Notebook: Brian Kelly noticed difference in artificial turf for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins blessed Notre Dame’s new FieldTurf surface by sprinkling holy water on it prior to the team’s football season opener at Notre Dame Stadium.

A few hours later, the heavens opened up with some moisture of its own to test the once semi-controversial artificial surface.

In the end, the biggest buzz created before, during or after Notre Dame’s 48-17 season-opening conquest of Rice about the field itself came during a pregame dedication ceremony.

Former Irish captain and standout running back Jim Morse made the FieldTurf possible with a gift to the university for the installation. A plaque was hung in the stadium tunnel as part of a dedication ceremony.

As for the game itself?

“You could see us make some defensive cuts out there today,” beamed Irish head coach Brian Kelly, a long-time proponent of switching from natural grass. “Especially on punt returns and our special teams game.

“Cody Riggs was able to stick his foot in the ground and get north and south. Greg Bryant was able to do that. I thought that made some significant moves for our guys; the ability to cut. I thought it was, for us a really good surface to play on.

Personnel matters

• Strong safety Austin Collinsworth suffered an MCL ligament injury to his right knee and missed Saturday’s game. The grad student will also miss at least the Michigan game as well next Saturday night.

“We were in a two minute drill on Thursday, and we threw a ball in the end zone and two guys went up for it and he came down awkwardly,” Kelly said. “He played the next play, and it just tightened up on him.

“So those are usually two to four weeks depending on how guys respond. There's a chance we could have him for week three, but again, he had a PRP treatment on the weekend, so we'll see what happens.”

Junior Elijah Shumate started in Collinsworth’s place. It was his fifth career start.

• Ten freshmen made their Notre Dame debuts on Saturday, including seven on defense. Those seven were cornerback Nick Watkins, nose guard Daniel Cage, ends Andrew Trumbetti and Grant Blankenship, linebackers Nyles Morgan and Andrew Trumbetti and linebacker/safety hybrid Drue Tranquill.

“He's a physically strong, conditioned athlete,” Kelly said of Tranquill. “He carries himself not like a freshman.”

The freshmen who saw time on offense were wide receivers Justin Brent and Corey Holmes and tight end Tyler Luatua.

• Conor Hanratty received a surprise start at left guard, overtaking training camp sensation Matt Hegarty.

Notable numbers

• Sophomore Malik Zaire’s first career snap resulted in a 56-yard run, the longest rush by a Notre Dame quarterback since Oct. 8, 2011, when Andrew Hendrix had a 78-yarder against Air Force. Hendrix, incidentally, made his first collegiate start Saturday, for his new school Miami (Ohio).

The Redhawks fell to Marshall, 42-27. Hendrix threw for 318 yards in that game and ran for 46.

• Cody Riggs, a starting safety for Florida in 2013, was making his first start at cornerback since the Jan. 2, 2012 Gator Bowl. It was Urban Meyer’s last game as head coach of the Gators, with Florida beating Meyer’s eventual new employer, Ohio State, 24-17.

• Rice’s 2013 starting quarterback, Taylor McHargue, made the trip, took a pregame photo in front of Touchdown Jesus with his arm around nothing but air and tweeted out the photo: “Me and Manti Te'o's girlfriend! #RiceFight”

• The Irish have outscored the Owls, 195-33 in the five games in the series.

• Kelly is 30-4 at ND when the Irish outrush their opponent, 8-11 when getting outrushed.

• Kelly improved to 22-1 at ND when winning the turnover battle, 125-12 in his career

ehansen@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @ehansenNDI

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Notre Dame's Nov. 8 game at Arizona State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern) and air on ABC. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Notre Dame senior safety Austin Collinsworth is brought into Notre Dame Stadium on a golf cart and seen holding crutches before the Notre Dame vs. Rice football game Saturday. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN