Sanders provided a trio of big plays in an otherwise sleepy first half, first a 25-yard punt return he followed with a touchdown reception three snaps later, and near the end of the half, a 25-yard catch-and-run on third down that ultimately turned a 3-0 second quarter lead into a 25-0 advantage at the break.
“The game ball went to C.J. Sanders, he continues to be very impressive in our special teams game as well as some key catches for us,” said Kelly of his sophomore who added a 37-yard kick return in the second stanza.
After surrendering 517 yards of total offense against Texas last Sunday, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit limited the visiting Wolf Pack to just 300 yards; a paltry 90 rushing on 30 carries.
Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart struggled throughout the contest, completing 10 of 23 passes for 113 yards as the Wolf Pack struggled to extend drives, finishing a combined 3 of 13 on third and fourth down.
The one-sided affair included the first career interception of fifth-year senior nose tackle Jarron Jones’ Irish career, plus the first career catch of freshman Kevin Stepherson’s – a 4-yard touchdown to boot.
But it was a mental error by the visitors that offered a microcosm of Nevada’s performance on the afternoon – an unforced safety in the second quarter as Wolf Pack kick returner Ahki Muhammad stepped out of his end zone, then stepped back into it before taking a knee.
The prevailing storyline, especially in the wake of three consecutive Irish defeats dating back to last November – during of which VanGorder’s unit surrendered at least 38 points – was the more effective and focused Irish defense.
"They came out and ran some triple-option, some Wildcat, a little bit of everything," said Kelly." They’re very creative on the offensive side of the ball and it was going to require some discipline. "We needed some confidence too," he added. "I think it comes down to our ability to stop the run effectively in our base defense. If we can get into our base defense, we feel pretty confident that our front four is pretty good."
Kelly’s offense churned out 444 yards including 239 on the ground. Josh Adams led all rushers with 106 yards while Tarean Folston, Dexter Williams, and quarterback DeShone Kizer each carried for scores.
Kizer finished 15 of 18 through the air for an economical 165 yards though two of his misses were underthrown. potential touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown led the Irish with 85 receiving yards, the second straight contest in which he was Kizer’s prime, most productive target.
Notre Dame’s 25-second quarter points were the most by the program in the second since Charlie Weis’ first game, a Sept. 3, 2005 win at Pittsburgh.
The Irish converted a combined 8 of 13 third- and fourth-down opportunities over the first three quarters en route to a commanding 39-3 lead.
“They were better than us by a wide margin,” said Nevada head coach Brian Polian, a former assistant under Weis at Notre Dame. “Ultimately the Notre Dame offense is very, very good. In the end, they’re better than us. Had we played really clean, would it have been different? I don’t think so, not knowing what I saw out there.”
Note: Starting cornerback Shaun Crawford was reportedly lost for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon. Crawford missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee.