DESHONE KIZER: START NO. 2
Of DeShone Kizer’s seven incomplete passes against UMass, most were off target. In fact, they tended to be way off. He threw behind Amir Carlisle in the second series with a window to complete it. He missed Carlisle in a 21-20 game. He threw short to Carlisle and Will Fuller in the final drive of the first half.
But when all was said and done, Kizer was an efficient 15-of-22 for 207 yards with two touchdown tosses and one interception that wasn’t his fault while running the football effectively with nine carries for 42 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter.
Kizer showed improved decision-making in the read-option game, ran effectively out of the read-option fakes, and did a nice job of picking his spots to run from the pocket when the situation presented itself. He has very good vision, and when there’s a path, he finds it. He’s big and physical enough to dish it out and take a hit, but he avoids big hits when necessary.
One of Kizer’s most deft passes was the 26-yard touchdown toss to Will Fuller. Kizer slid to his left to buy time while Fuller broke off his slant route, pirouetted to the next level, and took the touch pass from Kizer in stride for the score.
Kizer was at his best in the final 1:27 of the first half when he engineered a 10-play, 74-yard drive to give the Irish a 35-20 halftime lead.
The drive started with two timeouts. After Aliz’e Jones tried valiantly but couldn’t get out of bounds on his seven-yard gain, the second snap of the series came with 1:02 remaining and the Irish still 67 yards from paydirt.
After an incompletion, Chris Brown caught a pass 14 yards past the line of scrimmage and added 13 more yards after the catch to the UMass 40. Two plays later, Kizer found Fuller for 17. Kizer spiked it at the 23 with 25 seconds left.
On 3rd-and-10, Kizer found Amir Carlisle for 16 to the UMass seven. Carlisle spun around and knew he was going to take a direct hit. But he protected the football, and Notre Dame called its second timeout of the half with 15 seconds left.
Kizer ran for no gain and Notre Dame called its final timeout with 10 seconds remaining. His throw to Brown on a semi-fade in the end zone was aggressively snatched away from a UMass defensive back, and the 10-play, 74-yard drive was complete with a scant six seconds remaining.
It was another productive, successful start by the red-shirt freshman quarterback.
BRANDON WIMBUSH MAKES HIS DEBUT
When you see the athletic gifts possessed by Brandon Wimbush on his 58-yard touchdown run and his big arm on the deep ball to Will Fuller, you can’t help but think what the talented 6-foot-1, 216-pound Hackensack, N.J. product can accomplish once he learns what he’s doing.
Make no mistake, his performance against UMass proved that Wimbush has very little mastery of the system he’s expected to run. Kelly told Doug Flutie that Wimbush had a playbook consisting of about 20 plays. Wimbush created another one when he turned a stymied designed run into what looked like it was going to be a 44-yard touchdown pass to Equanimeous St. Brown.
Of course, it was nullified when center Sam Mustipher strayed too far downfield, which is why you don’t pass the football on a designed run. Mustipher had no way of knowing that he couldn’t release downfield because he naturally thought it was a running play.
Another sign that Wimbush didn’t have a full grasp of what he should be thinking came shortly before Kelly sent him onto the field for his first series. Kelly gave Wimbush some final instructions. After taking his mouthpiece out so he could speak more clearly to Kelly, Wimbush said something that prompted Kelly to lean back, perplexed, as if to say, “What the heck are you talking about?”
There is much to learn for the rookie signalcaller.
The physical part of playing the position should come much easier to Wimbush. His 58-yard read-option touchdown run was an athletic display as he skipped out of a tackle attempt by linebacker Kassan Messiah near midfield and easily burst past the rest of the UMass defenders. (Blocks by Chase Hounshell and Nic Weishar created the initial hole.) Wimbush also had a 26-yard run on what looked like a broken play with Dexter Williams.
Wimbush doesn’t get credit for the 48-yard pass to Will Fuller, who made a spectacular diving effort, only to lose his grasp of the football as he slid from the seven to the goal line. The pass traveled 54 yards in the air, proving once again the near impossibility of overthrowing Notre Dame’s All-American wideout.
Wimbush completed a nice comeback throw to St. Brown for eight yards, but also threw behind an open Torii Hunter, Jr.
The notion that by Malik Zaire suffering a season-ending injury, DeShone Kizer moving into the starting role and Wimbush moving up to No. 2 will open up the competition to a three-man race in the spring is incredibly premature. Wimbush is drinking from a fire hose trying to learn the Notre Dame offense. Once he gets on the same page of the playbook with the rest of the group, he’ll have plenty to offer. But he’s a long, long way from that level at this time.
ADAMS TAKES ANOTHER STEP
In his most extensive action yet, 6-foot-1 ½, 212-pound freshman running back Josh Adams took a major leap forward, carrying 13 times for 133 yards and notching his third touchdown of the season with a brilliant 70-yard touchdown run.
