Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Notre Dame report card

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame’s rushing attack did more than reach the 200-yard mark for the fifth straight game. It rushed for 457 yards, the most since BC in 1995.

Rushing offense
A+

There hasn’t been a grade this easy to assign in quite a while. Notre Dame rushed the football 51 times totaling 457 yards, a 9.0-average, and six touchdowns. There were runs of 70 (Josh Adams), 58 (Brandon Wimbush) and 57 (C.J. Prosise) yards, and that doesn’t even account for half the yardage.

Prosise also had runs of eight, 14, nine, 11, 13, six, and 16 (TD). His last carry came with 12:02 left in the third quarter. After 11 carries for 125 yards in the first half, all four of his second-half carries came in that opening drive of the second half for another 24 yards.

Adams not only carried 13 times for 133 yards -- 70 of which came on an impressive, explosive burst in the fourth quarter -- but he also got carries when UMass narrowed it to 14-13 early in the second quarter. Adams carried three times for 13 yards, including an eight-yarder, in the 10-play, 74-yard drive that sparked a 48-0 Irish scoring barrage in a 24:47 span from late in the second quarter to midway through the fourth.

Dexter Williams got seven important carries for 48 yards, which included a nice burst on a 14-yard touchdown run. Wimbush gave Notre Dame fans a sneak preview of his athleticism with a nifty 58-yard touchdown run.

Notre Dame’s offensive front dominated an undersized UMass defensive front. The 390 yards rushing by Colorado against the Minutemen was no fluke. Neither is Notre Dame’s ground game, which is now averaging 284.7 yards rushing per game.

Passing offense
A-

After DeShone Kizer’s more-than-solid starting debut in Notre Dame’s big win over Georgia Tech -- 21-of-30 (70.0 percent) for 242 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- round two was another heady, resourceful performance for the mature red-shirt freshman who shows more poise than most in his situation would.

His accuracy escapes him at times, which Brian Kelly attributes to improper footwork on throws to his left. But the Irish converted 8-of-13 with Kizer hitting on a 27-yarder to Chris Brown on 3rd-and-3 from the Irish 33 and then Fuller two plays later on 2nd-and-10 from the UMass 40 for a gain of 17. Most of Notre Dame’s third-down conversions came during its 48-point scoring barrage.

Kizer showed poise at the end of the first half in running the less-than-two-minute offense. The drive started from his own 26 with 1:27 left in the first half. Kizer spiked the ball at the UMass 23 to preserve the clock, and then found Amir Carlisle for 16 yards on 3rd-and-10 to the seven. Kizer then threw a beautiful ball to Brown in the end zone, and before UMass’s pass coverage could react, Brown was the aggressor and made a “this ball is mine” catch to conclude the drive with six seconds left in the first half.

Kizer also did a nice job of not forcing the football to Will Fuller as UMass used double-zone coverage with a safety lurking in the area. Kizer got the football to Carlisle five times for 52 yards with Carlisle making several big plays and bravely absorbing big hits.

Freshman tight end Alize’ Jones is a developing weapon with three catches for 56 yards, including a 12-yarder two plays before Prosise’s 57-yard touchdown run and a 37-yarder early in the third quarter that set the stage for Prosise’s second touchdown.

Wimbush looked like he belonged. He hit 3-of-5 passes for 17 yards, getting Equanimeous St. Brown his first career catch for eight yards. Tight end Nic Weishar added a catch for eight yards that converted a 3rd-and-6 three plays before Jones’ 37-yarder. Once again, top-notch yards per attempt (9.4) and yards per completion (13.8) for Kizer.

The one interception was on Fuller, who now has two drops for the season. His near 55-yard catch from Wimbush showed just how hard it is for a quarterback to out-throw the Irish speedster. Even on a slow day by Fuller standards – four catches for 57 yards – he still found a way to get into the end zone to raise his touchdown total to six in four games.

Rush defense
B-

Marquis Young’s 83-yard touchdown explosion as time expired in the first quarter was a shock to the Notre Dame system. It sparked a UMass rally as the Minutemen out-scored Notre Dame in a nine-minute stretch, 20-7. The 83-yard run can’t be excluded from the evaluation, nor can the 28 other carries for 65 yards (2.3-yard average).

Jamal Wilson had seven carries for 51 yards (7.3), including an 18-yarder in UMass’ second series and a 17-yarder early in the fourth. By and large, however, the rushing damage was mainly done on Young’s long run.

