WHERE THERE’S A WILL
Facing 2nd-and-10 and a three-point deficit at the Temple 17-yard line, redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer saw a look he didn’t like from the Owls front seven.
The end result of that pre-snap diagnosis will live in Irish lore.
“We came out with a run play into the boundary,” said Kizer. “They brought a couple extra hats. Typically we would check to another run in that situation but with the game situation and timing as it was, we had to make a big play. They were clouding (cloud coverage) us all game, I didn’t think their safety was respecting Will (Fuller) over the top and we were able to fit one close.”
Kizer fit the 17-yard touchdown strike between cornerback Tavon Young and safety Will Hayes.
“Throughout the whole game I missed a few times to throw balls into the Cover 2 hole shot area,” said Kizer of the tantalizing but treacherous window that exists vs. a two-high safety coverage scheme. “I didn’t expect to be in that situation, I was just going to throw a basic comeback and they gave us Cover 2 and I knew exactly where to go with the ball.”
To Fuller, the touchdown maker – it was the Philadelphia native’s ninth score through eight games this season and his 23rd over the last 21 outings dating back to the outset of 2014. Thirteen of the 23 have provided the Irish a lead including two game winners on the road this season.
Senior C.J. Prosise didn’t feel the love Saturday night, though he received ample attention. Among his 14 carries and paltry 25 rushing yards were seven attempts that resulted in gains of two yards or less. Five among them went for negative yardage.
“They mixed it up on me. They had me a little flustered in the first half,” said Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer of Temple’s stout rush defense. “They were doing a couple of things I couldn’t really read. They’re mixing guys up left and right. As much as it messed me up, it messed up our line assignments.
“Temple is really good defense,” he continued. “When you return 20 juniors and seniors as starters on a team, you can’t expect anything less out of them. They’re a really good team and that’s the reason that they stopped us. They’re good players and they played really well tonight. Fortunately we came out and put up the points when we needed to.”
Kizer offset Prosise’s tough day with 143 rushing yards on 17 carries due in large part to a 79-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. He added a three-yard touchdown run to open the contest’s scoring and likewise picked up six first downs via the rush.
Said Owls head coach Matt Rhule of his defense: “I thought we completely took away their run game except for the long one by the quarterback. Even the other stuff was just kind of scrambles.”
“Again, I couldn’t be more impressed with their quarterback,” he added.
Notre Dame fans will doubtless lament the lack of punch by their squad’s offensive line Saturday night, but they can take solace in the fact that the Irish defensive front handled its business.
Check that, it won by knockout.
Twenty of Temple 32 carries resulted in gains of two yards or fewer as did two pass plays. Sixty of the Owls 107 rushing yards occurred on two runs.
Leading the charge was Sheldon Day.
“He played as well as I think I’ve seen him play,” said Kelly of his senior captain. “He was active. He was in coverage (Day recorded a third down pass breakup). We did a lot of things with him. He’s right now playing the best football of his career. When you have captain playing best football, that’s a good sign for your defense.”
Day had a hand in six of the defense’s 22 Stuffs included four solo efforts. He added a forced fumble, pass defended, and a sack. Each of his six official tackles was within two yards of scrimmage.
“I’d say Coach Kelly has done a great job of keeping us focused,” said Day. “I made strides in that we were mentally tough tonight. We knew that they were physical defensively and came out to fight tonight, and we had to do our part.”
RED ZONE REDUX
For the second straight week, three of Notre Dame’s five red zone forays failed to include a trip across the enemy’s goal line. Twice Saturday night otherwise promising drives came up empty, the result of interceptions at the shadow of the Owls’ goal.
Notre Dame has committed 12 red zone turnovers in its last 18 games – most among 127 FBS programs. 10 of those 12 were the result of an error by the quarterback including three interceptions by Kizer this season. Torii Hunter, Jr. added a fumble at USC’s two-yard line to round out the current season’s quartet of costly errors.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” said Kizer of the miscues. “This game should never have been in the position that it was. Even if we kick two field goals right there and put a couple points up, we wouldn’t be where we are.
“It’s completely unacceptable for me to be playing at the level I am right now for me to throw picks in those two situations.”
Kelly noted that Kizer’s second interception was the fault of Fuller not helping his quarterback on a tight squeeze.
“He was trying to fit a skinny post in there and we felt like Will needed to come back to the football and make a play on it,” said Kelly. “He let it come me into his body.”
The pass was deflected and intercepted by Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich as a result. It was the senior’s fifth interception of the season, one short of Notre Dame’s team total through eight games.