In some respects, Adams is cut from a similar cloth to C.J. Prosise. Their frames are comparable, they both can hit that crease like a rocket, and they both have the vision to spot it.
Prosise is older, more mature, bigger and stronger. He has footwork from God considering he’s played four games at the running back position. Adams has good feet too, and in time, he will add additional strength to that frame, just as Prosise has.
Adams plays with power and dash. He knows how to use his blockers. He received carries by the third series of the game, which he needs to do moving forward. He does an outstanding job of protecting the football (with both arms) on runs between the tackles.
Brian Kelly loved another aspect of Adams’ game against UMass.
“Losing Tarean Folston has put Josh, as a true freshman, in a position that he has to contribute,” Kelly said. “He’s done a great job. (Against UMass), not only did he run for over 100 yards, he picked up two blitzes for us that were very difficult reads for him.
“I just think he’s going to continue to improve. We’ve (also) got Dexter Williams running for us. It’s a good situation right now.”
On the 70-yarder, Adams worked his way behind a backup offensive line of (from left to right) Hunter Bivin, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, Colin McGovern and Mark Harrell. He benefitted from a Torii Hunter, Jr. block, slipped a tackle at his own 45, and then saw the crease. He instantly hit the crease at that point, and now it was an open-field game that the Irish were going to win.
When Adams realized that he might not get the block he needed from Equanimeous St. Brown to vanquish cornerback James Oliphant at the pylon, he cut back against the grain and easily marched into the end zone.
His 133 yards for the game doubled his rushing total through the first three games. He now has 199 yards with an 8.6-yard average per carry to go along with Prosise’s 8.1-yard average.
Kelly mentioned two great pass blocks by Adams. His wipe-up block of a blitzing cornerback allowed DeShone Kizer time to find Aliz’e Jones for a 37-yard reception.
Adams is coming on strong at the right time as the Irish head to Clemson where Prosise is going to need some help with the heavy lifting.
JONES, WEISHAR, HOUNSHELL SHINE
You’ve lost your top two tight ends, one for the season (Durham Smythe) and the other indefinitely with a concussion (Tyler Luatua). You’re down to your third, fourth and fifth tight ends, which in most instances is a disaster, even for an upper-echelon program.
But in their most extensive action yet, Alize’ Jones, Nic Weishar and Chase Hounshell shined as bright as the rest of the offensive players who contributed to the 457 yards rushing, 681 yards total offense, and a scoring output in Notre Dame Stadium that hasn’t been seen in 19 years.
Jones caught three passes for 56 yards, including a 37-yarder in the first drive of the second half that accelerated the scoring barrage.
His first catch was a 12-yarder in the second series of the game in which he was unguarded in the slot, broke off the line of scrimmage, realized he should turn and present a target, and made the grab. His second catch was a seven-yarder in the scoring drive before halftime. He fought valiantly to get out of bounds to stop the clock but didn’t quite make it.
It’s more than just Weishar and Hounshell had a great day blocking. They are fundamentally-sound, knee-bending blockers, which means they have the essential qualities for additional playing time and success.
To be sure, it was executed against UMass because Notre Dame’s offensive line obliterated the Minutemen front. So the dominating performance offered by Weishar and Hounshell has to be put in perspective.
We’ll see how they hold up against bigger, stronger and more athletic players at Clemson, particularly with the uncertainty of Luatua’s health. But this was a huge step forward for the tight end position.
“Really pleased with the three tight ends,” Kelly said. “Aliz’e made a big jump in his assignments. He had a number of errors (vs. Georgia Tech). He cut down on those.
“Really pleased with Chase Hounshell’s blocking. We were able to get to the edge several times (vs. UMass), and a lot of it was his work. Nic Weishar was very, very good in assignments, catching and blocking.”
Weishar added his second career catch, which converted a 3rd-and-6 on the opening drive of the second half that gave Notre Dame a 42-20 lead.
Notre Dame may not have a star tight end as is customary, but they have unprecedented depth at the position. The notion that they’d all play in the same game was difficult to achieve. It’s a good thing, however, that there are five of them, all of whom are capable of playing productive football when healthy.