Notre Dame only registered two sacks for 19 yards, but they had nine tackles for 35 yards lost. UMass got some of its best yardage on 3rd-and-long runs short of the first down. Greer Martini rose to the occasion to lead the team with eight tackles, including five solos. Elijah Shumate tied Martini for the team-lead in solos.

The 83-yarder is a blemish as run fits from the second and third levels missed their mark. But it accounted for 56 percent of UMass’ rushing for the day. Otherwise, the Irish were pretty stout against the run.

Pass defense
B-

The most disappointing aspect of Notre Dame’s pass defense was its inability to get to 6-foot-6, 238-pound Blake Frohnapfel. He was sacked twice and Notre Dame had a notable eight quarterback hurries, led by Sheldon Day’s three and Isaac Rochell’s two. But the Notre Dame defensive linemen would be the first to say that almost isn’t good enough in the pass rush. The Irish are falling well short of their goal for sacks (four per game) with just eight through four games.

Frohnapfel completed 20-of-40 for 233 yards, an interception and no touchdowns, which compensates greatly for the difficulty getting him on the ground. He completed a modest 5.8 yards per attempt and 11.6 per completion. More importantly, UMass finished just 5-of-16 on third down (31.2 percent), although that’s still under what Colorado and Tulane held the Minutemen to in the first two games of the season (27.2 percent).

Four UMass series came to a halt when Frohnapfel couldn’t hook up with his receivers against Notre Dame’s secondary on 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations. The Irish added three more three-and-outs to raise their total for the season to 22.

Excluding the final score with 3:35 remaining and the Irish subbing liberally, the UMass passing game contributed to just two scoring drives, one of which included the 56-yard flea-flicker. Including the last scoring drive led by quarterback Ross Comis, the Irish allowed 302 yards passing as Comis connected with Shakur Nesmith for a 33-yard score. Comis was 8-of-8 for 69 yards.

Coming into the game, it was a known fact that UMass likely would get 300 yards passing because head coach Mark Whipple would allow his quarterbacks let it fly. They combined for 48 passes and they got their yardage. But when the UMass passing game contributes to just two scoring drives the first 55 minutes, that’s a pretty successful day.

Special teams
A

Notre Dame’s special teams turned in the spectacular against UMass. Romeo Okwara blocked an extra point, C.J. Sanders returned a punt 50 yards for a score, and Greer Martini and Jarrett Grace snuffed out a fake punt.

Devin Butler made a great play on a Tyler Newsome approach shot that Butler downed at the one. Newsome was awesome again, averaging 52.4 yards on five attempts. He’s too long for his own good sometimes as three of those five punts found the end zone. Of his 10 kickoffs, only two went for touchbacks, which means the Irish were trying to work on their live punt coverage against an opponent that wasn’t likely to take it the distance.

Amir Carlisle turned in his best kick-return performance of the season with three returns for a 25.0-yard average, including a 29-yarder. UMass’ Andy Isabella had six kick returns for an average of less than 20 yards with a long of 28.

Justin Yoon missed an extra point for the second straight week as DeShone Kizer couldn’t get the handle on Scott Daly’s snap.

But when it came to the big, game-changing plays, they belonged to the Irish.

Coaching
B

You can’t say Brian Kelly and his staff didn’t have his team ready out of the chute. Notre Dame took a 14-0 lead with 95- and 80-yard first-quarter touchdown drives and the defense allowed just 63 yards on 15 plays spanning UMass’ first three drives.

It was sustaining it, beginning at the end of the first quarter. UMass scored on three straight possessions – an 83-yard touchdown run by Marquis Young, a 10-play, 50-yard touchdown drive with the Minutemen converting a 4th-and-5, and then a three-play, 75-yard drive featuring a 56-yard trick throw-back play. In less than nine minutes, the Irish were stung for 203 yards.

After adding two touchdowns late in the second quarter to answer UMass’ surge, the coaching staff challenged the defense at halftime and the defense responded by allowing just 36 yards on 15 snaps in the third quarter with an interception to seal the deal.

No, the Irish weren’t as crisp as you would expect playing UMass, which didn’t become a FBS program until 2011. Some would expect Kelly’s team to dominate all 60 minutes. Brian VanGorder’s defense did what it usually does – it played well and went through a period of porous play – and then surrendered a late score with backups on the field.

It wasn’t perfect, but the Irish responded when it needed to and ultimately won by five touchdowns. A dominant 50 minutes of football in a sandwich game between Georgia Tech and Clemson.


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