley (OT), Sheldon Day (DE), Romeo Okwara (LB), and Russell comprised the true freshmen that hit the field at their first opportunity.
Trio of TightsThey combined for six catches, 74 yards, and a score, not to mention serving as targets on eight of Golson's 18 pass attempts in his debut contest, but reception totals don't and won't accurately illustrate the overall impact of Notre Dame's three-headed tight end monster this fall.
Two and/or three tight end sets had a hand in each of the team's first five offensive touchdowns scored including at least four occasions in which the trio was on the field together for the culminating snap.
All-America Tyler Eifert was usually split wide, but also at times began as a motion man out of the backfield or attached to scrimmage. The massive Troy Niklas appeared adept downfield if not consistent in his first in-line blocking role, while Ben Koyack struggled with two drops, but fared better at scrimmage helping open holes for Irish runners.
Look for the three-tight tactic will continue throughout September if not the three-month season, as Kelly has indicated on numerous occasions the matchup problems the trio and the package poses for opposing defenses.
No Season of SeasoningOffensive tackle Ronnie Stanley became the first player true freshman offensive lineman to play in the season-opener for the program since Sam Young started at right tackle at Georgia Tech in 2006. The 6'6" 300-pounder is in the team's plans for 2012 as has apparently forged a true competition for the top backup tackle role.
"He's our third tackle, and so I don't think that you can ever go into the season and think that you're not going to put a guy like that out on the field," said Kelly. "So that was a decision that we made before we even went to Ireland with him, and that was-- when we got an opportunity to get him in the game, we were going to take advantage of that opportunity. And I was really pleased with our second unit.
"That whole unit, other than the first couple plays were a little shaky, had a bad snap and a missed assignment, they did a very good job, and Stanley and Hanratty and Hegarty, Nick Martin all did a very nice job for us."
Martin would likely step in at right tackle should starter Christian Lombard need aid while Stanley has apparently earned the staff's trust to takeover at left should senior star Zack Martin come out.