Notre Dame pulls away from Nevada after strong second quarter
Elizabeth Greason | Saturday, September 10, 2016
After a sloppy first quarter, No. 18 Notre Dame turned the tide Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, taking down Nevada in its home opener, 39-10, after a short week of preparation.
In that first quarter, Notre Dame picked up five penalties costing the team 50 yards, failing to gather momentum offensively; the Irish punted the ball twice in a scoreless quarter.
The Irish looked stronger right off the bat in the second quarter, though, finishing off a 75-yard drive that began with in the second quarter with a sophomore kicker Justin Yoon field goal from 21 yards out, putting the first points on the board for a 3-0 lead. The field goal came after the Irish, led by junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, failed to convert first-and-goal for a touchdown.
With senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. out with a concussion, sophomore C.J. Sanders made his first career start, doing so alongside fellow sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown. Sanders caught the first touchdown pass of the game, a 7-yard connection from Kizer, who was scrambling on the play. Yoon missed the point after, giving the Irish a 9-0 lead.
Notre Dame’s next points came in an unconventional manner, as Nevada sophomore receiver Ahki Muhammad received Yoon’s kickoff at the front of the end zone. There was a clear miscommunication between Muhammad and the sideline, and Muhammad stepped out of the end zone, as if to return the kick, and then back in, taking a knee. This resulted in a safety for the Irish, giving them an 11-0 lead.
Freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson made an impact Saturday, making his first career catch — a touchdown — in the second quarter to extend the lead to 18-0. Stepherson’s touchdown was made possible by a graduate student defensive lineman Jarron Jones interception at the start of Nevada’s drive. The interception gave the Irish fantastic field position, setting them up with a first-and-goal situation. Jones said he was not surprised by his interception.
“I think I have great hands,” Jones said. “These hands aren’t big for nothing. I know I can grab a ball.”
Kizer said despite Notre Dame’s receivers being young, he trusts the corps.
“They played great,” Kizer said. “I had to put an emphasis on trusting those guys in big environments such as their first home game. Kind of got to toss it up, throw them into fire, see what they could do. I have to treat them like the guys they are. They’re elite athletes. Have to get the ball to Equanimeous, let them make plays.”
Senior running back Tarean Folston put his first points of the season on the board to give the Irish their best quarter since September 2005. The game was also Folston’s first at home since Notre Dame’s season opener against Texas last season, when he suffered a season-ending injury. Folston mentioned he was anxious about stepping onto the Notre Dame Stadium turf again, but he fully lived up to his expectations.
“It felt good,” Folston said. “I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of nervous to play on the field again because I had my injury here, but this is football. There’s nothing wrong with the field, it’s just me and my mind. But I’m good on any field and to get that touchdown meant a lot to me.”
The Irish shut out the Wolf Pack in the first half, putting up 25 unanswered points.
Kizer led another successful scoring drive in Notre Dame’s first possession of the second half, leading the team 85 yards in nine plays, including a successful fourth-down conversion. The drive also included a breakaway 43-yard rush from sophomore running back Josh Adams, who dodged defender after defender until he was finally knocked out at the 21-yard line. Adams that this long run was exactly what he expects out of himself and his team.
“In the end, my mindset is to just get as many yards as I can and to make something out of nothing,” Adams said. “And of course, the offensive line was doing an awesome job, as always, of helping me and moving the chains, so that’s what really happened on that play.”
The drive culminated in Kizer rushing two yards for the touchdown, giving the Irish a 32-0 lead.
Kizer’s racked up 35 rushing yards on the game, third to only Adams and fellow sophomore back Dexter Williams.
The shutout bid came to an end as the Wolf Pack were able to march 66 yards into the red zone on the next drive. After losing yardage on second down, Nevada settled for a 27-yard field goal attempt, which senior kicker Brent Zuzo converted for the visitors’ first points of the game.
Notre Dame’s final points of the game were put on the board at the end of the third quarter, as Williams scored his first touchdown of the season. It appeared that Williams scored on a 24-yard run, but after review, the ball was placed half a yard from the goal line. Williams finished the job on the next play, however, diving into the end zone to give the Irish a 39-3 lead.
The Notre Dame running game has put up more than 200 yards in two straight games, and Adams feels this will be a key to Notre Dame’s success going forward.
“When we can go out there and play as a unit, it just does wonders,” Adams said. “It helps us move as an offense and it helps us execute the way we know how. It’s great to have guys that you can put in there and the offense still moves at that high tempo that we need to move up.”
With just over five minutes remaining, sophomore Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi, who saw reps throughout the game, led the Wolf Pack down the field to score their lone touchdown of the game, a freshman running back Jaxson Kincaide score, leading to the 39-10 final.
Sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford tore his Achilles early in the first quarter and will be out for the remainder of the season. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he is looking to sophomore Nick Coleman to step up in Crawford’s absence.
“Coleman goes to corner,” Kelly said. “[Freshman] Julian Love is at the nickel. You saw [freshman] Donte Vaughn out there. … It’s the next man up.
“I thought Nick did some really good things. He was on body. He fell down on that one opportunity they had a big pass completion in the third quarter. But Nick played with much better technique, a lot better confidence. He’s got to be that kind of player for us now with Shaun now lost for the season.”
Kelly was pleased with his team’s performance against the Wolf Pack, but made sure to note that the game was won by his team’s hard work.
“You don’t accidentally win football games,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to win. … Our kids put in the time, they put in the effort. It wasn’t lucky that they won the game today. They prepared to win.”