Three-Point Stance: Texas Roasted

AUSTIN, Texas – Did DeShone Kizer just win the starting quarterback job for good? Brian VanGorder’s defense bent and broke. What’s the point of the new targeting rule?

Three rapid reactions from Darrell K Royal Memorial Texas Memorial Stadium, where a school record 102,315 watched the Longhorns prevail 50-47 in double overtime during a game that maybe revealed everything about Notre Dame on opening night.

About Those Quarterbacks…

It took Brian Kelly more than a half to make the call at quarterback.

And even with what he saw on Sunday night during Notre Dame’s 50-47 double overtime loss, when DeShone Kizer threw for five touchdowns and ran for another, he still hasn’t made a final decision.

On the one hand, Kelly has a quarterback who nearly led Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff last season and nearly played well enough to overcome Brian VanGorder’s defense. On the other, Kelly has a quarterback coming off a broken ankle who went 2-of-5 for 23 yards and led zero scoring drives.

So did Kizer do enough to win the job?

“We haven’t made that decision,” Kelly said.

At least not publicly.

And that’s key before losing one’s mind on a message board or Twitter.

Kizer didn’t want to lobby for the job afterward and Notre Dame’s other players logically avoided questions on the subject. Maybe Kelly hasn’t informed both quarterbacks about what comes next. That’s fine. And that might be the only explanation that makes sense for the non-decision.

Kizer finished 15-of-24 for 215 yards and five touchdowns, including a 25-yarder to C.J. Sanders in the first overtime. He rushed 13 times for 77 yards too, including a graceful 29-yard score as part of the third quarter rally.

Zaire had little opportunity and his night ended on a sack early in the second half with the Irish down 31-14. In the end, Zaire was on the field for 17 plays that gained 45 yards.

The job should be Kizer’s moving forward.

Safety Switch Fails

When Brian Kelly threw Max Redfield off the team two weeks before the season it created a cascading effect at safety and left the Irish starting two strong safeties at Texas. Whether the Longhorns had the passing game to hit Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian was an open question considering Tyrone Swoopes’ career inaccuracies and Shane Buechele’s lack of a college career at all.

Turns out, they could.

It was all part of the Texas offense rolling to four touchdown drives on its first six possessions before the Notre Dame defense stiffened in the second half, after Kelly benched Tranquill for freshman Devin Studstill.

By then the Irish have given up on cornerback Nick Coleman for the night too, moving Shaun Crawford from nickel to outside corner and turning to freshman Julian Love at nickel. By the time the game ended with Swoopes in the end zone, freshman safety Jalen Elliott was on the field for Sebastian, who suffered an injured shoulder a snap earlier.

The 50 points allowed are the most surrendered by a Notre Dame defense since the Arizona State meltdown two years ago. In the past three games, the Irish have allowed an amazing 132 points, all losses.

This was supposed to be the year for VanGorder’s NFL-style defense to click in college. It appears the wait will continue. And yet, the players defended the scheme afterward.

“I don’t think we had any mental errors, we just had to play a little tougher, had to play a little faster,” said linebacker James Onwualu. “I don’t think we played dumb tonight. Corners need to play better, linebackers need to play better and D-line needs to play better.”

Kelly added a fourth category to that. And that may start with VanGorder.

“We were in cover-three when we got beat (for John Burt’s 72-yard score),” Kelly said. “The inability to play cover-three and not be effective in that requires better coaching on our part. If we can’t line up and play cover-three better, we’re not coaching very well.”

Inexcusably Off Target

When Texas defensive back DeShon Elliot drilled Torii Hunter Jr. in the head with his helmet late in the third quarter, it should have been an ejection and personal foul penalty.

The officials missed the call.

Yet, even as Hunter lay motionless on the field for at least a minute, replay official Richard Jordan did nothing from the booth. That’s significant because the NCAA altered the targeting rules this year to allow replay officials to penalize a targeting infraction after the fact.

“It wasn’t even reviewed, which just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Kelly said. “I’ve been in this game a long time and I know when somebody gets hit in the head. He certainly was hit in the head.”

Kelly described his conversations with the officiating crew as “heated.”

A penalty would have given Notre Dame 1st-and-goal. Instead, the Irish were forced to call on Justin Yoon, whose 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked as Texas maintained its 31-28 lead entering the fourth quarter. Not only did Notre Dame lose a chance to take the lead following a should-have-been targeting penalty, the Irish lost their best receiver too.

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