Offensive MVPSaturday night's offensive MVP has made a mid-season push for team MVP. Jonas Gray again tore up scrimmage, plowing behind an active front five for a career-best 136 yards and two touchdowns. Among his 21 rushes, the breakout senior produced four carries of 10 or more yards and an impressive 11 other runs between five and nine yards per pop.
The Irish converted 10 of 16 third down situations, six of the 10 were gained via the ground, three of which by Gray including a 19-yard scamper on third and 17.
Offensive Game BallsCierre Wood, Tyler Eifert, Tommy Rees, and Robby Toma.
Wood fell just short of his fourth 100-yard effort of the season, finishing with 18 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown. Five of his carries resulted in gains of 10 or more as did one of his two receptions. Eifert continued his march toward the best statistical season for an Irish tight end since 1977, catching eight more balls (tying his career-best) for 83 yards and a touchdown. The score was his fifth of the season, making him the second tight end in team history to catch more than four touchdown passes in a season.
Junior slot target Robby Toma excelled in his first start, catching seven passes for 73 yards with five of his grabs resulting in Irish first downs including a 26-yarder to set up Notre Dame's opening score. Star receiver Michael Floyd led the team in receptions (9) and receiving yards (90) while hauling in his seventh touchdown catch of the season, an end zone jump ball from Rees that head coach Brian Kelly offered was his "best pass" of a sterling evening. Floyd however dropped a pair of relatively easy catches in the first three quarters.
Rees finished an efficient 30 for 38 with two touchdowns, 296 yards, and most important for the offense, and to Irish fans – no turnovers.
Per usual, left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt paved multiple paths for the Irish running combo.
Defensive MVP and other NotablesAaron Lynch didn't record an official QB hurry in the scorebook, but his first quarter continual pressures kept Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien off balance as the Irish held the Terrapins offense to 48 yards and two first downs in a 14-play first quarter.
After suffering an ankle injury last week in Winston-Salem, Lynch produced his highest solo tackle total of the season (5); three of which resulted in two yard gains marked short of the chains.
Junior linebacker Dan Fox made his presence felt vs. the run, forcing a late fumble with a form tackle (and helmet on the ball) in the third quarter.
Lo Wood's first career interception also marked the team's first defensive touchdown of the season, a 57-yard third quarter sprint to extend Notre Dame's lead to 38-7 with 7:18 remaining.
Special Teams MVPDanny Spond recorded three special teams tackles; Ben Turk averaged nearly 48 yards per punt including a season-best 58-yarder while dropping one inside the Terrapins 5-yad line and another inside the 10. But the key special teams play if not player was David Ruffer's 52-yard field goal to stake the Irish to a 10-point lead.
Ruffer's longest career kick rang true after a huge draw (right to left) and signaled the 2010 Lou Groza finalist had finally returned to form after a shaky opening three contests. Ruffer is 7 for 11 this season after missing three of his first five kicks.
Top Position GroupThough the offensive line (again) deserves mention for the road graded in their collective path in the Irish running game, the unit uncharacteristically allowed three sacks, two of which would be attributed to the quintet up front.
It's thus hard to argue against the team's tandem of runners: three touchdowns, 29 carries, a combined 10 plays of 10 yards or more, and 255 rushing/receiving yards in a game the Irish controlled from the outset.
Turning PointAfter Maryland cut Notre Dame's lead to 17-7 with 5:12 remaining in the opening half, the Irish offense embarked on an 13-play, 70-yard march that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Gray. The carry occurred on 4th and Goal after the Terrapins had sacked Rees for a seven-yard loss three plays prior.
Gray's score gave the Irish a commanding 24-7 lead entering the break and the Terp's never challenged again. Gray accounted for 34 yards on the drive while Wood added a 13-yard burst down to the Terrapins 20-yard line.
Stats of NoteA five-pack of notable numbers after Saturday's contest:
- The Irish are now 3-2 this season under the lights; 6-3 in the Brian Kelly era. Notre Dame improved to 6-0 under Kelly in games played following Halloween; Kelly has won 13 straight in November dating back to 2007 as head coach at Cincinnati…
- Tyler Eifert is one touchdown away from tying Ken MacAfee's program record for single-season receiving scores by a tight end (6 in 1977). Eifert likewise needs just four catches to break MacAfee's 34-year record for receptions in a single season at the position (54). The junior target could conceivably best MacAfee's 797 yards – also the record for the position – with three productive games to conclude the season. Eifert has 589 yards in 10 games this season (MacAfee's record was set in 11 games as the team's national championship bowl game is not part of season's final statistics).
- Gray and Wood have combined for 20 rushing touchdowns this season – the first pair to do so since Reggie Brooks (14) and Jerome Bettis (12 plus three more in the Cotton Bowl victory) in 1992. Gray's 11 rushing scores are the most by an Irish runner since Autry Denson ran for 15 touchdowns as a senior in 1998 (plus two more in the Gator Bowl).
- Rees has 31 touchdown passes in just over 14.5 games played. The number ranks sixth in program history (tied with Joe Theismann, who was 20-3-2 as a starting quarterback for the school). Rees' 19 scoring tosses this fall ties him for fifth with Ron Powlus (1994) on the single-season list. Only Brady Quinn (twice) and Jimmy Clausen (twice) have thrown 20 or more touchdown passes in a single season for Notre Dame.
- The only trio of Notre Dame players to score 10 or more touchdowns in the same season were Jeff Samardzija (15), Maurice Stovall (11) and Darius Walker (11) in 2005. Jonas Gray (11), Cierre Wood (9), and Michael Floyd (7) have a chance at matching that trio over the season's final three contests.