As first games go, Notre Dame's 28-6 victory over Temple Saturday could have gone better, but the Irish didn't fall victim to an upset and learned a great deal about what they must improve on heading into this weekend's showdown in Ann Arbor.
"I saw some really good things, and some things that we're going to have to get better at," said head coach Brian Kelly, who earned his 200th career coaching victory with the win.
"With our style of defense we're going to keep points down. We just need to be patient, and that's just the way we play. Offensively, I've said from day one, we've got to score more points. In this game we had some opportunities to score more points but it was never in my mind that we were in a situation where we were in trouble."
With the dismissal of QB Everett Golson in May, senior Tommy Rees was the de facto No. 1 signal-caller throughout the offseason and into fall camp. He is significantly more experienced than his quarterback competitors and appears to be the guy for the foreseeable future even if ND fans are not enamored with him.
On Saturday, Rees threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, and most importantly, did not turn the ball over; in 634 career pass attempts entering this season, Rees had thrown 34 picks, or one every 18.6 passes (by comparison Denard Robinson threw one once every 19.2 attempts).
"I think he answered a lot of questions right away with his ability to push the ball down the field," Kelly said. "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."
With little in the way of meaningful competition in camp, Rees has had the chance to grow in a leadership role, and he's embraced the newfound responsibility that has been thrust on him.
"I think that helps," he said. "I think I've learned a lot in my three years previous. I have a great understanding of what's going on out there. All of that adds to the confidence.
"I have all the confidence in the world in my teammates. My offensive line, the guys out there that make plays for us. I've got confidence in anyone that we're running out there, and that helps an offense a lot."
With the departure of tight end Tyler Eiffert (and Michael Floyd two years ago), Notre Dame began the year asking who would be a playmaker for the offense. Senior T.J. Jones had 111 catches to his name but could he be a No. 1? On Saturday, he was, delivering six receptions for 138 yards while junior DaVaris Daniels added three grabs and 69 yards, including first-quarter touchdowns of 32 and 32 yards.
"I think he showed today that he can be a big play threat for us," Rees said of Daniels. "He'll continue to work and continue to get better. He's got a lot of potential."
Still, ND was not happy with its second-half production, scoring just once on six possessions, with a pair of 3-and-outs. The defense, meanwhile, up against a first-time starting quarterback, allowed 362 yards, including 4.6 yards per rush.
However, a win is a win is how many Irish boosters looked at Saturday's victory. The Wolverines may have enjoyed their 59-9 triumph over Central Michigan a little more, but all that really matters for both squads is how they play in five days.
"We will prepare for this game like it is the national championship," Notre Dame junior tailback Amir Carlisle said.