Notre Dame journey starts strong with Texas rout

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Lose a running back. Gain some confidence.

It’s a big part of Notre Dame’s football journey that started in a positive direction Saturday night.

Notre Dame’s 38-3 demolition of Texas could have been a lot worse. Notre Dame left plenty of points on the field, but still cashed in often enough to prove worthy of its No. 11 ranking, even against an inferior opponent.

How’d a brand-name program like Texas get so bad?

Oops, sorry. Forgot about that magical year of 2007 in South Bend. Never mind.

Tarean Folston’s ownership of the running back position seems to have lasted all of three carries. After that third tote, in Notre Dame’s second offensive possession, Folston left with what appeared to be a significant knee injury.

It’s called adversity. Every team encounters it, but most wait a game or two before it really kicks in – not 8 minutes into the season.

Anybody else wonder what Greg Bryant is thinking right about now?

Re-tooling the running back position with a couple guys – C.J. Prosise (a receiver last season) and Josh Adams (a true freshman) – who weren’t even afterthoughts at the positon this time last year, will keep position coach Autry Denson from sleeping soundly for a while.

The victory over the Longhorns validated the notion that the Irish are prime-time worthy.

The best thing Irish fans saw out of quarterback Malik Zaire was that he valued ball security. After watching Everett Golson butterfinger his way through the 2014 season, it was welcome relief to see a guy get hit and hold onto the ball. He recognized a tight fit on a pass and often erred on the side of caution.

… Probably, with coach Brian Kelly’s words in his ears: “You don’t have to be the reason we win the game, just don’t be the reason we lost the game.”

Zaire’s best play of the day – a 66-yard TD pass to Will Fuller in the third quarter – was a product of Texas’ ineptness. Longhorn defenders weren’t within 10 yards of Fuller about 40 yards downfield when Zaire located him and hit him in stride.

But, the key element was that Zaire found Fuller and connected.

Whether it was a case of Texas’ offensive line – with true freshmen starting at right guard and left tackle – being completely overmatched, or that Notre Dame’s defensive line has made big-time progress under new coach Keith Gilmore, the Irish were dominant.

Three sacks by halftime. A swarming presence that continually hounded Longhorn quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, the Irish defensive line – even without injured Jarron Jones and academically exiled Ishaq Williams – appears to be a force to reckon with this season.

Then, there were the intangibles.

Many, many – in fact, waaaayyyyy too many – Notre Dame fans had their cake and ate it, too.

Not only did even the big-money folks with the high-priced seats in Notre Dame Stadium get to see their Irish barrel past Texas, but they got to watch it from their living room or a local pub.

Several fistfuls of dollars must have changed hands for all those fans wearing burnt orange to infiltrate where green, or even blue and gold, should have been.

Bevo seemed to be the only Longhorn that didn’t get in.

Bet he thanked the Notre Dame folks who didn’t make him graze through that disaster. The eyes of Texas turned away shortly after halftime.

Kelly said, especially during pre-game, he was irked at the color scheme.

Reminiscent of how it was in the ‘90s when Nebraska visited South Bend, it appeared — to the untrained eye — to be a 50-50 split, in terms of the fan base.

After that embarrassing sea of red, Notre Dame officials brought down the hammer on those folks who let loose with their precious tickets when the bucks were flashed. It might be time to serve notice again.

The stadium looked like a South Bend forest in October, a bunch of burnt orange leaves among some green ones.

So much for making Notre Dame Stadium an imposing place to play. Heck, these cowpokes didn’t know what to do when “Crazy Train” got amped up.

Of course, ultimately, the joke was on them.

All that money to watch that debacle?

Guess Irish fans had the last laugh — even if their loyalty can be questioned a bit.

Notre Dame's Will Fuller (7) celebrates as he enters the end zone for a Fighting Irish touchdown during the first half of the Notre Dame Texas game Saturday, September 5, 2015 in South Bend. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)