It was over when…Irish quarterback Everett Golson took the field after a season-long suspension…
But to be more specific, with 21 seconds remaining and the Irish leading 21-10 staked 53 yards away from the Rice end zone, Golson escaped blitz pressure over the right side, rolled sharply to his left, squared his shoulders and unleashed a pass more than 55 yards in the air for a 53-yard touchdown to junior C.J. Prosise.
Golson absorbed solid hit after the throw, and with just five seconds remaining in the half, the strike devastated the Owls who never threatened to draw closer in the second stanza.
Offensive MVP -- Everett GolsonPaul Hornung, Jarious Jackson, and Everett Golson.
That's the complete list of Notre Dame quarterbacks to rush for three touchdowns in a football game.
Golson's trio of scores were courtesy disparate means, the first a 14-yard designed draw over the left side, the second a 14-yard scramble up the middle to avoid pressure and the third thanks to a miscommunication with running back Greg Bryant on a read-option keeper.
Check that, it was all part of the play's unique deception…
"I'd rather not tell you who went the wrong way," Kelly joked. "We're going to say it's a trick play."
Golson completed 14 of 22 passes, legitimately missing just two as three were dropped (including one touchdown and one potential touchdown) while intentionally throwing another three out of bounds. His 295 yards marked the second-highest total of his 13-game career.
"I think Golson is just an amazing, amazing quarterback," said Rice head coach David Bailiff. "The choices he makes, the way he can extend the play. That score off our turnover right before the half…we blitzed that and that was a direct result of him being able to extend the play where the blitz couldn't get to him…That's what great quarterbacks do."
Golson offered his game remains in need of polish.
"There were a couple throws where I stayed in there and made a throw (rather than scrambling to make a play). That's what is in my mind now…I was kind of getting out of the pocket and making plays…definitely going to get the timing down and be more precise."
Offensive Game BallsThe Irish running back trio:
Wide receivers Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise both recorded long touchdowns (and long drops of would-be scores), and both Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson, as well as tight end Ben Koyack contributed heavily to scoring drives, but it was the Irish three-headed monster of Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant that aided Golson with the heavy lifting Saturday in South Bend.
Bryant and Folston led the way with 71 rushing yards apiece, with Bryant adding a brutish (albeit cosmetic) 17-yard score, the first of his Irish career. Most of Folston's opportunities came late during a bruising scoring drive that included six rushes for 43 yards to set up an Irish field goal from the Owls' 11-yard line.
Folston had been inadvertently given the short-shrift by way of the three-man rotation and his late inclusion appeared an attempt by Kelly to get the sophomore rolling heading into Michigan week.
In addition to his 17-yard run to pay dirt, Bryant ripped off gains of 13, 13, 8, 7, 5, and 5 yards. Just one Bryant carry (a gain of 3 yards on 2nd and 10) did not produce a drive-aiding result.
McDaniel starred early, finishing with 54 total yards on nine touches including a reception. His 23-yard rush in the second quarter was the longest by any running back on the day.
Defensive MVP -- Joe SchmidtLed the team with eight tackles including one for loss, two for no gain (including one on 3rd and 5), and another that resulted in just one yard. He added a quarterback pressure in tandem with Matthias Farley.
Most important, Schmidt was in charge of a youth-filled defensive front seven that did not commit crucial mental mistakes.
"It was an affirmation of thoughts I had," said Schmidt when asked what he learned from the defense's efforts. "We were tenacious today. Obviously there were some mistakes. It wasn't as clean as I'd like it to be, especially from me, but I think on the whole, you learned that we're going to fight as a defense, we're going to handle adversity, and we're never going to stop throwing punches.
"When we get in there (in trouble), we have a lot of guys that bow up, and we want to win so badly."
Defensive Game BallsJunior defensive tackle Sheldon Day was a force up front, registering six tackles, one for lost yardage, and four others for gains of two yards or less.
-- Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith finished with just four tackles but each was an impact play: one for lost yardage, another for a short gain, one to stop a 3rd-and-10 scramble by Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson four yards short of the marker, and the last a sprint-across-scrimmage stop of Jackson as he escaped the pocket on 3rd-and-5 in search of a would-be first down.
-- The cornerback tandem of Cody Riggs and sophomore cornerback Cole Luke was sound throughout, with Luke breaking up a second-down pass and offering tremendous one-on-one third-down coverage that forced the Owls into a (missed) field goal attempt on the ensuing snap.
-- Junior nose tackle Jarron Jones was spelled often by freshman Daniel Cage but the former made an impact when he had the opportunity, registering a half-sack of Jackson to go along with three tackles (one for no gain, one for just three yards on 2nd-and-10) as well as a QB hurry. Jones also could have been credited for a half-sack (or at least pressure) on Romeo Okwara's early third-quarter sack of Jackson.
Matthias Farley: It's unclear if Farley or junior safety Elijah Shumate was the culprit on the Owls' first touchdown -- one of the two blew an assignment that allowed an easy 26-yard score down the left seam -- but if it was Farley, he made up for it thereafter.
Said Schmidt of Farley, "He's the right-kind-of-guy, man. I love Matthias, he's one of my best friends in the whole world. I think that when you think about guys that will always have your back, Matthias is one of those guys. I love having him out there with me."
"I don't think any of us pay attention to the depth chart or the media. Matthias knows, I know, and we all know. That's what's important. Inside this locker room, Matthias Farley is a vocal leader."
Special Teams MVP -- Cody RiggsInjected life into a four-season dormant punt return unit, taking his two early offerings 24 and 25 yards, respectively, before ceding the role to Greg Bryant (returns of 10, 18, and 3 yards). Riggs' 49 yards eclipsed the season totals of both the 2012 and 2011 Irish.
"It was driven by personnel, and it was driven by wanting to improve in that area," Kelly said. "We have guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial. And we have guys that are committed to covering people up."
Notre Dame's 80 punt return yards after the 2014 season opener is just 26 yards short of the 2013 season total, and but 11 yards shy of the 2010 squad over 13 games.
"I've been reminded of that," joked Riggs when asked if he's been told of the program's recent punt return woes. "It's a chance to make something happen and put the offense in good field position. Especially the offense we have, if you put them in good field position, that's points on the board."
-- Of note: The Owls attempted a fake punt at the 2:40 mark of the third quarter but set-back Luke Turner was stuffed after a three-yard gain on 4th-and-4 by freshman LB Drue Tranquill and senior RB Cam McDaniel.
Both McDaniel and Tranquill appear on each of Notre Dame's four "run teams" (coverage and return). So too does freshman LB Greer Martini, and sophomore LB James Onwualu. Sophomore CB Devin Butler, freshman rush end Jhonathan Williams, and junior LB John Turner contribute to three apiece.
Tranquill, who finished with three total tackles, earned significant time in the Irish dime defense, aligning over the slot receiver, at middle 'backer, and as a stand-up pass rusher on both the left and right side.