AROUND THE GRIDIRON
Could write a very long segment on the offensive line after the Irish rushed for 457 yards and spent the majority of the afternoon obliterating UMass’ defensive front that we knew was undersized coming into the game. Suffice it to say this is the most physically dominant offensive front of the Brian Kelly era and probably the best since Lou Holtz was walking the sideline for the Irish…It sure looks like Brian Kelly is letting some combination of Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford call the plays…Irish cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke each made a play on UMass’ first two snaps. That’s a nice response to the up-and-down secondary play against Virginia two weeks earlier…Lots of run blitzes by Notre Dame’s September opponents as they try to find ways to crack the veteran Irish offensive line…A more-than-solid special teams game for oft-criticized cornerback Devin Butler, who made an open-field tackle on the first Irish punt and downed another punt at the one…Not really a facemask penalty on Jaylon Smith in UMass’ second series, although it was called…James Onwualu either came on the field late or just shifted inside late on his first-quarter sack. He also took on the block of 6-foot-6, 326-pound tackle Tyshon Henderson and made the tackle. He finished with four stops, a sack, another tackle for lost yardage and a pass broken up. Almost undoubtedly the most productive game by Onwualu on defense in an Irish uniform…Elijah Shumate induced a clipping penalty on UMass on an early first-quarter screen pass…Mark Whipple has a Super Bowl ring from his days as quarterbacks coach with the Steelers. He was sure to have taken note of Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury Sunday…
Really like the mobility that Nick Martin is playing with when he gets to the edge. Few teams in the country can match Notre Dame’s combination of speed and physicality up front… It looked like Martin tweaked his right foot/ankle late in the first quarter as he followed the play and stepped on the foot of a UMass defender…When there are delay of game penalties on both offenses in consecutive series, that’s usually a sign the officials are starting the play clock sooner than the offenses realize…Can you hear the subtle drone from Irish fans, led by the student body? You can hear a “Yoooon” undertone from the Notre Dame crowd when freshman Justin Yoon lines up for a kick…Really nice job of getting off a block and making a tackle by Nyles Morgan on a late first-quarter kickoff. Nick Watkins, too…Slow operation by UMass kick team allowed Romeo Okwara to overpower the right tackle and record his first career block. UMass allowed a late extra point block the week before against Temple that contributed to the defeat… Mark Whipple does the right thing by kicking the extra point when it was 14-12. You should never chase missed extra points early in the game…Tyler Newsome playing confidently, even making a tackle on a kick return when UMass’ Andy Isabella beat the first wave. By the way, the Notre Dame record for punting average in a season is 45.4 by Geoff Price in 2006. Newsome currently is averaging 47.1…Terrible call by line judge Allen Andrick on a red-zone run by Marken Michel in which Elijah Shumate bumped Michel out at the one. Andrick was so concerned about getting taken out that he lost his concentration, took his eyes off the play, and called it a touchdown. Brian Kelly yelled, using colorful vocabulary, to argue a holding penalty against UMass on James Onwualu, who was spun around and looked like he was being held (but probably wasn’t)…
We’ll need to keep an eye on Ronnie Stanley, who took a blow to his knee when Kizer was tackled into him…You see Kelly talking to Kizer about his footwork after the touchdown before half. Kizer really struggled with passes to his left…Next step in C.J. Prosise’s evolution is to widen his base and cut off that wide base as opposed to spinning, although when he spins, he’s very difficult to tackle…Did you see the clock fail to start on a UMass drive early in the third quarter? Then it started late and kept running after an incomplete pass...Notre Dame has three running backs that hit the hole exceptionally well. On Dexter Williams’ third-quarter, 14-yard touchdown run, Hounshell, Brown and Fuller all did their jobs blocking. Williams is a right-handed carrying runner, the same way Prosise is a left-handed carrying running back. Something to work on. Williams also made a great decision and burst through the hole for a six-yard gain at the end of the third quarter…Kizer bobbled the extra point that Yoon missed, but Yoon has to be able to adjust to that…Did you see Joe Schmidt absently shake his left hand, perhaps taking a blow to that broken thumb that might have stung a bit? Schmidt quickly erased it from his mind as he took the signal from the sideline and called the alignment to his teammates…Malik Zaire is caught chewing his credential, which he finds amusing…NBC shows a picture of Mike Sanford the elder from his days coaching at Notre Dame. Tom Hammond and Doug Flutie didn’t mention that flanking Sanford in the picture was Urban Meyer and Charlie Strong…
Hunter Bivin and Sam Mustipher were the first of the backups into the lineup in the third quarter…That was one helluva open-field tackle and fumble caused by Nicco Fertitta on the kickoff following Wimbush’s touchdown run. He showed determination and strength yanking it away from Isabella…How quick is Sheldon Day? “He’s pressuring the quarterback on wide receiver screens,” Flutie said…What a play by Matthias Farley to tip the late third-quarter pass that Cole Luke grabbed for the interception, ending a streak of 177 passes against the Irish without a pick…Sam Mustipher has struggled with the shotgun snap since his arrival…Very surprised to see Grant Blankenship’s red-shirt season discarded in cleanup time vs. UMass…Got to love seeing Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt coaching from the sideline while subs were playing…Nick Coleman should have made that pick in the end zone…The downfield blocking by Notre Dame’s wide receivers was nothing short of outstanding vs. UMass…As one who works from a press box and writes the Tale of the Tape, let me say I hated the style/size of the numbers on the UMass uniforms. Makes for a lot of rewinding to identify the player…Good to see Max Redfield playing a physical brand of football with the broken thumb…Interesting to see Kelly, Brian VanGorder and Todd Lyght all crowded around Nick Coleman for several minutes on the sideline after the long pass to Shakur Nesmith to complete the scoring for the day. Their topic? Technique, technique, technique for a good three minutes.