Notre Dame report card

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Despite the first two-interception game of his career, DeShone Kizer rose to the occasion by leading a six-play, 75-yard drive for the game-winner.

Rushing offense
C-

It took a spectacular 79-yard touchdown run by DeShone Kizer to lift Notre Dame’s rushing total to 168 yards on 31 carries for a 5.4-yard average. Notre Dame averaged just under three yard per carry otherwise, including a startlingly-anemic 14-carry, 25-yard effort by C.J. Prosise, whose long run of 12 yards did little to add to his 41 plays of 10 yards or more coming into the game.

To come within 66 yards of its 234.6 yards rushing per game through the first seven proved quite a feat. Twelve of Notre Dame’s 31 rushing attempts were “stuffs” (two yards or less). Prosise had nine carries for nine yards in the first half and averaged one yard per carry for the game, excluding that 12-yarder.

The only time the ground game truly was effective with any degree of consistency was in the first drive of the second half, which was a 15-play, 80-yard march with 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-3 conversions – both by Kizer. Some of Prosise’s best runs of the night came in this drive with six- and five-yarders to begin the scoring march. It wasn’t much, but it was better than what transpired most of the night.

Kizer finished with a career-high 143 yards on 17 carries. (His previous high was 55 yards and he entered the game with a total of 175.) It’s notable that even excluding the long run, Kizer managed to average four yards per carry.

It may not be ideal using your quarterback as your short-yardage back, but he’s physically equipped. Can’t give a D to a ground game that accounted for 168 yards – nearly twice what Temple was allowing per game – and with one player rushing for 143, regardless how it came or from whom it came.

Passing offense
B-

Despite the first career two-interception game by DeShone Kizer, he still managed to throw for 299 yards – including what proved to be the 17-yard game-winner to Will Fuller – while averaging 13 yards per completion and 8.3 yards per attempt. He completed 23-of-36 for a 72.2 percentage.

Where the grade takes a hit is with two red-zone interceptions – denying the Irish a minimum of two more field goals -- which would have made it a much-coveted two-score lead along the way. For the second straight game, the Irish scored just two touchdowns in five red-zone appearances.

Prior to the game-winning toss to Fuller, Kizer was 0-of-7 with two interceptions in the red zone. His only completion in the red zone for the game was the one to Fuller for the game-winning score with 2:09 remaining.

Counting in the plus column for the Irish passing game were several pass interference calls drawn against Temple, a 3rd-and-8 completion to Fuller for 11 yards in the opening scoring drive, a 25-yarder to Chris Brown in the first quarter that helped flip the field position, a 31-yard tunnel screen to Amir Carlisle, and a career-long 40-yard catch-and-run by Torii Hunter, Jr.

Interceptions in the red zone cannot be diminished. Brian Kelly blamed one on Kizer (on a blitz in which he shouldn’t have thrown the ball up for grabs) and the other on Fuller (for not aggressively winning the battle for the football).

Nor can a six-play, 75-yard game-winning drive in which Kizer completed all four of his passes be overlooked. A 45-yarder to Aliz’e Jones and Fuller’s ninth touchdown of the year with the season on the line did the trick.

Rush defense
A-

To contain the elusive Jahad Thomas to 82 yards on 21 carries – a 3.9-yard average – is a noteworthy performance by the Irish defense. One of those carries was a 39-yarder, so Notre Dame limited Thomas to 43 yards on his other 20 carries. All told, Notre Dame “stuffed” Temple on 20 running plays. All six of defensive lineman Sheldon Day’s tackles were stuffs.
 
Temple had a huge element of surprise when quarterback P.J. Walker ran the football. The Owls are trying to protect their investment, despite the fact Walker is a capable runner on zone-read plays. So when he did take off, it was no surprise that the Irish were a bit vulnerable to his runs, such as his 21-yarder accounting for most of his 38-yard total.

All told, Temple managed just 107 yards rushing on 32 attempts. The Owls only ran it five times on 3rd/4th-and-short with the Irish winning three and losing two – Thomas’ 4th-and-1 touchdown run and Ryquell Armstead’s four-yard third-down conversion run.

Notre Dame had seven tackles for loss, including three by Romeo Okwara and 2.5 by Day.

Pass defense
B+

P.J. Walker’s 188 yards passing on 13-of-30 with a touchdown, an interception and two sacks don’t do justice to the able-armed junior. Despite leading the team with six catches for 91 yards, Ventell Bryant had several drops – including one in the back of the end zone -- which contributed to Temple’s 4-of-14 on third down.

Bryant had a 28-yard reception and Robby Anderson – Temple’s leading receiver coming in – had 31- and 22-yarders. But that was it for Anderson. No other Owls completion to another receiver besides Bryant and Anderson went for more than 12 yards, although Brandon Shippen scored on a go-ahead 12-yarder midway through the second quarter.

Bryant had an 11-yarder on 3rd-and-8, a 14-yarder on a 3rd-and-14, a 26-yarder on a 2nd-and-10, and a 28-yarder early in the third quarter, compensating for his miscues.

By limiting Walker to 6.2 yards per attempt, it more than made up for his 14.4-yard average per completion. So, too, did KeiVarae Russell’s late fourth-quarter interception offset some broken coverages earlier in the game.

Special teams
C

Nothing too dramatic either way for the Irish, other than a bit of an off game for the normally-lethal Tyler Newsome, who was too deliberate on his first punt, which allowed Sharif Finch to get his fingertips of a punt for the second straight game.

Newsome dropped a snap on one punt, but managed to place it at the Temple three. His long punt of four attempts was 41 yards. He also narrowly missed slipping a kickoff inside the pylon, instead absorbing a penalty (and spotting the football at the Temple 35) for sending the boot out of bounds.

Justin Yoon converted his only field-goal attempt from 23 yards while Temple’s Austin Jones converted from 36 and 41 yards. The only thing of note in the return game was a 13-yarder by Temple punt returner Sean Chandler.

Nothing truly momentum-changing either way.

Coaching
B

The offense came out and marched 74 yards on 12 plays for an opening touchdown, which means the unit came out prepared against a defense allowing just 14.6 points per game.

After that, the offense stumbled in the red zone – due to a lack of execution and, one could argue, an ineffective effort in the play-calling department. Eight games into the season, the Irish have developed very few effective weapons in the red zone, which continues a pattern in the Brian Kelly era.

Could Josh Adams be more effective in short-yardage situations? How about Dexter Williams? Obviously, they get opportunities to prove their value in that area on the practice field and neither has earned the trust of the offensive play-callers.

In the two instances that Temple took the lead – at the 6:17 mark of the second quarter (10-7) and with 4:45 left in the game (20-17) – Notre Dame’s offense responded with a touchdown 1:26 and 2:36 after falling behind. That’s either pretty good play calling, a motivated football team, a talented offensive unit, or some combination of all facets.

The Irish out-gained the Owls by 172 yards. Notre Dame won the time of possession battle, marking just the second time this season (and in as many weeks) that Temple came up on the short end in that category. The defense – when it had to rise up in the red zone with the game tied with five minutes remaining – forced a field goal, which allowed Will Fuller’s 17-yard reception with 2:09 remaining to be the game-winning score.

Notre Dame, a 10½-point favorite on the road to the No. 21 team in the nation, trailed by three late and won by four. It wasn’t the prettiest win of the year, but it achieved the objective heading into November.


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