All goes right in ND win over Utah
It all was, well, a bit unexpected. Seemingly a season's worth of frustrations boiled over for the Notre Dame football team on Saturday, and the Fighting Irish took it out on visiting Utah, pummeling the Utes in a 28-3 victory. In the process, Notre Dame evened its record to 5-5 and beat a ranked team – Utah entered the game at No. 15 – for the first time in forever (technically, since a 41-17 drubbing of Penn State in 2006). The Irish were 0-11 against ranked teams in that stretch. Coming off of losses to Navy and Tulsa and then a bye week, and fielding a first-time freshman starter at quarterback, Notre Dame entered the contest as a decided underdog. But the Irish were ready to play in a big way. And on the last home game for Notre Dame's seniors, a member of that class stepped into the spotlight. Wide receiver Duval Kamara, getting a rare start, caught two touchdown passes. The first came after Utah, which was coming off of a devastating 47-7 home loss to No. 3 Texas Christian, fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half. Notre Dame's Austin Collinsworth caused the fumble, fellow freshman Daniel Smith recovered, and the Irish scored on the next play. Kamara broke for the right corner of the end zone and caught a pass on a rollout by quarterback Tommy Rees for a 26-yard score. The well-executed play gave Notre Dame a 21-3 lead. Notre Dame forced a punt and drove right down again. This time, from a tight formation, Kamara went out left and caught an over-the-shoulder Rees pass for a 12-yard TD. Just more than nine minutes remained in the third quarter, and that was that. Utah threatened to score on two other occasions, but turned the ball over on downs both times. "Our seniors really provided great leadership in the last few weeks, and that was even evident in our bye week," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "I could see it coming in practice. We were just playing." Cornerback Gary Gray's strong coverage and five tackles were major factors for Notre Dame's defense, which also got an interception from safety Harrison Smith. Utah finished with just 265 total yards. It didn't look good at the start on a rainy afternoon for Notre Dame, but the home team capitalized on big plays to take a 14-3 halftime advantage. A methodical first-quarter drive led to a 46-yard Joe Phillips field goal and an early 3-0 Utah lead. Notre Dame's offense looked anemic in response – the Irish netted just eight yards in the first quarter – but a gem on special teams provided a huge lift for the home team. Sean Smallwood set up to punt for Utah deep in the Utes' territory. Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton tore around right end unaccounted for, blocked the punt attempt and strolled in for an easy 6-yard touchdown. A defensive holding infraction by the penalty-prone Utes helped a Notre Dame drive for its second score of the first half. Backup running back Jonas Gray took it from there, racing 36 yards down the left sideline, aided by fine blocks from wide receivers Floyd and Kamara. Floyd completed the effort with a 3-yard touchdown reception of a Rees pass. "Tommy is a young man that really understands the game of football," Kelly said of his freshman signal-caller. "He can handle the adjustments that were made." Rees was an efficient 13-of-20 for 129 yards and three touchdowns, giving him seven scoring passes in the last two games. "They did a great job of putting him in a position to succeed," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They didn't stress him." Notre Dame travels to Yankee Stadium needing a victory over Army to become bowl eligible.
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