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UMass Review: Notre Dame Freshmen Pace Explosive Offense

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The first half wasn't pretty but the Irish woke up and brought out the offensive fireworks on Saturday.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With 6:44 left in the 2nd quarter Notre Dame was in the full throes of a shockingly poor 21-20 lead against the Minutemen. Then, over a period of 24 minutes and 47 seconds the Irish ripped off 41 unanswered points on their way to an easy cover over UMass.

Play-Call of the Game: Kizer 7-Yard Touchdown Run

There was a time in the first half when it looked like the Irish were going to coast to an easy win with UMass being left in the dust. With 19 seconds left in the 1st quarter Notre Dame took a 14-0 lead on a nifty little red zone play ending on a DeShone Kizer scamper.

Kizer Run UMass

I like this, I like it a lot. We faked the sweep to Prosise (UMass bit hard on that, look at 2 defenders 4 yards deep into the backfield) and brought the tight end back across the line to act as a lead blocker--even if the lead blocker wasn't needed. That's a great play-call that takes advantage of Prosise's ability to scare defenses on the edge and use Kizer's size/quickness to his advantage when you're only looking for 5 to 6 yards.

Although, to be fair the Irish tried to run this play later in the game in the red zone and UMass shut it down real quick.

Armchair Quarterback

Another very solid game for Kizer, although like last week I was surprised to see him with a stat line of 15 of 22 for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. I suppose when a quarterback bounces a few passes into the turf you're a little shocked when he completes 68% of his passes on a day when he didn't throw the ball all that much. Out of those 7 incompletions many of them were quite poor throws and lacking in sufficient accuracy.

This game didn't change my opinion on Kizer either way, though. We saw a lot of good things that were evident in his debut with good pocket presence, control of the offense, and good decision making. The footwork issues and relying on his not super strong arm to make across-the-field throws are a concern but something that is correctable. I put the interception more on Fuller for not extending his arms and making the catch with his hands.

I'm curious to see where the ceiling is for Kizer and if we'll know by the end of the year just how good he can be. The funny thing is that he's (hopefully) going to head into the off-season with a huge lead on the other guys in terms of experience. How much will that play a part in the impending spring battle?

The redshirt finally came off Brandon Wimbush as he displayed his outrageous skill-set. On a near complete pass to Fuller I thought he threw the ball out of the stadium at first. It's not hyperbole to say that was perhaps the hardest ball I've ever seen thrown inside Notre Dame Stadium.

Wimbush Bomb

Wimbush would have about 100 extra yards passing had Fuller tracked down the above pass and the St. Brown touchdown wasn't called back on illegal man downfield. As it was he didn't do much outside of those deep passes (3 of 5 for 17 yards) but he showed off his athleticism with a 58-yard touchdown run and 92 rushing yards on just 4 carries. He's smaller (kind of funny to go from Kizer to Wimbush in this department) yet his tools are ridiculous for his age. I'm excited to see more.

Turning Point: Prosise 16-Yard Touchdown Run

This was a weird game that went from looking like a huge blowout early, to an embarrassingly close game by the middle of the 2nd quarter, to moving to a complete blowout shortly into the second half.

It wasn't a great first half overall but less than 3 minutes into the third quarter Prosise did Prosise things and scored his second touchdown of the game to put the Irish up by 22 points. At that point, UMass stood no chance of coming back to win.

Surprising Stat: 2 Tackles for Loss by UMass

Okay, maybe not that surprising. Notre Dame gave up a sack and UMass got some penetration early then the offensive line cleaned things up from that point forward. Only giving up 1 TFL on 51 rushing attempts is a good old fashioned butt whoopin' up front by Notre Dame.

Unheralded Star: Amir Carlisle

Fun fact: Carlisle led the team in receptions (5) and finished with 65 total yards on the afternoon. In total, this was probably Carlisle's most well-rounded game of his career and we're still nowhere near Torii Hunter (1 reception on the day) taking the starting slot position for good.

I also thought this was the best game of James Onwualu's career, too. At least it was full of the most impact with 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 pass break-up.

Missed Opportunity: Stopping UMass' 4th Drive

The Minutemen gained 63 yards on their first 3 drives and couldn't do much as they punted on each possession. With only a few seconds left in the 1st quarter Notre Dame led 14-0 and while UMass faced a 1st & 15 from their own 17-yard line following a false start.

Then Marquis Young shockingly rumbled for 83 yards to cut the Irish lead in half. Before that this felt like the moment when Notre Dame was going to put the clamps down on UMass yet the Minutemen would go on to score touchdowns on their next 3 possessions.

Flag of the Game: Nyles Morgan 15-yard Facemask

This was during UMass' last full possession as the Irish had just gone on a 41-0 tear and the Minutemen hadn't scored in a really long time. It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things but keeping UMass off the board after the first half would have been a nice cherry on top of this sundae.

