Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Irish Notes: More of the Same

AUSTIN, Texas – Notre Dame concluded its 2015 season with an explosive offense led by a dual-threat quarterback. It also featured a porous defense that regularly folded in the red zone. Past, meet present.

RHYTHM, THY NAME IS KIZER
Notre Dame’s two-quarterback attack is likely to return for at least another football Saturday, but the season’s only Sunday contest displayed the true talents of just one triggerman, junior DeShone Kizer.

“I thought DeShone did some really good things and I think he’d like to have some other (situations) back,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly, downplaying what appeared obvious to the masses. “It’s the opener. He’s going to get sharper. Better.”

A Kizer-led offense produced each of the team’s six touchdowns and 2015’s season-saver had a hand in the entire sextet. Malik Zaire conversely played just three series, none after the mid-point of the third quarter, and each of his turns at the trigger resulted in punts.

Asked post-game if he was able to get into a better rhythm once the rotation ceased, Kizer offered a diplomatic response.

“Just to come back out here and feel what a game is like and be in a great environment…once we did get the flow up and going, you could see how explosive this offense really is,” said Kizer. “Being able to spread the ball around – we have playmakers all over the field and you got to see it in those couple of drives.”

LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
The final numbers are all-too-familiar. Statistics indicative of a defense nowhere near ready for prime time:

-- A combined 10 of 20 third- and fourth-down conversion attempts by Texas moved the chains.

-- Six touchdowns resulted in the Longhorns seven red zone forays.

-- A quintet of touchdown drives by the hosts covering 75, 88, 80, 72, and 68 yards, respectively. No quarter or overtime session failed to include points produced against the Irish defensive unit.

You have to hand it to Notre Dame’s defense under Brian VanGorder: they’re nothing if not consistent.

BATTER, RINSE, REPEAT
Texas clearly preferred to run it right at the Irish. Notre Dame’s defense, in turn, elected to attempt to genially dissuade such a notion with a welcoming three-man front – a 3-3-5 Nickel alignment that by design would make the squad’s suspect safeties less vulnerable against the pass.

Instead holes presented at both levels, up front and along the back line.  

“What was a bit more surprising to me was that Texas’ perimeter speed was outstanding,” said Kelly of the Longhorns ability to move the ball both through the air and on the ground. “The running game is obviously difficult, but if they don’t have that perimeter speed, they’re not the same offense. It complements it well. It’s definitely the perimeter speed that is the game-changer.”

The Irish defense stiffened briefly in the third quarter when it switched to a four-down look, removing oft-roasted left cornerback Nick Coleman and sliding Nickel Shaun Crawford to his rightful starting spot in Coleman’s stead.

“We felt we had our best secondary on our field and we just needed to stop the run,” said Crawford of the defense’s brief life that included an interception by Crawford and a pair of three-and-out Texas possessions. “Getting an extra lineman in there and clogging up the run helped us a bit. But we have to tackle better. “

Senior captain James Onwualu offered it was potentially the element of change that aided the defense’s cause rather than a missed opportunity to have played four-down more often during the contest.

“It gave (Texas) a little switch,” he said “You get some big boys in the middle and try to stop that inside run game which we knew we were going to get. They were pounding us all game. We tried to go to that four-down and bang out whatever you can in the middle.

“It was just a switch up in the middle of the game, their offense might not have been ready for it and we got some fresh guys in their ready to play.”

A four-down alignment isn’t necessarily the weekly defense of choice going forward, but it should be until the Irish prove capable of plugging such easy-to-expose leaks up front.

ADAMS ADDS TO HIS ARSENAL
The recipient of just seven pass receptions last season, co-starting running back Josh Adams shined in that regard in Austin, securing three catches for first downs including a 17-yard go-ahead touchdown that completed Notre Dame’s rally from a 17-point deficit.

Adams added three rushing first downs to lead the squad with six chain-moving touches over the course of the contest. His gains of 15, 14, and 17 yards through the air all would have qualified as career bests entering the contest.

-- Starting sophomore receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders both notched their first pass receptions for scores Sunday night. St. Brown scored twice while Sanders’ score tied the contest at 44 in the first overtime.

-- Junior Mike linebacker Nyles Morgan led all tacklers with 13 while Isaac Rochell recorded nine including three for lost yardage. The senior defensive lineman likewise recorded Notre Dame’s only quarterback hurry on the evening.

-- Trailing 31-28 midway through the third quarter, sophomore placekicker Justin Yoon had a field goal attempt blocked, his first miscue since last September snapping a streak of 12 consecutive field goals without a miss, the fourth longest run in program history. 

-- In addition to his passing exploits, DeShone Kizer ran for 77 yards and a score Sunday night. The rushing touchdown was Kizer’s 11th in 12 career starts. With five touchdown passes against Texas, Kizer has thrown 26 in just under 13 full games played to give him 37 total touchdowns in what amounts to a full season’s slate of action.


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