Notre Dame’s tight end depth was pushed before kickoff against Massachusetts.
Tyler Luatua missed the 62-27 blowout after suffering a concussion, leaving the Irish without their favorite run blocking option at the position. Nic Weishar, Chase Hounshell and Alize Jones teamed up to fill that role admirably.
“I thought we got some good in-line blocking,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “Our two tight ends were very effective today, especially when they got into their three-down package. I’ll have to watch the film, but I thought Chase Hounshell did a pretty good job in-line blocking for us today and Nic Weishar. We were effective getting the edge today on our outside zone play. So, my first inclination is to say both of them were effective in their roles at the tight end position because we played a lot of two tight ends today.”
Notre Dame ran it nine times and registered just one negative play with two tight ends — a Josh Adams run that lost a yard in the third quarter.
Weishar joined Hounshell in that formation on the next play (replacing Jones). The result? Backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run, putting Notre Dame up 55-20.
Jones and Hounshell were both attached when Dexter Williams scored from 14 yards out.
Pass defense decoded
In the first three quarters, Cole Luke was targeted eight times, KeiVarae Russell six times, and Devin Butler, Max Redfield and Joe Schmidt were targeted twice. Matthias Farley, Romeo Okwara, James Onwualu, Jaylon Smith and Elijah Shumate were all targeted once.
In the eight times Luke was targeted, the results were mixed. The good: completion for loss of two, pass deflected by Sheldon Day, pass thrown out of bounds, incompletion, interception. The bad: 10-yard completion, 25-yard completion, pass interference
In the six times Russell was targeted, the results were two incomplete passes, one completion for no gain, and completions of five, 12 and 23 yards.
Butler was targeted twice. Both resulted in incompletions, with the latter coming from great coverage against wide receiver Tajae Sharpe on 3rd-and-5.
Farley started both halves for Notre Dame. In Redfield’s first appearance, UMass ran a trick play that resulted in a 56-yard completion.
The second time Redfield was targeted resulted in a 21-yard completion.
Best Unit (Offense): Running Backs
Notre Dame had 457 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 51 carries. That’s an average of 9.0 yards per carry.
C.J. Prosise finished with 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He averaged almost 10 yards per carry. He had touchdown runs of 57 and 16 yards. That’s Prosise’s third consecutive game breaking the 100-yard mark. The last Irish player to do that was Darius Walker in 2005.
“I’d like to say that, first of all, Autry Denson does a great job,” Kelly said. “He’s our all-time leading rusher here at Notre Dame. He’s able to have conversations about the position that are real in a way that he's played the position, so he can really impact him with a lot of knowledge, so that's been very helpful in his learning curve.”
Adams had 13 carries for 133 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown (10.2 yards per carry). Williams had seven carries for 48 yards and one 14-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame has run for more than 200 yards in five straight games, extending back to the Music City Bowl.
The last time Notre Dame opened a season with four-straight 200-yard rushing performances? Back in 1989. The Irish ripped off 11-straight that year.
Best Unit (Defense): Punt Return
Punt return technically qualifies as a defensive unit, right? That crew finally broke one when C.J. Sanders bobbed and weaved for a 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter, giving Notre Dame a 28-20 lead at the time.
“We had them backed up there pretty good,” Kelly said. “So we doubled outside. In those situations, you’re gambling a little bit when you double outside. But to fake a punt there you really have to be gambling. We borrowed a couple guys from the inside to double outside and it gave (Sanders) some room. He’s a very shifty runner. He’s got great vision. (We) did a nice job on the hold up and he did the rest.”
Sanders marked the first Irish punt return touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium since Tom Zbikowski did it North Carolina in 2006.
Top Play (Offense): Prosise’s big run
Prosise capped off an eight-play, 95-yard drive with a 57-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. It was Prosise’s second consecutive rushing touchdown of at least 50 yards.
“It’s one of my favorite running plays we have,” Prosise said. “I have two pullers in front of me, so it makes it a kinda easy read for me. I just gotta make a guy miss on the second level and go score.”
Top Play (Defense): Farley’s tip turned Luke pick
In the third quarter, Cole Luke intercepted UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel on 3rd-and-15 at the Notre Dame 42-yard line. Safety and captain Matthias Farley tipped the ball after reading the pass play perfectly.
“I saw the ball in my face and I just grabbed it, honestly,” Luke said. “I have to give 100 percent credit to Matthias. That was a great play on his part. Besides that it was just instinct really. I just grabbed it, whatever. Matthias made a great play. I definitely wouldn’t have made a play if it wasn’t for him.”
That was Notre Dame’s first interception since Drue Tranquill had one against Louisville last season. The Irish had gone 177 pass attempts between interceptions.
Best Series (Offense): From pinned to the end zone
Notre Dame opened the scoring with 6:02 left in the first quarter by capping an eight-play, 95-yard drive with a 57-yard Prosise run.
Prosise ran the ball five times for 83 yards on that drive alone. DeShone Kizer pitched in with a rush for no gain and a 12-yard strike through the air to Jones. The other play on that drive fell for an incompletion with Kizer targeted Amir Carlisle.
Best Series (Defense): Second half response
After allowing UMass to pile up 276 yards of total offense in the first half, Notre Dame reset the tone on the first drive of the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out then snuffing out a fake punt.
Jarrett Grace and Greer Martini chased down UMass punter Logan Laurent to officially end the drive.
“I think we came out and played a little better assignment football in the second half,” linebacker James Onwualu said. “I didn’t think we were very flat in the first half but we could’ve played more focused. Coach let us know that that’s what he wanted in the second half, so we came out and did that. I think we made all the adjustments we needed to and got after it in the second half.”