Instead, after a holding call backed them up to 1st & 20, Nyles Morgan made a nice play to stop UMass on third down but grabbed facemask. This gifted UMass a first down (they had 5 via penalty on the afternoon) and they'd score a garbage time touchdown.

Red Zone TD Success: 100%

Kizer's rushing score, Chris Brown's touchdown catch, Prosise's second touchdown run, and Dexter Williams' first career score all came inside the UMass red zone.

Schemes n Such

I think we're at the point where the offense has become diversified enough that I can't complain all that much. In fact, has this been the best play-calling through 4 games of the Kelly era? With breaking in 2 new quarterbacks and the results so far it's difficult to argue otherwise. Of course, we'll see how things shake out when the Irish start to face some tougher defenses because the top 3 or 4 on the schedule areyet to come.

The Wimbush rushing touchdown was a great example of getting the most out of the spread. Now, I realize Kizer doesn't have the wheels like Wimbush, but still.

They stacked two tight ends behind the right tackle, with two receivers to the field side, and Josh Adams at receiver in the boundary. Adams comes across on the jet sweep, the right side of the line blocks down, the left guard pulls, one tight end blocks down while the other cleans up the edge rusher, and Wimbush keeps the ball with room like this to run:

Wimbush TD

Like I said, it won't be this easy against the likes of Clemson, or BC, or USC. But it's fun to see anyway.

Trench Analysis

Is there anything to complain about with 457 rushing yards, 9.0 per rush (would have been 9.54 without the 20 yards lost on a bad snap but whatever), 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss given up? I don't think so, plus the backups all got work in and more or less dominated. I guess we can thank the first unit for demoralizing the UMass defense first.

The defensive line played okay, I thought. Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochell combined for 2 TFL, 1 sack, and 5 quarterback hurries and are clearly in the zone this season. The rest of the line wasn't overwhelming, although Daniel Cage absolutely stuck a ball carrier in the breastplate on one snap.

The weak-side defensive end play continues to be a black hole. Through 4 games Okwara and Trumbetti have combined for 1.5 tackles for loss. This Saturday was a very VanGorder-esque defensive performance as 6 out of the 9 tackles for loss came from players not on the defensive line.

Freshmen Update

We already mentioned that quarterback Brandon Wimbush had his redshirt removed. In addition, LB Te'von Coney, WR C.J. Sanders, K Justin Yoon, CB Nick Coleman, S Nicco Fertitta, RB Josh Adams, RB Dexter Williams, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, and DT Jerry Tillery saw action.

Fun day for the freshmen as Wimbush, Sanders, Adams, and Williams all scored touchdowns. St. Brown also hauled in his first career reception, as well.

Final Thoughts

  • You know we've always been saying that punt return yardage is so scarce in today's game that one big run can shoot you up the national rankings? Well, following C.J. Sanders' 50-yard score the Irish are now 24th nationally in punt return yardage.
  • Upon review, this defensive performance wasn't nearly as poor as the stats suggest. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at a few things.
  • UMass pretty much had a hot-streak of 3 series in a row beginning at the end of the 1st quarter and then 2 good garbage time series in the 4th quarter. They had 203 yards on 13 plays in the first set and 139 yards on 21 plays in the garbage time series.
  • That first set in non-garbage time is terrible to look at (15.6 yards per play!!!) however it was the exact opposite of consistent and sustained chain-moving drives. In simple terms it basically amounted to one insanely long run, a nice 10-play drive following Kizer's interception, then a trick-play + back-to-back pass interference calls that brought UMass down to the Notre Dame goal line. Even taking away the long run and trick play dropped UMass' yards-per-play on these 3 drives to 6.4, still not great but we're only talking about 10 plays here plus...
  • UMass averaged 2.5 yards-per-play on their other 43 plays from scrimmage. The Irish gave up that 83-yard touchdown run in an instance of being caught sleeping and then 62 rushing yards on 4 other carries--one of which was a classic underdog draw play on 3rd and forever (didn't pick up the first), and a 17-yarder in garbage time. On the other 24 UMass carries they gained, wait for it...just 3 rushing yards.
  • That was really about as "no big deal" of 450 yards as you'll find. That's not a knock on UMass but it was a few big plays, some trickeration, plus some timely penalties that made most of their hay.
  • If there's cause for concern it's that there's still a huge deficit in the relationship between sacks, turnovers created, and play in the secondary for the Irish defense. Averaging 2 sacks and only 1 turnover per game isn't a good trend at all and it's safe to say that the Notre Dame secondary has underwhelmed to a large degree this season. They'll need to play much better this weekend at Clemson.