Dillingham to Battle (1:15). Quinn to Samardzija (0:27). Kizer to Fuller (0:12).
When it seemed bleak, these pass-and-catch combinations produced last minute Notre Dame victories, each on downfield touchdown passes that shocked Irish fans and foes alike. Kizer’s scoring throw Saturday in Charlottesville – officially 39 yards out though it traveled almost 50 – ranks as the closest-to-the-gun, game-winning touchdown toss with a Notre Dame team trailing in program history.
He was called to action when starter Malik Zaire fractured his ankle midway through the third quarter – lost for the season as a result.
“We had a double move out there,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “As you know, we ran a quick slant on third down (prior to the 4th down) and their corner came up and defended it quite well. (Kizer) waited for that, stepped up and connected with him.”
With just one pass under his belt prior to the contest, Kizer finished Saturday with 92 yards, hitting 8 of 12 passes for two touchdowns. His shuffle pass to crossing tight end Durham Smythe produced Notre Dame’s first points of the day on a fake field goal.
His final throw in Scott Stadium will live forever in Irish lore.
Fifteen games, 19 touchdowns. Only three Notre Dame players – Jerome Bettis, Allen Pinkett, and Golden Tate – have put together a more impressive scoring streak than the current run by junior wide receiver Will Fuller, whose remarkable pay dirt production dates back to the outset of last season. (Click here for details.)
Fuller picked up in 2015 where he left off last fall – hitting it deep.
The All-America candidate posted 124 yards and two scores among his five receptions Saturday, that after notching 142 on seven grabs and two more trips to the end zone last week. Among his 12 catches this fall are long gains of 66 (TD), 59 (TD), 39 (TD), and 30 yards.
“He just ran a straight route. I didn’t expect him to just run straight by me but he is a pretty fast guy,” said Virginia cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. “I got on my pedal a little late and he is a great receiver and they threw it to him. It happens sometimes when you play corner.”
Often when you face Fuller.
CANAAN CARVES THEM UP
The first quarter tale of the tape between the offenses of the initially dominant Irish and dormant Wahoos: an imposing 28 snaps, 154 yards, and 12 points for the visitors. That against a paltry seven snaps for 28 yards, and nary a dent on the Scott Stadium scoreboard by the staggered hosts.
Then the teams flipped sides and someone lit a match under the ‘Hoos, quarterback Matt Johns, and the best player on the field Saturday afternoon, the apparently un-coverable Canaan Severin.
Johns and Severin connected for gains of 16, 18, and 38 yards to set up Virginia’s first touchdown. Thereafter, connections of 20 and 17 set up another six points while two clutch third-down conversion completions paved the way for the host’s go-ahead score late.
Severin could not be contained, the final carnage showing 11 grabs for 153 yards. Including a drawn pass interference penalty against Cole Luke, Severin produced 10 first downs including four to move the sticks on third or fourth down snaps.
“You know what, I spent a lot of time watching these dudes,” said Severin of the Irish secondary that he torched. “A lot of time. I felt like I was ready to make plays against them. I felt like I knew their tendencies. I felt like I was prepared to do it. I just wish we had come out with this W.”
Johns passed for 289 yards, hitting 26 of 38 pass attempts as the Cavaliers racked up 416 yards of total offense.
“I know Coach (Brian) VanGorder is frustrated with some things that happened with the pass defense out there that we'll have to clean up but it's correctable things,” said Kelly. “We didn't play the ball very well in the air.”
(BETTER) STAY AHEAD OF THE CHAINS
A college football reality manifested inside Scott Stadium Saturday. That is: a road matchup for a recently feted, highly rated visitor taking on a proud squad on its home turf with nothing to lose.
Kelly warned Irish faithful of what might be afoot earlier in the week. He warned his experienced troops as well.
No matter. Human nature won out. Again.
“We made a lot of mistakes but Virginia played really well, too,” said Kelly. “They played inspired football. They're a well-coached team. I thought they did some great things offensively. We moved the football and our third-down (0 for 10 conversions) was atrocious and left a lot of opportunities to score points, and we didn't and Virginia should get a lot of credit for that.”
Kelly was asked why his previously efficient offense failed to move the chains on football’s money down.
“We were largely ineffective in our short-yardage run game,” he offerd. “There's a number of reasons for it. Some miscues. Some of it goes to Virginia, I thought they did a very good job of defending us on third-and-short. But it's unacceptable to be that ineffective on third down situations.”
Notre Dame racked up 451 of its 460 total yards on first and second down.
“We did a great job on third downs and (Notre Dame) went 0-10,” said Virginia head coach Mike London. “They are a system offense. They lined up in unusual formations and when one (defender) didn’t get in his gap, they had several explosive runs. Those runs put them in position to capitalize on the next play. We weren’t really able to stop those first and second down runs.”
STUFFING THE STAT SHEET
Fuller will walk away with the MVP award thanks to his late heroics, but it was senior C.J. Prosise that paced the Irish attack: 17 carries for 155 yards including a 24-yard touchdown run. It was Prosise’s fourth career score – the first of less than 50 yards.
-- Prior to injury, Zaire rushed 10 times for 87 yards. He missed 11 of 18 passes but the seven completions produced 115 yards and a score.
-- Freshman C.J. Sanders managed 48 yards on four punt returns including a 30-yard effort in the second half.
-- Jaylon Smith finished with 11 tackles including 2.5 for lost yardage. Senior safety Elijah Shumate added 10 stops. Junior defensive end Isaac Rochell posted seven stops including one for loss.
-- Though he suffered his share of humblings at the hands of Severin and Keon Johnson (deep touchdown), senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell made an impact with nine tackles including a sack/forced fumble that gave Notre Dame the football at midfield with a 26-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
-- With its 34-27 victory, Notre Dame won its first true road game since beating Air Force 45-10 on October 26, 2013.
QUOTES TO NOTE
-- “Certainly he doesn't have the experience that Malik has but we can run our offense through DeShone. He has great weapons around him and we saw that tonight. He's got a great running back and receivers, we just have to balance the offense around him and do the things he's capable of doing. Teams have to overcome injuries. It's unfortunate but it is what it is and we'll find a way to put it together and win football games with DeShone Kizer as our starting quarterback.” – Brian Kelly.
-- “They were battling all day. Devin Butler, KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke, they were putting everything they could on him. There were a couple times where he wasn’t winning his route because they were grabbing him. So, I made a few throws to him to try and get calls. I would throw behind him on purpose, so he could come back and make a play…Canaan is such a freak athlete that you know he is going to make some plays.” – Matt Johns on Canaan Severin
-- “Jaylon’s (Smith’s) words really stuck with me. He said he trusted me. Jaylon doesn’t say too much. He came up to me and said he trusted me and that we have to go win a game. We didn’t get the stop we needed and it was time for me to take over. With that in mind, there was no stopping the Irish. The coaches and I talked earlier about the 2012 team and how they went about their season. They talked about never losing, so we just had to go out there on that last drive and not lose in that situation.” – DeShone Kizer on advice he received