NOT GOOD, GREAT
Let’s drop the “Will Fuller is underrated” angle, Irish fans and media, because if members of the college football universe don’t recognize greatness and Fuller’s proximity to it, that’s their loss.
Through nine games this season Fuller has amassed 44 receptions for 900 yards while compiling 32 first downs (including 12 touchdowns) with a remarkable eight receptions in excess of 40 yards.
His final of three touchdowns today gave him 28 for his career (including 27 in the last 22 games) pushing him past program greats Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate into second place among Irish pass catchers.
“Will Fuller: put the ball out there and he comes down with it,” said quarterback DeShone Kizer. “You have to get the ball to your playmakers and allow good things to happen.”
Two of Fuller’s three touchdowns came from beyond 45 yards out while the third was heavily contested. It’s the latter of which he was most proud.
“(Kizer) Trusting in me that I’m going to come down with it,” said Fuller of his season-best (7 receptions, 152 yards) outing. “We knew they were going to try to press us, bump us, and get after us out there on an island so we knew we had to take some shots. It worked really well for us today.”
Fuller compiled 126 of Notre Dame’s 237 first half yards. He amassed his total on five snaps while the rest of the Irish offense managed just 111 on 27.
“There was good communication back and forth,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of he and Kizer who finished with five touchdown passes and a short touchdown run. “We knew what we were going to get and we had to pick our spots.”
Kizer attempted five deep passes, hitting Fuller for touchdowns of 47 and 46 yards, missing an open Fuller on two others, and throwing incomplete to Chris Brown, well-covered down the Pittsburgh sidelines.
THE 12-MINUTE MEN
Kelly noted post-game that Saturday’s effort by the Irish offensive line was the unit’s best of the season to date. Though standard statistics will suggest otherwise, two telltale numbers from today back Kelly’s claim: 4 and 12.
- (4), as in, 4-for-4 scoring touchdowns once breeching the Panthers 20-yard line.
“I made sure I was going to make better decisions down there, unlike Temple,” said Kizer noting his two interceptions at the shadow of the Owls goal line next week. “When you get down there and you put up points it allows you to have a sense of confidence for the next time. Our game plan was perfect and we were able to execute when we needed to.”
Notre Dame had the opportunity for 45 snaps in goal-to-go situations entering today’s contest – a whopping 28 of them ended negatively for the Irish (minimal gain, incomplete pass, penalties, turnovers, etc.). Saturday Kizer and offense executed seven snaps in such situations and scored touchdowns on four of them while adding a nine-yard rush as well.
- (12), as in a 12:46 time of possession total in the 15-minute fourth quarter.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” said Kizer of the five men in front of him. “They executed our game plan all the way through. We knew that Coach (Pat) Narduzzi was going to have some tricks for us, we predicted them pretty well and the offensive line executed.”
Notre Dame moved the chains in eight of 12 third down situations prior to removing Kizer from the contest with less than five minutes remaining, including all five of its third down opportunities after the halftime break.
Notre Dame built its insurmountable 42-17 lead in part because it wouldn’t allow the host Panthers to gain momentum. Each of Pittsburgh’s first three scores were answered by an Irish touchdown – and extended touchdown march.
- Following a Pittsburgh field goal that cut the Irish lead to 7-3, Notre Dame responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard touchdown pass to Torii Hunter.
- After a Panthers touchdown trimmed the lead to 21-10, Kizer and the Irish offense struck back with a 75-yard, 8-play drive capped by Fuller’s aforementioned 14-yard score.
- Pittsburgh drew to within 11 again, 28-17 but the visitors never blinked, going 50 yards in eight snaps for an Adams score after recovering the host’s surprise onside kick attempt.
“They have some options,” offered Narduzzi. “They have some monsters out there. Both of their tailbacks are good. Their quarterback DeShone Kizer is a great player.”
Pittsburgh never led, a first for an Irish foe since Notre Dame’s 62-20 win over Massachusetts on Sept. 26 and for only the third time in nine games played against the Irish to date.
Teammate Jaylon Smith calls him “Eric Dickerson” and his head coach excitedly pushed the fast-forward button when asked about his efforts in the present.
Freshman running back Josh Adams earned Saturday’s game ball in the wake of his 20-carry, 147-yard outing. Adams added a 5-yard touchdown reception on a short shuffle pass, but it was the rushes of 23, 24, and 25 yards that did the most damage.
“He’s a big, physical kid. Keeps his feet moving. As you saw he’s very difficult to tackle,” said Kelly of Adams, heretofore withheld from extensive action since a Sept. 26 blowout win over UMass. “Again, leg drive, and his physical characteristics are such that he’s only going to get bigger and faster and stronger.
“It’s going to be exciting to watch him develop.”
Adams deferred to the unit that paved the way for much of his success.
“I practiced hard all week. CJ (Prosise) is always helping me learn the offense so I was just trying to get in there and do my job, do the best that I could. Our offensive line is incredible. They’re making it easy, really fighting in the trenches for me. They’re a big part of our success so we have to congratulate them for working so hard for us.”
Adams led Notre Dame with seven first downs in what amounted to three quarters of play. His current average of 7.62 yards per carry (54 attempts) is a full yard ahead of the pace of Prosise, whose 6.6 per pop ranks as the highest per rush average for the Irish (with 100 or more carries) since Jonas Gray ripped off 6.9 in 2011.null