PICK YOUR POISON
As the statistical oddities continued to flow, so too did the narrative regarding Notre Dame junior quarterback Malik Zaire.
“He’s 9 for 10. He’s 14 for 16. He’s 19 of 22, is he done?” When he was, 313 yards and three touchdowns were the end aerial result. Another two scoring drives capped off by his backfield mates ensured head coach Brian Kelly’s most impressive opening win of his six seasons at the helm.
Zaire showed the poise of a veteran, the exuberance of youth – and the arm of a quarterback. One that can run.
“Obviously we felt like he was more than just a runner, but he gives you more of a dimension in the fact that when you can balance up the numbers in the running game (plus) his ability to run his own option, and then the play-action pass, it just looks like you’re stealing at times.”
There’s was nothing cheap about Zaire’s outing, not with mid-range completions of 17, 13, 16 (TD), 15, 17, 19, 20, 13 and 25 yards to complement his 66-yard touchdown toss that put a nearly certain victory on ice.
In the end, Zaire posted the second most efficient passing performance in school history, his 86.4 percent completion percentage bested only by long-time NFL signal caller Steve Beuerlein, who hit on 10 of 11 pass attempts in a 1984 victory over Colorado.
SHARE THE WEALTH
A whopping eight different Irish players produced first downs for Kelly’s balanced attack in the first half, 10 by game’s end. Each of the 10 later produced another including a team-high five by junior wide receiver Will Fuller. (C.J. Prosise added four, three including a fourth quarter score, with Amir Carlisle collecting a trio as well.)
Two of Fuller’s four ended in scores. The fleet-footed playmaker produced the squad’s two biggest gains from scrimmage, the aforementioned 66-yard jaunt down the Texas sideline for six points plus a 30-yard gain late in the second half.
Notre Dame’s offense produced seven gains of 20 yards or more with six different players contributing to the cause. By game’s end, eight different Irish players had produced at least 30 yards of offense with Fuller compiling 142 through the air and Prosise 98 on the ground to complement Zaire’s outstanding home debut.
Two Irish scoring drives exceeded 90 yards while the remaining trio each totaled 55 or more with no fewer than five snaps.
Texas didn’t pick up its third first down until the final drive of the first half, and to a man, Notre Dame’s defenders knew they had the first line of defense to thank for it.
“Critical, critical. To have a defensive line play the way they did tonight, it makes a middle linebacker’s job so much easier,” said 5th-year senior captain Joe Schmidt. “Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell (Andrew) Trumbetti, Romeo (Okwara), Cager (Daniel Cage). It was great.
“It makes life so much easier for us. When they start eating double teams for us, it becomes a little bit of a different game. That’s when the game becomes interesting. We had a blast with it.”
The defense finished with eight official quarterback pressures plus four sacks. In addition to seven tackles for loss by nine different Irish defenders were six tackles that qualify for the Irish Illustrated stat known as “Stuffs” – tackles after 0, 1, or 2-yard gains – two by senior Romeo Okwara.
Texas completed jst two passes in the first half, one by both of its fledgling triggermen, starter Tyrone Swoopes and expected backup Jerrod Heard.
IRISH OF MERIT
While Zaire was clearly the game’s MVP and Fuller and Prosise his chief weapons of choice, myriad others posted games of note:
-- Freshman running back Josh Adams finished with a pair of touchdowns including one on his first career rushing attempt plus another from 25 yards out. Adams was thrust into extended action when starter Tarean Folston was lost early in the first quarter to a knee injury.
-- The slot receiver tandem Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter, Jr., combined for five receptions totaling 86 yards while the veteran W (boundary) combo, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson, net five for 73 including a six-yard score by Brown.
-- Junior Jaylon Smith led the way with seven tackles including a sack/tackle-for-loss plus a QB pressure. Among Smith’s seven stops were three on third down that forced Longhorns punts. Each of the seven stopped Texas ball carriers short of the sticks. Smith also drew a holding call to negate an apparent Longhorns first down.
-- Notre Dame’s defensive front four employed the efforts of six main contributors: Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Andrew Trumbetti, Romeo Okwara, Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery combined for 12 tackles including four for loss with five official pressures (six per our statistics) and three of the team’s four sacks.
Each member of the sextet recorded or combined on a “Stuff” as well.
-- The offensive line: Notre Dame’s heart and soul kept its quarterback clean (one sack and two pressures) while paving the way for Prosise and Adams to combine for nine carries in excess of five yards with Folston adding a 15-yard gain prior to injury. The line did show signs of early-season scuffle: four of the squad’s six penalties were attributed to the quintet’s pre-snap mistakes.
QUOTE TO NOTE
Pleased with his squad’s dominating opening salvo, Brian Kelly couldn’t resist offering one of his own – at the expense of the Notre Dame season ticket holders disguised as traveling Texas fans.
Burnt Orange was indeed the color du jour inside the House that Rockne Built.
“Good opener against a Texas team we have a great deal of respect for and their tradition, and we saw how well they travel,” he said in his opening post-game address. “They were here in droves.”
Asked thereafter if the amount of Burnt Orange in the stands bothered him, Kelly admitted, “Ah, a little bit, quite honestly, I think in pregame…What I loved was our students. I mean, they were awesome…That was kind of the balancing factor for me is that when I saw some orange shirts, I could immediately turn over to our students and see them and just a massive amount of them over there. Made me feel better,” he added.