Five defining plays from Notre Dame's win over Virginia

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

One play clearly stood above the rest, but a number of plays reflected the outcome of Notre Dame’s 34-27 win at Virginia. Let’s take a look at five defining plays of the game.

1. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer delivers a 39-yard strike to Will Fuller to give the Irish the lead with 12 seconds left in the game.

With the game on the line, Notre Dame’s backup quarterback stood calm to find one of the best receivers in college football for a game-winning touchdown. Kizer, who threw his first career touchdown pass earlier in the game on a fake field goal, looked for Fuller the whole way. With two defenders closing in on Kizer, he saw Fuller beat his man with a double move and streaking for the end zone.

Kizer released the throw from the Virginia 49-yard line — and from the hash marks on the opposite side of the field as his target — and hit Fuller in stride just in front of the goal line. The difficulty of the throw, the poise in the pocket and the magnitude of the moment easily make this the play of the game.

2. Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire suffers a broken right ankle on a three-yard run. He leaves the game with 1:15 left in the third quarter.

The final touchdown decided the game, but Zaire’s season-ending injury could change the course of Notre Dame’s season. Zaire ran the ball up the middle on a routine play, but his right foot got caught underneath a Virginia defender tackling him from behind.

The play forced Kizer into the game and will thrust him into the spotlight for the rest of the season.

3. Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise explodes for a 24-yard touchdown run on the first play following Malik Zaire’s injury to extend the Irish lead to 26-14.

Kizer was able to ease into the game when all he had to do was hand the ball off once in order for Notre Dame to score. Prosise had a clear path to his right thanks to strong blocking from the offensive line. From there, it was a race to the end zone. He hit his stride as he turned the corner and jumped from the three-yard line to avoid a diving defender.

Prosise, who finished with 155 yards on 17 carries, was able to break big runs all night. Seven of his carries went for at least 14 yards in his first start at running back following the season-ending injury to Tarean Folston in the season opener.

4. Virginia quarterback Matt Johns finds wide receiver Ryan Santoro for a 34-yard completion to set up the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Facing third-and-15 at the Notre Dame 35-yard line, the Cavaliers managed to exploit another opening in the Irish secondary. This time Santoro, a walk-on, made his first catch of the game, avoided a hit from safety Max Redfield and rumbled to the one-yard line. On the next play, Virginia running back Albert Reid plunged into the end zone.

Notre Dame’s secondary struggled in the final three quarters. Johns dissected the defense with both good and bad throws that consistently landed in the hands of open teammates. He finished the game 26-of-38 passing (68 percent) for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

5. Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise is stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 at the Virginia 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

The Irish needed to sustain a drive to help hold on to a 26-21 lead following a Virginia touchdown, but the series stalled near midfield. Notre Dame couldn’t manage a yard on the ground when it needed one and was forced to punt. The Irish defense bailed out the offense on the ensuing drive when cornerback KeiVarae Russell forced Johns to fumble on a sack and defensive end Romeo Okwara recovered the loose ball.

Prosise had plenty of long runs, but he struggled behind the Notre Dame offensive line in short-yardage situations. Prosise received the ball four times with the Irish needing one or two yards on third or fourth down. He was stopped short of the first down all four times.

Complete highlights of Notre Dame’s dramatic victory can be found here.

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame's C.J. Prosise (20) beats Virginia's Tim Harris (5) for a Fighting Irish touchdown during second half of Notre Dame's win over Virginia Saturday, September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)