Junior wide receiver Will Fuller remains reluctant to address his status as the definitive go-to-guy in head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish offense. No matter, nearly every objective measure and subjective opinion clearly illustrates that reality for him.
How else could you explain his inclusion near the top of the following select list of touchdown scorers at the program over a 14-game span:
-- Jerome Bettis 24 (23 over the 13-game slate in 1991 plus another to open 1992)
-- Allen Pinkett 24 (20 over 12 games in 1983 + 4 over the first pair in 1984)
-- Golden Tate 21 (18 over 12 games in 2009 + 3 in the preceding Hawaii Bowl to conclude 2008)
-- Will Fuller 17 (15 last season + 2 to begin 2015)
-- Jeff Samardzija 16 (15 over the 12-game run of 2005 + 1 in Game Two, 2006)
The distinguished list includes four program legends and one in the making: Bettis, Pinkett, Tate, Samardzija…and Fuller. And the latter pair share something in common – an unexpected explosion onto the national scene.
“I went at it the same way as the Rice game,” said Fuller of his remarkable weekly ascent through the 2014 season. “Staying humble, level-minded. When the ball comes my way, go get it.”
It comes his way often (44 more targets than any Irish player last fall) and it’s not likely to slow any time soon, regardless of the confident supporting cast that continues to emerge around him.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” said Notre Dame’s newest weapon, Fuller’s junior classmate Torii Hunter, Jr. “We’re so close that everyone is helping each other out. We all have an idea of what the different positions mean and how it works (together). That’s why it’s so easy for us to plug in and make plays. We believe in each other, the quarterback believes in us, we believe in the QB, and that’s why we looked so good last week.”
They’ll continue to look good in part because of the extra attention Fuller demands.
“I would say so,” Fuller noted when asked if he saw increased attention from Texas’s defense on Saturday. “Last game was the first time I didn’t have success running a screen. That was different. I heard them yelling out ‘Screen!’ even before I motioned over.
“We have plays to counter it so we’ll give teams something if they keep doing that.”
Saturday night’s perimeter showcase included a 17-for-17 passing performance by quarterback Malik Zaire when targeting his receivers. Fifteen first downs resulted including three touchdowns. A staggering 301 of Zaire’s 313 passing yards came courtesy the quintet of featured wideouts.
Coupled with a consistent, power-oriented running game, that ability to stress a defense downfield becomes lethal.
“It just looks like you’re stealing at times when you can control play-action with (Zaire),” Kelly noted post game.
Fuller and the rest of the Irish receiving corps are well positioned to pillage many-a-secondary in the weeks to come.
HIT…AND NEVER MISS
The remarkable QB/WR connection in Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Texas is best illustrated by a play-by-play of the downfield completions themselves:
Chris Brown +17 (3rd Down)
Amir Carlisle +13
Will Fuller +2
Will Fuller +16 (3rd Down TD)
Corey Robinson +15
Torii Hunter +20
Fuller minus 4 (3rd Down)
Fuller +66 (TD)
Hunter + 11 (3rd Down)
Robinson +20 (3rd Down)
Brown +6 (TD)