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Irish offense stalls in second half vs. Virginia Tech

| Monday, November 21, 2016

Malik Zaire entered the game with seconds left on the clock, just as the Irish crossed into Virginia Tech territory, and completed a pass to sophomore wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to pick up a first down as time expired, sealing Notre Dame’s 34-31 loss to the Hokies (8-3).

But let’s rewind to the end of the first half.

The Irish had a 24-14 lead, and had led by as much as 17. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer had completed 13 of 18 passing attempts and tallied 199 passing yards. Notre Dame had scored on four of its six drives, dominating the Hokies offensively.

As the final score exhibits, the second half could not have been more different for the Irish offense, which Irish head coach Brian Kelly noted in his post-game press conference.

“You know, [it was] really a tale of two halves,” Kelly said. “ … Obviously offensively, we got it going very well in the first half; in the second half we weren’t as sharp.”

Compared to his stellar first half, Kizer went just 3-for-15 as the Irish struggled to hold on to catchable balls. Notre Dame went three-and-out four times in the closing half, failing to build any sort of momentum or move the ball against the Virginia Tech defense. The Irish scored once and punted five times, picking up just seven first downs in the half.

Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer drops back in the pocket during Saturday's 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. Kizer threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the contest.Rosie LoVoi | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer drops back in the pocket during Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. Kizer threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the contest.

While Kelly could not pinpoint what stifled the offense in the second half, he felt that simple mistakes got the best of his team.

“We had some balls that were catchable that we didn’t catch,” Kelly said. “You know, I just don’t think we executed quite as well offensively. … I thought we weren’t as sharp in the second half as we were in the first half. … We had some opportunities that we missed in terms of throws. We had some catches that we didn’t make. I don’t know that there is one thing. … I think there are a lot of different things.

“Maybe a couple protection issues. Couple routes that weren’t run properly. I think maybe [a] couple things that we could have done better in terms of play calls. A little bit of everything. I don’t think there was one specific thing I can put my finger on.”

The lone bright spot of the half for the Irish offense came when sophomore running back Josh Adams dodged one defender to find he had nothing but open turf in front of him, midway through the third quarter. His 67-yard touchdown run put the Irish up 31-21 and marked the final time the Notre Dame seniors would witness their team score at home.

Adams considered mental lapses and small mistakes in execution to be contributing factors in the offense’s inability to put points on the board as the Hokies began to claw back at Notre Dame’s lead.

“I just think that, you know, the little things is what got us caught up … the little things here and there and it just kind of stalled our drives a little bit,” Adams said. “We had great plays and then we would come back and make a mental error here or there. … But the key is staying on the field and moving the ball down the field and getting points out of the drive. … I just think we need to stay on the field. And obviously that didn’t happen.”

Notre Dame senior captain and offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey felt that the offense’s stalling in the second half can be attributed in part to the improvement of the Hokies’ defense after the half.

“I think [Virginia Tech improved] and I think we didn’t play as well as we did [in the first half],” McGlinchey said. “It’s a combination of both … Virginia Tech made some adjustments in the second half and certainly did a great job of playing football both offensively and defensively. And that’s the way football goes, the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins and Virginia Tech did that today. … They were doing a lot of movement right prior to the snap that was kind of throwing us off a little bit and we had to adjust to that. They just brought a little more pressure and they just were on their assignments more than we were.”

Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech marks the fourth time this season the Irish have blown a double-digit lead. While Adams could not attribute the tendency to let opponents back into the game to anything in particular, he felt that the offense has made progress over the course of the season.

“I mean that’s, that’s college football,” Adams said. “Anything can happen at any given moment but, as an offense, I feel like we’ve grown throughout the season. Limited the mistakes we were making earlier in the year. But we also have more stuff that we need to work on and, whatever that was, it showed out there on the field.”

As the clock ticked down, the Irish had one final drive to win it all, as has been the trend this season. The Irish got the ball back on their own 10-yard line with just over a minute to play. Kizer marched down the field, picking up the fourth, fifth and sixth second-half Irish first downs.

Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire catches the snap in the final seconds of Notre Dame's 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. Rosie LoVoi
Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire catches the snap in the final seconds of Notre Dame’s 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday.

And then, his charge ended. With just seconds left, Kizer was forced out of the game with a potential head injury, although he later cleared concussion protocol. Zaire, a senior, entered the game under center with time for one play and the line of scrimmage just beyond midfield. Zaire picked up the first down, but the game came to an end, as the Irish once again failed to produce on a second-half drive.

While the Irish have had chances to pull out wins as the clock ran down throughout the season, they have failed to do so, with the exception of their 30-27 win over Miami on Oct. 29. Despite their last second struggles, McGlinchey said he had full confidence that the Irish were capable of scoring on their final drive.

“Doubt has never creeped in,” McGlinchey said. “It’s just a matter of different things that have hit us and lack of execution of certain points that [we] have shot ourselves in the foot this season. It’s been the story each time we lose. It’s tough to swallow because it’s always something different, it’s never been the same thing that really bites us in the butt. No, there’s never a doubt in our minds that we can do it and we know we can do it. It’s just a matter of actually getting it done.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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