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Irish offense lights up in season opener

| Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tradition reverberates around Notre Dame Stadium. And in the first game played on an artificial surface in the stadium’s history, senior quarterback Everett Golson wrote his own chapter of history in No. 17 Notre Dame’s 48-17 win over Rice on Saturday.

Golson threw for two touchdowns and rushed for three, becoming the third quarterback in program history to achieve the latter in a single game, joining Paul Hornung (1956 vs. USC) and Jarious Jackson (1998 vs. Stanford).

After Notre Dame (1-0) and Rice (0-1) combined for four consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, Golson put the Irish on the board first as he scrambled in from 11 yards out with nearly nine minutes gone.

“It’s kind of one of those things for me — cool, everything breaks down, you’ve got to go,” Golson said. “You’ve got to make something happen today with the coverages they were playing.”

The drive started in Rice territory after graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs notched a 25-yard punt return — longer than any the Irish had in the previous season. Notre Dame gained the game’s first first down when Golson found senior tight end Ben Koyack for a 14-yard gain before capping the drive with the touchdown run.

Rice (0-1), however, had a quick answer for Notre Dame as it marched down the field and leveled the score less than four minutes later. Redshirt junior quarterback Driphus Jackson strung together a 30-yard completion to junior receiver Dennis Parks and 13- and 26-yard completions to redshirt sophomore receiver Zach Wright — to even things up at seven.

“I thought Driphus did some really good things today,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said.

But while Rice had a quick response to Notre Dame’s first score, the Irish were even faster than the Owls in tying the game up. On the first play following a touchback on the kickoff, Golson slung the ball deep to sophomore receiver Will Fuller, who broke a tackle at the 15-yard line and put the Irish back up 14-7.

“It was a post that I ran, and I realized that I had the guy beat probably at the break point,” Fuller said. “I made him slip his hips, and I thought I had him beat after that.”

The Irish threatened to put points on the board on their next drive as back-to-back big plays from senior running back Cam McDaniel and sophomore receiver Corey Robinson got them near the Rice red zone. Ultimately, however, Notre Dame failed to put points on the board when senior kicker Kyle Brindza missed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide left.

After the Notre Dame defense forced another three-and-out — the fourth in Rice’s five series—the Irish left points on the board again when C.J. Prosise dropped a would-be, 55-yard touchdown pass on third down.

A field goal for Rice cut its deficit to 14-10, with the Irish holding the Owls to a field goal thanks to key stops from sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith and senior linebacker Joe Schmidt.

“I just really thought that we were going to be able to hold up really well [defensively,]” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Joe Schmidt with Jaylon was outstanding.”

In the next six minutes, the Irish put some distance between themselves and Rice before halftime. Golson hit senior receiver Amir Carlisle for a 32-yard gain before recording his second rushing touchdown of the day, this time from 14 yards out, to put the Irish up, 21-10, with 2:33 remaining in the half.

Rice pushed the ball to midfield on the ensuing possession, but with 21 seconds to play, Notre Dame senior cornerback Matthias Farley intercepted Jackson near the Irish sideline and gave his team the opportunity to add another score before halftime.

The first play of the drive came close for the Irish — Fuller dropped a pass in the red zone — but Prosise would have an opportunity to atone for his earlier drop when Golson found him wide open in the endzone for a 53-yard touchdown pass.

“Not everybody gets a second chance,” Prosise said. “But I got lucky and got a second chance and made the play.”

The Irish opened the second half with a methodical drive, eating up nearly six minutes en route to a 36-yard Brindza field goal to increase their advantage, 31-10.

After a failed fake-punt attempt from Rice gave the ball back to Notre Dame, the Irish used that field position well and bumped the lead up to four scores with 17 seconds to play in the third quarter when Golson picked up his fifth touchdown of the day, this one on the ground. Golson faked the handoff to nobody after sophomore running back Greg Bryant cut the other way before running it in to put the Irish up 38-10.

Golson finished the day 14-of-22 for 295 yards through the air in addition to 41 yards gained on the ground.

“Pretty confident,” Golson said he felt Saturday. “I was thinking to myself earlier, it felt completely different than 2012.”

Sophomore running back Tarean Folston gained more than 40 of his 71 rushing yards on the next Notre Dame drive to set up a field goal that made the score 41-10.

Rice finally stopped Notre Dame’s run of 27 unanswered points on its next drive with a touchdown that cut the deficit to 41-17.

With the game all but settled, sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire entered the game for the Irish and immediately broke away for a 56-yard rush on his first collegiate snap. Two plays later, Bryant ran in a touchdown from 17 yards out for the final score of the game to bring it to 48-17. Bryant was Notre Dame’s co-leading rusher along with Folston, gaining 71 yards on eight carries.

Despite the absence of captain and graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth due to an MCL injury, the Notre Dame defensive unit held Rice to just three scoring drives.

“I love Austin. I love playing with him,” Schmidt said. “But at the same time, I think [junior safety] Elijah Shumate came in, and he had a lot of awesome calls, a lot of awesome plays, so I think he did really well.”

In the post-game press conference, Kelly said Collinsworth likely will miss the Michigan game but could return for Purdue or Syracuse.

The Irish are back in action next Saturday when they host Michigan with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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