For the second straight game dating back to the Music City Bowl and the fifth time in the last nine games, Notre Dame cracked the 200-yard mark (214), led by red-shirt senior C.J. Prosise, who took the reins of the rushing attacking after Tarean Folston’s first-quarter knee injury and finished with 98 yards on 20 carries.
Freshman Josh Adams scampered 14 yards for a first-quarter touchdown and added a 25-yard TD burst to finish with 49 yards in his Notre Dame debut. Among Prosise, Adams and Folston, the Irish running backs averaged 5.9 yards on 28 carries (166 yards) and no fumbles lost (although Prosise botched a handoff), which was the bulk of the rushing attack.
Folston’s final run was a 15-yarder. Prosise had runs of six, 13, and nine in the first half, 21, eight, eight and 12 in the third quarter, and seven and five in the fourth quarter before turning it over to Dexter Williams and Josh Anderson.
You can’t rate them higher than A- because a) Malik Zaire averaged four yards gained on nine carries with a net of 14 due to a sack and b) the Irish failed on a 3rd-and-2 in the second quarter that stemmed Notre Dame’s momentum after taking a 14-0 lead.
Additionally, there were some pre-snap issues on the offensive line, which contributed to about a 15-minute period midway through the second quarter up to midway through the third in which the offense sputtered. Ironically, none of the false starts were attributed to first-time starting left guard Quenton Nelson, who when he erred, erred on the side of aggression.
Yet very high marks for the performance of the Irish interior offensive line against Texas’ strength – its defensive tackles. Notre Dame thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage en route to 52 rushing attempts, which was one more than last year’s season-high of 51 against LSU. Of the 214 yards rushing, 59.8 percent (128 yards) came in the second half, which helped declare a massive 39:10-to-20:50 time-of-possession advantage.
For the first time in the Kelly era at Notre Dame, the Irish had two touchdown drives of at least 90 yards in a game.
Statistically there is a way for Malik Zaire to improve upon his 19-of-22 passing for 313 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Before breaking down the film, one might guess he was off-target on about four of his tosses, a couple of which were caught. But in assessing his first home start, he worked the outer edges of the field well early, added some touch passes as the game progressed, and then found a wide open Will Fuller deep for a 66-yard score.
Zaire’s 86.3 completion percentage is the second best in Notre Dame history behind Steve Beuerlein’s 90.9 (10-of-11 vs. Colorado in 1984). It also marked the fifth time an Irish quarterback opened the season with a 300-yard passing game as Zaire joined Terry Hanratty, Jarious Jackson, Jimmy Clausen and Tommy Rees.
Zaire was a perfect 17-of-17 in targeting his wideouts, led by Fuller’s seven-catch, 142-yard, two-touchdown performance. Amir Carlisle had an effective three catches for 55 yards on swing passes while Chris Brown scored just the third touchdown of his career, equaling his season output in 2013 and 2014.
The Irish were an impressive 8-of-14 on third down, including the 16-yard scoring bullet to Fuller midway through the first quarter on 3rd-and-11. Zaire added an 11-yard laser to Torii Hunter, Jr., on 3rd-and-5 that preceded Josh Adams’ second touchdown run. A poorly thrown but nice 20-yard grab by Corey Robinson set up Notre Dame’s final score of the evening.
Zaire averaged 13.6 yards per passing attempt and 16.5 yards per completion, which are such high marks that the Irish likely won’t duplicate them the rest of the season. This category could be an A++.
The Longhorns managed 97 yards gained but just 60 net yards on 29 carries, which is an average of 2.1 yards per attempt after the Irish closed the 2014 season allowing 982 yards in the final four games (245.5 per game). Notre Dame’s defensive front controlled the point of attack, limiting Johnathan Gray to a team-high 40 yards on eight carries (5.0). Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was next with 17 net yards on 10 carries while the rest of the totes totaled nine attempts for 15 yards (excluding QB Jerrod Heard’s 12-yard loss).
Seldom was Texas in a position to run the ball on third down, and when it did, Joe Schmidt and Isaac Rochell stuffed a 3rd-and-3 midway through the first quarter, and the tone for the game was set. Jaylon Smith played Spiderman as well. The only double-digit run was Gray’s 11-yarder, which means his other seven carries netted just 29 yards.
