Notebook: Many happy returns for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —Jarrett Grace’s first taste of football in a season and a half was an unceremonious run down the field on kickoff coverage …

Only to have redshirt freshman Tyler Newsome hook the kickoff out of bounds.

Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, a 2013 starter who missed the 2014 season for different reasons, also was more peripheral initially than central early in the 11th ever meeting between 11th-ranked Notre Dame and Texas, simply because the visiting Longhorns largely kept their offense on the ground until late in the first half Saturday night.

In both instances, just their presence was a thing of beauty for Irish sixth-year head coach Brian Kelly, who at different times wasn’t sure he’d see either player back in a Notre Dame uniform again.

Grace, a middle linebacker and grad student, shattered his right leg in four places in a start against Arizona State in October of 2013. Russell, a senior, was taken out by the school’s academic dishonesty investigation last fall and a subsequent suspension that followed.

“I think I was less optimistic about Jarrett Grace because of the severity of the injury,” Kelly said earlier this week. “I knew KeiVarae was going to play again — whether it was here or somewhere else. I knew I was going to see him play again.

“I just didn’t know if Jarrett was ever going to play football again. Probably have been in his hospital room more than any one player that I’ve coached.”

Grace had plenty of setbacks during his recovery, which finally picked up momentum last December before a breakthrough spring.

“I can say that firsthand there were doubts in my mind,” Kelly sad. “After leaving him with no doubt that he would play (during the visits), I doubted myself that he would ever play again.”

Personnel matters

• Notre Dame junior running back Tarean Folston left the game in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury and did not return.

Folston had three carries 19 yards before walking gingerly to the locker room after the Irish scored to go ahead 7-0 at the 6:29 mark.

Freshman Josh Adams took his place in the running back rotation and scored his first collegiate touchdown on the next drive, on his first collegiate carry. It covered 14 yards.

• Four Irish players made their first career starts — junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., sophomore offensive guard Quenton Nelson, junior tight end Durham Smythe and sophomore nose guard Daniel Cage.

Another Holtz in the house

Louis Leo Holtz III, better known as Trey Holtz, made his Notre Dame Stadium debut Saturday night.

Born in South Bend, the grandson of ND coaching icon Lou Holtz and son of former Irish player and assistant Skip Holtz is the holder on placekicks for the Longhorns.

Trey Holtz is also a remote option at quarterback for Texas. The redshirt junior played his high school ball in the Tampa area and was a reserve QB as well as holder and rugby-style punter on a Florida state championship team at Plant High School.

Skip was coaching at South Florida when Trey was in high school. He’s now the head coach at Louisiana Tech.

The younger Holtz was busy at the end of the first half, when Texas kicker Nick Rose was attempting a career-long 52-yard field goal with four seconds left and the Longhorns trailing 17-0.

Rose nailed it the first time through, but the officiating crew ruled Notre Dame had called time out before the snap. The same thing happened with the same result on Rose’s second attempt. With ND out of timeouts, Rose got off the third kick unimpeded … and missed.

Future Gazing

Perhaps it’s never too early to don a loud blazer and hope on a plane to watch football. Reps from four postseason bowl games and another, the Cotton Bowl, which hosts one of the two playoff semifinals this postseason, made their way to Notre Dame Stadium to take in the first Irish-Texas matchup in 19 years.

The other bowls with a presence Saturday night were the Sun Bowl, AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl and Florida Citrus Sports — the latter or which runs two bowls, the Citrus Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl.

Future Gazing II

All the early projections of a busy NFL Draft for Notre Dame players next spring got a large measure of confirmation Saturday night.

Scouts from 13 teams attended Saturday night’s game, presumably to watch Notre Dame, given Texas’ lack of draftable talent.

The teams in attendance were the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Bucs and Tennessee Titans.

Squibs

• Notre Dame freshmen who made their collegiate debuts Saturday night against Texas included running back Josh Adams, cornerback Nick Coleman, linebacker Te’von Coney, tight end Alizé Jones, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, punt returner C.J. Sanders, defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and placekicker Justin Yoon.

• Notre Dame came into the game with a 28-5-1 mark all-time against the current members of the Big 12 Conference. The .838 winning percentage is ND’s best against any Power 5 conference.

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

Notre Dame’s Jarrett Grace (59) runs with the kickoff team during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)