DeShone Kizer threw for a career-high 471 yards, Notre Dame scored 33 points in the first half and the new-look Irish defense rebounded from a rough opening quarter to aid the offense’s efforts in a frenetic 50-33 victory over Syracuse Saturday afternoon.
After giving up 223 first quarter yards, the Irish defense held Syracuse to a combined 199 yards over the bulk of the next two quarters, gaining control as a result en route to a 47-27 lead entering the final quarter.
“It took us a little bit to get acclimated to them and once we did I thought our defense did a nice job,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “I’m proud of the way our kids bounced back from a disappointing loss last week.
“Once they got that sense of receiver spread sets, calls, and checks, they were able to duplicate that play-in and play-out,” he added. “What really was the effective part for us was we were able to stop them from running the football effectively.”
Kizer’s yardage mark was the highest for a Notre Dame quarterback in a victory and the third-highest single-game mark in program history.
“Much better in the second half,” said Kelly of Kizer who hit how now produced 50 touchdowns in what amounts to 16.5 games played. “He tried to do too much (at times). And he has a tendency to want to do too much.
“I told him, ‘Listen, you do enough. What I liked about him in the second half was he dropped the ball down, took the easy completions…I thought the second half showed the kind of things I was looking for him to do.”
The manic contest included a blocked PAT returned for two points, a 93-yard kickoff return score, a 74-yard punt return to lead to another touchdown, a combined three offensive touchdowns by the teams covering 67 yards or more, and 727 yards of total offense…in the first half.
“We made a couple of adjustments at halftime,” said Kelly whose Irish took a 33-27 lead into the break. “I felt pretty good. I just felt like we were going to be fine. I knew they weren’t going to be able to run the football.”
After yielding three touchdowns in the first 16:38 of the contest, Notre Dame’s beleaguered defense responded to limit the Orange to one score over the next 29 minutes and 30 seconds – that on a two-play, 14-yard drive after the aforementioned 74-yard punt return by Brisly Estime.
Slow to react and sloppy early, the Irish defense stopped Syracuse on six consecutive third- and fourth-down opportunities and 9 out-of-10 en route to a commanding 50-27 lead at the 11:14 mark of the fourth quarter.
The team’s combined for 1,043 yards of total offense led by Irish sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown’s 182 yards (on just four catches) with two scores. St. Brown opened the proceedings with a 79-yard catch-and-run for a score from Kizer, then added a 67-yard score just 3:19 later.
Notre Dame’s 654 yards of total offense marks the highest total against a Power Five Conference foe during the Kelly era breaking the old mark of 587 yards posted vs. Miami in Oct. 2012.
The sophomore running back tandem of Dexter Williams and Josh Adams combined for 163 yards on 25 carries. The total was aided greatly by a 59-yard touchdown run by Williams during which he changed direction when pinned to the boundary before sprinting across scrimmage and through the vacated left side of Syracuse’s broken defense for a score.
Irish sophomore C.J. Sanders added a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter to provide a 23-13 advantage.
Outstanding otherwise, Notre Dame’s offense scuffled to convert on third and fourth down, finishing a combined 3-for-16 on the afternoon.
Notre Dame advanced to 2-3 with the victory, dropping Syracuse’s record to the same. The Irish travel to Raleigh, North Carolina next week to take on N.C. State.