Irish Offensive Player of the GameFreshman quarterback Tommy Rees: Completed 33 of 54 passes for 334 yards and a program-freshman record four touchdown passes. Rees had completed just six passes without a touchdown toss prior to Saturday's contest. His 33 completions were the second-highest in program history (Jimmy Clausen completed 37 vs. Navy 51 weeks prior).
Rees started hot, completing his first eight passes before a John Goodman drop ended the streak. He hit on 18 of 29 in the first half for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Rees also suffered three interceptions including an ill-advised final pass into the end zone that sealed the victory for the visitors. (More on that in the forthcoming Sunday Drive Thru column.)
Weapon of choiceJunior wide receiver Michael Floyd: 11 receptions, 104 yards and two touchdowns. Floyd returned from a one-week absence (hamstring) and encountered what Tulsa head coach Todd Graham referred to as "Bracket Cloud Coverage" (a safety lending help to Floyd's assigned cornerback) for most of the contest, but still managed to secure the 23rd and 24th touchdown receptions of his career.
With his second touchdown at the 8:20 mark of the second quarter, Floyd moved within three touchdown grabs of program record-holder Jeff Samardzija, who amassed each of his 27 touchdowns during the 2005-06 seasons. Floyd's 11 grabs marked a career high and Saturday was his 12th career game in excess of 100 yards receiving (Floyd could tie the program record of 15 set by Golden Tate last season should he top the 100-yard mark in each of the team's final three contests).
Floyd now ranks fifth on the program's career receptions list, passing Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown and All-America Jim Seymour during the contest.
Irish Defensive Player of the GameSenior cornerback Gary Gray: 9 tackles including one for lost yardage – a sack of Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne. Gray's boundary side blitz contributed to a key sudden change stop by the Irish defense. Following a muffed punt by junior John Goodman, the Golden Hurricane took possession at the ND 14-yard line. Gray burst untouched off the near side to sack Kinne for a five-yard loss, then combined with Brian Smith on the following snap to stop wide receiver Trae Johnson 11 yards short of the marker.
Tulsa kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick missed a 32-yard attempt two plays later the Irish defense took back momentum, scoring on a 13-play, 80-yard march to extend to a 20-12 lead midway through the 2nd Quarter.
Gray contributed to two other Irish sacks with boundary blitz pressure, later forcing Kinne into the hands of LDE Ethan Johnson for a two-yard sack early in the 3rd Quarter; then doing the same midway through the final period on a sack credited to Darius Fleming. Gray added two passes defensed on the afternoon.
Youth shall be servedFreshman defensive end Kona Schwenke recovered a fumble in his first career appearance. Schwenke worked his way into the two-deep at defensive end after junior Hafis Williams moved to a backup nose guard role to lend depth to a position damaged by the knee injury suffered by Ian Williams last week at Navy.
Sophomore slot receiver Robby Toma registered career highs of with four receptions for 67 yards; his 26-yard catch-and-run in the 2nd Quarter also marked a career high. Each of Toma's four grabs resulted in Irish first downs
With senior Armando Allen out due to a second hip injury (Brian Kelly noted post-game that Allen could be out for the season), sophomore Cierre Wood earned his second start of the year. Wood rushing production was limited by the team's pass-happy approach but did manage 58 yards on 16 carries. The first-year contributor did most of his damage as a pass catcher, securing five grabs for 57 yards including two touchdowns. Wood became the first Irish running back to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since Tony Fisher in 2000
Senior momentsThe 28-27 loss to Tulsa ensured that the current senior class will not close its Notre Dame career with a winning record. Nevertheless, in addition to Gray's mention as our defensive player of the game, the senior class made an impact defensively, notching two forced fumbles (Brian Smith and Kerry Neal), a fumble recovery (Darrin Walls), 1.5 sacks (Smith and Neal) and placing four members of the class among the team's top five tacklers Saturday (Gray, Smith, Harrison Smith and Neal).
Read, react and adjustRanked 13th nationally entering the contest, Tulsa's ground game compiled 102 rushing yards on 11 first quarter carries. The visitor's next 28 rushes netted just 101 yards as Bob Diaco's Irish defense limited the Golden Hurricane ground game to just three rushes of 10 yards or greater over the final three periods, one of which resulted in a fumble lost to the Irish.
A little of everythingSaturday's contest ranks as one of the quirkiest Notre Dame games I've attended in more approximately 160 live matchups (reminiscent of the 1998 Senior Day win over LSU, a 39-36 thriller that featured four defensive/special teams touchdowns and six instances in which the PAT was either unsuccessful or not attempted). A quick rundown of an entertaining, sloppy and ultimately unfulfilling day for the majority in attendance:
- A blocked PAT returned for two points – capped off with a flip into the end zone that drew a 15-yard personal foul (one of three unsportsmanlike calls on the afternoon)
- A muffed punt and fumble recovered by the defense
- Two additional fumbles lost
- A fake punt run of 20 yards that resulted in a 1st Down
- Three interceptions, one returned 66 yards for a score – the final, both curious and needless considering the game clock, down and distance, yard line and scoreboard
- Two instances of running into/roughing the punter
- A punt from the opponent's 38-yard line that landed between the goal posts. The resulting touchback offered a net gain of 18 yards
- 12 penalties for 133 negative yards…by the victors
- 54 passes from a first-year reserve quarterback and a program freshman-record four touchdowns passes intermixed
- 90 combined pass attempts during a contest in which both teams ran for (a solid) 5.2 yards per carry
- 15 punts yet more than 850 yards of total offense
- A 3-14 effort in 3rd down conversion attempts by the Irish, but the season's second-best total yardage number (458 yards). In fact, Notre Dame is now 0-2 this season when it tops the 450-yard mark offensively. Both losses occurred in South Bend (ND compiled 535 yards of total offense vs. Michigan in a 28-24 defeat).
Thorn in their sidesTulsa all-purpose performer Damaris Johnson: The Golden Hurricane playmaker totaled 82 yards from scrimmage on 10 touches including a 9-yard TD grab to stake Tulsa to a 7-0 lead.
Johnson then struck a decisive second half blow with a darting 59-yard punt return touchdown to draw the visitors within two, 27-25 late in the third quarter. Notre Dame's punt return coverage squad had allowed just three total return yards through the season's first eight games prior to Johnson's dash.
Johnson now has 22 career touchdowns including three via special teams. He entered the contest averaging 10.6 yards per carry on 26 rushing attempts. The junior has totaled 124 separate gains in excess of 20 yards including four Saturday in South Bend.
3rd and foreverThe fourth of Notre Dame's season-tying high five sacks felled Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne for a six-yard loss with less than seven minutes remaining. Two plays later, a questionable offensive pass interference call vs. the Golden Hurricane set up Kinne and the offense with a 3rd and 26 situation from their own 27-yard line; 5:51 left on the clock.
The strong-armed quarterback's answer? A frozen rope from the right hash that landed 32 yards down field and across the left hash in the hands of Ricky Johnson for a new set of downs. Six snaps later, Tulsa's Kevin Fitzpatrick provided the game-winning points on a 27-yard field goal.
Kinne's throw was made possibly by Notre Dame's three-man pass rush; its Drop 8 coverage betrayed by the overly deep drop of safety Jamoris Slaughter, nearly 10 yards beyond the first down marker and intended receiver on the play. Conservative defensive play-call and coverage but give the quarterback credit: that was the pro throw of the day.
Modern-day M.A.S.H. unitNotre Dame will limp into its Week 10 Bye with the following opening day starters likely shelved for the season:
Quarterback Dayne Crist (knee); Tailback Armando Allen (hip); Tight End Kyle Rudolph (hamstring); Slot Receiver Theo Riddick (ankle); Nose Guard Ian Williams (knee). Inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese (hamstring) was nowhere near capable of playing a football game on Saturday though his status has yet to be revealed to the media.
Head coach Brian Kelly offered that Allen's career is likely over at Notre Dame due to a second (separate) hip injury. Crist's official status is unknown but at press time the junior was believed finished for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
Free Safety Jamoris Slaughter (ankle) has missed all or part of seven games due to injury; wide receiver Michael Floyd sat out the Navy loss; right tackle Taylor Dever both the Pittsburgh and Western Michigan contests.
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