Commentary: The bright side of Notre Dame's season-opening loss at Texas

Commentary

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Welcome to The Bright Side.

I don’t see many Notre Dame fans here. A lot of them stormed by in an angry mob a couple minutes ago, torches and pitchforks in hand, chanting something about replacing Brian VanGorder. I think I saw the once hefty Irish bandwagon turned over on the side of US 31.

But you’re here, and that’s what matters.

Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer is also on The Bright Side. In fact, he might as well be the town mayor. In Notre Dame’s 50-47 overtime loss at Texas on Sunday night, Kizer passed for five touchdowns and ran for 77 yards and another score without committing a turnover. He did it without playing the entire game. He did it in a hostile road environment, with unproven playmakers surrounding him.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback did it all, and he’s going to continue to do it — if Brian Kelly lets him.

Notre Dame’s running backs are on the bright side. Senior Tarean Folston, who ripped off a career-long 54-yard run in his first game back from a torn ACL; and sophomore Josh Adams, who contorted his body to pull in a 17-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter on Sunday night.

Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders are here, young as they may be. A sophomore making his first career start, the 6-5, 205-pound St. Brown hauled in two touchdown catches on Sunday, including an improvised cartwheel into the end zone that you had to see to believe (and even then, you didn’t really believe it).

Sanders zigged and zagged through colossal crowds, bouncing off tackles like a pinball in a bonus round. The 5-8, 185-pound sophomore tacked on a touchdown on a screen pass in overtime. He added 126 nifty return yards, spinning and swiveling his way out of virtual anonymity and onto a starting spot on The Bright Side.

Shaun Crawford RSVP’d to The Bright Side a year ago, but he finally showed up on Sunday. After having his freshman season wiped away with a torn ACL, the 5-9, 185-pound do-everything defensive back exploded onto the scene in Austin. He intercepted a Shane Buechele pass in the third quarter and returned it 22 yards into the Texas red zone. He scooped up a blocked extra point attempt and bolted into the opposite end zone, too.

He made plays. The same can’t be said for many of his defensive teammates.

But, at least for a week, those other guys aren’t welcome here. VanGorder can take his underachieving X’s and O’s somewhere else. The not-so-vaunted Irish pass rush would be turned away at the door.

The bright side is reserved for guys like middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, who led the Irish with 13 tackles in his first start since his freshman season. A seat is being saved for senior defensive end Isaac Rochell, who piled up nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

The Nevada Wolf Pack can come, too. Brian Polian’s team narrowly escaped with a 30-27 overtime victory over FCS Cal Poly last weekend. They were underwhelming.

Now, they’re next.

On Saturday, Notre Dame hopes to instill some much-needed confidence in its alarmingly youthful defense. It will try to solidify its head-scratching quarterback situation, too. It will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak, score its first win of the season and decisively right the ship, all in one sweeping swoop.

If it can do those things, The Bright Side will start to add a few more residents.

But for now, stretch out. Kick off your shoes. Invite your friends.

After all, there’s plenty of room.

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) runs in a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN