Storming past the swarm
Marek Mazurek | Monday, September 21, 2015
Though Notre Dame saw a new starting quarterback and its first ranked opponent of the season, Saturday’s 30-22 victory over Georgia Tech was marked by what has been familiar: solid defense, the running game and Will Fuller.
The biggest question mark leading up to the game for the Irish (3-0) was sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer, and in what could prove to be the defining game in the season, Kizer silenced the skeptics, going 21 for 30 for 242 passing yards and one touchdown.
Kizer picked up where he left off against Virginia by opening the scoring with a 46-yard bomb down the right sideline to junior receiver Fuller with 8:20 to go in the first quarter. Kizer credited Fuller for the touchdown, saying he knew his receiver would win the jump ball.
“Will Fuller is one of the best go-route runners in the country,” Kizer said. “Threw it up for him, make it happen. There’s nothing I can say I did amazing about it. I tried to execute and put the ball out there for him, and he came up with it.”
Fuller’s fifth touchdown of the year put Notre Dame up, 7-0, and the Irish were rolling early, holding the Georgia Tech offense to only 35 yards in the first quarter.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the defensive game plan worked well against Georgia Tech in the first half.
“[Special assistant Bob] Elliott did a great job of researching,” Kelly said. “[Defensive coordinator Brian] VanGorder did a great job of coaching, coaching the coaches, then our players did a great job of executing.”
The momentum shifted, however in the second quarter, when Kizer threw an interception in the back of the end zone to nullify a 43-yard drive. Kizer said he misread the coverage on the play.
“[The interception was] obviously a miscommunication between [junior receiver] Corey [Robinson] and I,” Kizer said. “He was expecting a different look, and he was right. Completely my fault. A freshman mistake out there. We talked about it on the sideline and moved forward.”
Kizer’s mistake could have proved costly for the Irish as Georgia Tech scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
But with five minutes to go in the half, Kizer found senior receiver Chris Brown on third-and-10 and then connected again with Fuller for a 37-yard pass on a third-and-7. Senior running back C.J. Prosise capped off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run to put the Irish up 13-7 at halftime.
Kelly said he was impressed with the poise Kizer showed in coming back from the interception.
“What I liked about [Kizer] is he immediately takes ownership,” Kelly said. “He immediately said, ‘I got it,’ and moved on to the next thing. … I love the way he is able to move on and process it and get back to playing the game.”
Entering the third quarter, Notre Dame looked to seize the momentum and did so when graduate student cornerback and captain Matthias Farley, on just his second snap after entering for injured sophomore safety Drue Tranquill, forced a fumble which was recovered by a fellow captain, junior linebacker Jaylon Smith.
The fumble led to a 29-yard field goal by freshman kicker Justin Yoon and from there, the game turned into the C.J. Prosise show.
Prosise put Notre Dame up 23-7 on a one-yard touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth quarter and added to the lead with 6:58 left in the game by breaking away for a 91-yard touchdown run, the longest in Notre Dame Stadium history.
Prosise finished with 198 yards rushing, 131 in the second half, and three touchdowns and credited the team’s success running the ball to his offensive line.
“I felt like I played a pretty good game,” Prosise said. “My O-line was playing great for me, my receivers were blocking well on the perimeter. … I knew when I was getting the runs called for me, I knew I was going to have to make plays. … I knew as an offense, we were going to get the job done.”
Kizer said he was impressed with Prosise’s performance as well and praised his natural running ability.
“I mean, when it comes to C.J. [Prosise] almost by himself the amount of yards that Georgia Tech, triple-option team, has all together, it’s unreal,” Kizer said. “He’s a baller. He’s fast. He’s strong. He does everything that we needed.”
Though there were big stat lines for the Irish, it was far from a perfect game. In addition to Kizer’s first-half interception, a missed extra-point and six offensive penalties, the Yellow Jackets scored two touchdowns in the span of 26 seconds at the end of the game to make the final score 30-22.
Farley said the team needs to maintain its defensive focus for the whole game in order to prevent future breakdowns.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until it’s a full 60 [minutes],” Farley said. “Especially the defense, we gotta finish games stronger.”
Despite Georgia Tech’s late-game antics, the Irish emerged victorious against a top-15 opponent in a game few said they could win. Kelly said he was proud of the way his team played in the midst of adversity.
“It was a program win today,” Kelly said. “Having to overcome injuries, playing a very good football team in Georgia Tech this early after two very difficult teams. [I was] really pleased with the way our kids executed in all areas today.”
For the Irish, now 3-0, the win keeps their playoff hopes alive as they head into a home game against Massachusetts on Sept. 26, before traveling to Death Valley to face Clemson on Oct. 3.