As expected, three-technique Sheldon Day was a beast on the inside with the nose tackle tandem of Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery holding the point of attack. Unofficially they combined for just four stops (three by Cage), but the progress Cage has made since midway through pre-season is rather startling and right on time for the Irish, who lost an anchor (Jarron Jones) due to injury.
Texas had two true freshmen offensive linemen in the starting lineup and it showed as the Irish maximized their opportunity.
Anytime a defense holds a quarterback to 7-of-22 passing for 93 yards with two sacks, it’s a pretty spectacular performance against a passing game that admittedly is a bit prehistoric by today’s standards. The Irish repeatedly put Tyrone Swoopes into 3rd-and-longs, and with a steady stream of pass rushers, Swoopes and his receiving corps were ill-equipped to handle the onslaught.
There was the 48-yard deep ball to Daje Johnson -- who caught six of Texas’ eight completions -- that ultimately set up the Longhorns’ only score (a 41-yard Nick Rose field goal) midway through the third quarter. But after KeiVarae Russell was beaten on the play, the Irish responded with two run stuffs and a bad throw by Swoopes on 3rd-and-9.
Notre Dame didn’t come up with an interception and had just two pass break ups. But the pressure up front and Swoopes’ inaccuracy didn’t leave much room for numbers in that pass-defense category. There were four sacks – one each by Jaylon Smith, Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day and Jerry Tillery – and Day finished with four of the defense’s eight quarterback pressures.
The Irish were brilliant on third down, limiting the Longhorns to 2-of-13, the vast majority of which were 3rd-and-long throws. The only room for improvement in this grade was the deep ball that Texas connected on, otherwise this would have been football’s equivalent of a perfect game.
There remains room for improvement in the many facets of special teams as C.J. Sanders struggled in his punt-return debut, although give credit to Texas punter Michael Dickson, who averaged 42.3 yards per his 10 punts, including a 56-yarder and fairly consistent hang time (when he wasn’t booting them out of bounds).
Sanders fumbled one (props for Torii Hunter’s fumble recovery) and was a minus-one yard on three attempts. Sanders also let a punt roll that was downed at the five. Amir Carlisle made a very poor decision to bring his only kick return out of the end zone and was dumped at the 10-yard line.
Tyler Newsome – in his debut as a punter and kickoff man – was more good than bad, although his first kickoff went out of bounds and he failed to record a single touchback on seven attempts. His punting was really good, better than his 41.2-yard average would indicate, because three of his four attempts ended up inside the 20-yard line. The 48-yarder fair caught by Daje Johnson at his own eight was absolute perfection.
Justin Yoon made all five of his extra points and was 1-of-2 on field goals, hitting a 38-yarder midway through the second quarter and missing from 45 yards midway through the third. Pending film review, it appeared that holder DeShone Kizer may have upset the timing of the placement on Yoon’s missed boot that sailed wide left from the right hash.
Notre Dame’s punt-coverage unit was excellent (two returns, three yards) while the longest of six Texas kick returns was just 24 yards. Add it all up and that’s a few too many miscues for an otherwise outstanding Notre Dame performance.
Brian Kelly said he knew his team was ready to play when the pre-game meal lasted about two-and-a-half minutes.
Kelly’s first collaboration with associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford must be deemed a rousing success with a plus-200-yard rushing performance, a 527-yard total offense output, and zero turnovers.
Brian VanGorder – criticized for the final two-thirds of the 2014 season – had his troops ready to stifle the Longhorns to the tune of 163 total yards on 52 snaps, which is complete dominance.
The coaching staff took full advantage of its depth advantage over Texas, and on a hot and humid early-September day/night in South Bend, there was no evidence of dehydration that we spotted (perhaps we’ll see some on film), which means it was a quality coaching job right on down to head trainer Rob Hunt and his staff.
Notre Dame entered this game with a clear, significant advantage in terms of experience, depth and depth of talent. The Irish exited with an even more decisive advantage after 60 minutes of football. Not sure what more Kelly and his staff could have done to record a more thorough performance against a vulnerable opponent.