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Despite 8 absences, Irish shut out South Florida for 20th-straight home win

| Monday, September 21, 2020

A familiar sight returned to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon as quarterback Ian Book looked long, tucked it under, sprinted wide and pranced his way into the edge of the end zone, recording his first touchdown on the ground of the season. The score, which concluded the opening Irish drive, took just seven plays and less than three minutes — and it set the tone for the day early.

“Really proud of our football team and the way they responded this week in terms of getting off to a quick start,” head coach Brian Kelly said postgame. “That was our point of emphasis, and doing so really put South Florida on their heels, scoring four out of the first five possessions. Defensively, taking away the run — any time you shut anybody out in college football, it’s something to really be excited about.”

The shutout happened in spite of the eight absences the Irish had in the lineup today: Junior cornerback TaRiq Bracy, sophomore quarterback Brendon Clark, sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton, sophomore and junior linebackers Marist Liufau and Shayne Simon, junior receiver Lawrence Keys III, junior defensive end Ovie Oghoufo and junior running back Jahmir Smith. But Kelly said his team reacted to the absences — many of them notable — admirably.

“I think our players responded well,” Kelly said. “Our coaches were prepared and they responded well. You hate to see anybody not be available, but it’s the reality that we live in and our guys did a great job. And it’s why we’ve prepared so deep in the ranks in terms of giving guys reps and opportunities to be prepared. I know it’s cliche-ish, but it’s next-man-in mentality that we have built and we trust our guys and they trust us, and we know that their preparation is going to be such that they are going to be ready to play.”

Notre Dame Athletics
Irish senior running back Jafar Armstrong runs with the ball during Notre Dame’s 52-0 win over South Florida Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium.

The first quarter was almost seamless for Notre Dame. After forcing a three-and-out for the Bulls on their first try, the Irish marched down the field a second time, only slightly slower. Behind seven plays yet again, Book and his offense gained 43 yards in 3:24 of game time as freshman running back Chris Tyree barreled across the line for the second Irish score, 14-0.

Things looked more promising for South Florida on the second try as Bulls sophomore running back Johnny Ford split a seam and made a 42-yard gain, but the drive’s potential stopped there. The Bulls tried a fake punt, but it failed miserably and returned the ball to Irish, who used it to go three-for-three, stretching an 11-play drive into the beginning of the second quarter. Book took matters into his own hands to end the drive again, diving across the line to make it 21-0.

South Florida had another three-and-out and Notre Dame another score on the next two possessions. This time it was junior running back C’Bo Flemister on the job, his 26-yard gain for a touchdown the longest carry of his career. His touchdown capped the most efficient drive of the afternoon until that point, which took just 1:57 and five plays to cover 53 yards.

On their fourth drive, the Bulls tried graduate student Noah Johnson at quarterback instead, but he had just as much trouble as the man he replaced, sophomore Jordan McCloud. USF recorded its third three-and-out, but Notre Dame couldn’t capitalize, as the next drive was the first scoreless one. After eight plays for 46 yards, Kyren Williams couldn’t push through on third down, sending out senior kicker Jonathan Doerer for a 38-yard field goal which he missed wide left.

Fortunately for the Irish the Bulls followed on trend, returning the ball to Notre Dame on yet another three-and-out. The snap was too high for USF punter Trent Schneider, who barely got a chip off as he was going down. That gave the ball back to Notre Dame on the 25-yard line. In less than a minute, Book pushed across the line again. With it, he made himself the first quarterback in Notre Dame history to record three rushing touchdowns in a single half.

“Ian was better today. I thought he managed our offense very well. … He got us off to a good start with some good completions down the field,” Kelly said. “I thought he led our team to the kind of fast start that we wanted. He was really tuned in. I thought he had a great week of practice. Really liked his demeanor. Really worked on his pocket presence. I liked his calmness in the pocket. It was a really good progression from where he was last week.”

In the first half, Notre Dame scored on five of six drives. All five of those scores were touchdowns. USF recorded just one first down.

The Bulls came out of the locker room with a little more gusto, collecting four first downs for 54 yards on their first drive. The effort still ended without points, and a fourth down gamble resulted in a turnover on downs. Despite good field positioning, the Irish couldn’t get seven, but where Book couldn’t convert Doerer could, netting a 22-yarder to make it 38-0.

The woes continued for USF on the next drive with another stray punt snap, which led to a late punt, which was blocked by sophomore linebacker Osita Ekwonu. The muff was scooped up by freshman defensive end Jordan Botelho, who rolled into the end zone for a special teams touchdown, his first career score. USF answered back with another three-and-out. On the following Irish drive, Book was replaced by freshman signal caller Drew Pyne, whose first career series ended in Notre Dame’s first punt of the day. Kelly said Pyne’s role was critical for giving Book rest.

“Drew is out there to eat clock,” Kelly said. “We gave him a couple of tough looks in the passing game where he didn’t have much of a look there in terms of being able to throw it, but we really like Drew, and he’ll be fine. He’s smart. He works hard in all of the meetings, and he’s always well prepared.”

The next drive was the Bulls’ most productive, highlighted by a Noah Johnson completion to junior receiver Latrell Williams for 36 yards and a Ford jet sweep for a 22-yard gain. Regardless, USF had nothing to show for it as they ended the drive scoreless yet again on a loss of downs.

Meaningless drives were traded yet again as the Irish punted and the Bulls had their fourth turnover on downs of the day.

Notre Dame didn’t take its foot off the gas in the next series. At fourth and goal, the Irish went for it anyway, and senior running back Jafar Armstrong ran it in to make it 52-0, the final score of the ballgame.

Book ended the day with a 63% completion rate, collecting 152 yards of offense. His performance boosted him past current offensive coordinator Tommy Rees for third place in Notre Dame history in terms of career offensive yards. The fifth-year quarterback now trails just Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen in the metric.

Four different ball carriers found the end zone and the Irish recorded 429 yards of total offense on the day, 148 in the air and 281 on the ground. Notre Dame converted on both of their fourth down attempts, averaged 6.5 yards per play and converted on six of seven red zone opportunities. The Irish had 21 first down to USF’s 11.

“When I took over the program, the program was not winning,” Kelly said. “It is now a winning program. We just talked about 20 consecutive wins at home.”

Next week, Notre Dame will travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. Kickoff is set for noon.

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