SOUTH BEND – During training camp last month, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly chastised the media for “missing the boat” regarding Fighting Irish senior outside linebacker Prince Shembo and his ability to wreak havoc on the field.
“The way he plays, the passion that he plays the game every single play, it's just so enjoyable,” Kelly said at the time. “He's a throwback in a lot of ways with his energy and his toughness and the way he comes to work every day. It's 100 percent all in. And he plays the game with that chip where, 'I'm going do whatever is necessary on this play to be disruptive.'
“You've almost got to take his helmet away from him. I love those guys.”
The media may not have been fully cognizant of Shembo's exploits, but after he registered five hurries of Temple quarterback Connor Reilly on Saturday, no one is going to be ignorant of his contributions moving forward.
“You know, Prince is a guy that can go all day,” Kelly said. “He's a great, conditioned athlete, and he's an important player. He just doesn't like coming off the field. He can do so many things for us. He's a guy that we feel like can play every play.”
But he doesn't have to.
Through strong recruiting, Kelly and his coaching staff have constructed a defensive unit that has the talent and depth to withstand defections (Eddie Vanderdoes and Aaron Lynch) and injuries (Nicky Baratti, Danny Spond and Tony Springmann). Even Shembo can be backed up by either junior Ishaq Williams or Romeo Okwara and the Irish can still play exceptional defensive football.
“Romeo did get a chance to play in the fourth quarter,” Kelly said. “We got him out in the fourth quarter. We have a great deal of confidence that Romeo can go in there and play if we need him to.”
Notre Dame limited Temple to a lone second-quarter touchdown and forced the Owls into a pair of fumbles. Kelly was impressed with the carryover in philosophy from last season's defensive unit, which like Saturday simply kept teams from scoring points.
“You've got to keep the points down on defense,” Kelly said. “We continue to do that.
“Again, our defense does not surrender big plays and keeps the points down and really makes you work to sustain drives and to get it into the end zone.”
If there was a negative to be found – and Kelly pointed some aspects of the victory out after the game – it was that at times the Irish were sloppy early and ultimately committed nine penalties. But, once the season-opening jitters wore off the Notre Dame defense, it played well over the final 30 minutes.
“You could see in the second half how difficult it is to play mistake-free, flawless, play in and play out,” Kelly said. “It's very difficult to do. We're suffocating in that sense defensively.”