Notre Dame's coach said he saw a matchup and an opportunity in the passing game, and was determined to take advantage. And he had just the guy in mind to make it happen.
It was in the plans all along, Notre Dame
coach Brian Kelly said of using senior Duval Kamara
in a key offensive role on Saturday against Utah
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior wide receiver had caught seven passes for 68 yards entering the game. But with a number of Notre Dame receiving options out with injury, Kelly saw a need and favorable matchup opportunities for Kamara, who caught two touchdown passes from Tommy Rees
in the second half to break Utah's back in Saturday's 28-3 Fighting Irish victory.
Kamara, usually a backup, started the first series split wide. This was no sentimental move on senior day for a hard-working player known for his strong blocking.
"The formation grouping that we had today put two tight ends on the field," Kelly said. "Our two big guys. We were going to get a lot of cover one, a lot of man to man, and we told Duval for the last ten days, this is your game. You're going to get matched up. You're 6-foot-4, you've got to help us. You've got to be there for us. And he was there huge. He got the matchups that we were looking for in one on one, and Tommy put the ball where it needed to be. We were expecting a lot of opportunities to Duval in one-on-one coverage, and obviously he got the job done."
Kamara said that his coach "told me it was going to be my game and that I'd have to step up for us to win. This whole year I've been playing. Even when I was down at times, I would come out and give 110 percent."
Men on the run
The numbers would warm the heart of even the most hard-to-please football coach: 127 net rushing yards for Notre Dame, 71 for Utah.
And as was pointed out this week, the Utes are not your stereotypical spread offense that throws it around rather than run it: Utah is a power-running team.
Leading Utah rusher Matt Asiata
gained 48 yards on 13 carries. Notre Dame was led by Cierre Wood
's 71 yards on 19 carries (Wood's number were hurt by runs for minus four and five yards), and backup Jonas Gray
had three carries for 44 yards.
"Utah is physically and mentally a tough football team and today we were able to beat them at their game," Kelly said. "Physically, on the line of scrimmage, we were able to run the football in crucial times. We were able to control the line of scrimmage against a team that runs the ball very well -- our defensive line in particular played very well against the run. And that's the kind of football that you have to have as a winning program."
Just do the little things
Utah won the first two drives of the game. Notre Dame went for it on fourth down near midfield on its first possession, and the Utes stuffed a shovel-pitch play to Wood to force the turnover on downs. Utah capitalized with a drive for a field goal.
After that, Notre Dame capitalized on opportunities, and made a sloppy Utah team that had entered the game ranked in the top 25 look like a team that might not win again in 2010.
A leaping interception by safety Harrison Smith
generated a bit of excitement, but Notre Dame went three-and-out and gave the ball back. The Utes were then forced to punt, and that's when the fun began.
Cornerback Robert Blanton
rushed in and blocked the punt, returning it for a short touchdown. He was on top of the punter seemingly in an instant, breaking down and making sure of the play. 7-3 Irish, 2:04 to go in the first.
Early in the second quarter, Gray rumbled around the left end for 36 yards, aided by a deft block from wide receiver Michael Floyd
, who followed with two more key plays: drawing a pass interference penalty, and then snagging a high delivery from Rees on a left-side slant for a 3-yard touchdown. 14-3, Irish, 12:29 left in the half.
Opening the second half, Utah super-return man Shaky Smithson fumbled, Austin Collinsworth
knocking the ball away and Daniel Smith
recovering. Kamara caught his first TD pass on the next play. 21-3 Irish, 14:47 left in the third.
Notre Dame's Prince Shembo
recorded a big sack. (Shembo, Collinsworth and Smith are all freshmen.) Utah was forced to punt, and Blanton made his second big play on special teams. The punt hit him, and in traffic, he managed to pick it up and secure possession. The defensive back even appeared to have daylight in front of him for a big return, but was unable to keep his feet.
Five plays later, Kamara caught his second TD pass. 28-3 Irish, 9:09 left in the third.
Utah drove, but cornerback Gary Gray
's tight coverage helped to force two incompletions inside the 10 and a turnover on downs. The Utes drove to the 16, but Shembo's pressure and more fine coverage by Gray forced another fourth-down incompletion.
It was, in the end, a complete effort in all phases by Notre Dame. Momentum turned into an avalanche. A observers couldn't help but see a parallel as members of the Notre Dame body streamed down from the stands, hopping the barrier to join the on-field celebration, their forward progress undeniable, unstoppable, and something to see.
"It started with our students on Friday night at the pep rally," Kelly said. "They were unbelievable. They were all there. Here's a team that's probably not where they want to be, but our students were there in great support. I think for us as a team, we felt really good about that support. Then today was terrific. The crowd was as into it as any game that we've been involved all year. So to have that support that we had today and the students being here and our crowd and our support was -- it was really not unexpected, but it was a pleasant surprise."