Notre Dame overwhelms UMass with big second half

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — By the time The Wave popped out of a time capsule somewhere and the bottom of the Notre Dame depth chart was finally getting a chance to sweat, it seemed like such a distant, irrelevant memory.

It’s doubtful, though, that ND head football coach Brian Kelly is telling himself that in private.

Heavy underdog UMass’s constant and painful early offensive jabs in what later morphed into a 62-27 mauling by the sixth-ranked Irish Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium were curious if not potentially foreboding.

“I think everybody would say that UMass presents some unique problems,” said Kelly, whose team helped concoct one of the uglier partial scores on the day when a Jamal Wilson one-yard run pulled UMass (0-3) into a manageable 21-20 deficit at the 6:44 mark of the second quarter.

“They do a very good job with their scheme. They put up points against virtually everybody that they play. I think we played better in the second half. We transitioned out of (triple) option last week. Probably a little bit of a slow start, finished strong.

“All in all, a lot of things to work on, but I like the way we finished.”

How they finished was littered with historical footnotes, not to mention a 4-0 mark Notre Dame can pack with it for next Saturday’s showdown at No. 11 Clemson (3-0).

The Irish finished with Kelly Era highs in total yards (681) and rushing yards (457), expunging previous marks of 587 and 376, respectively, both set in a Shamrock Series rout of Miami (Fla.) in Chicago during the 2012 run to the national title game.

The rushing total actually was the best since the Irish grinded out 458 against Purdue in 1992, the total yardage the most since a school-record 720 against Navy in 1969.

The 62 points were the most since 1996 when the Irish hung 62 on Rutgers in Lou Holtz’s final game coaching in Notre Dame Stadium. The last time an ND team produced more was the 69 the 1977 Joe Montana-led Irish uncorked on Georgia Tech on their way to a national title.

There was the first punt return for a touchdown in six seasons, by C.J. Sanders — his a 50-yard weave and sprint that marked the first six of 41 unanswered points by the Irish in response to the 21-20 score.

There was a pair of Irish running backs smashing the 100-yard mark — senior C.J. Prosise (15 carries, 149 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman Josh Adams (13-131, 1 TD). It was the third game in a row Prosise, the nation’s sixth-leading rusher, hit triple digits in rushing.

That’s something that hadn’t been accomplished since 2005, when Darius Walker did so.

Prosise hit the 100-mark at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter, helping the Irish blow past the 200-yard rushing mark for the fourth straight game, something no ND team had accomplished since 1989.

Backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush nearly joined the 100-yard club, with 92 yards on four carries that included a 58-yard scoring run.

“Their varsity was better than our varsity and their JV was a little better than our JV,” UMass coach Mark Whipple offered. “Brian (Kelly) did a really good job. They got their guys ready and we kind of put a little shock into them and woke them up I guess at the end of the second quarter.

“We just couldn't handle their offensive line. Their offensive line just manhandled us. … They're better than we are. We'll take the money and run.”

Even punter Tyler Newsome managed to jump into the Irish record books, booming five punts for an Irish single-game record average of 52.4 yards.

The unsettling numbers were the ones the Irish defense surrendered in the first half.

A week after smothering Georgia Tech for 59 of the 60 minutes, Notre Dame’s defense yielded 276 yards in first half to UMass, 113 more than they gave up in entire game to Texas.

Four minutes into the second quarter, the Irish had surrendered 128 rushing yards to the nation’s No. 121 rushing team (out of 127). Two true freshman had scored rushing TDs, including an 83-yard dash by Marquis Young to close out the first quarter.

“He's fast,” Whipple assessed. “I honestly didn't know he was that fast.”

Triple-option hangover? The Irish came into Saturday’s game with a 4-4 mark under Kelly in games directly following playing a triple-option team. And the largest margin of victory in the four wins was seven in a 24-17 survival at Wake Forest in 2011.

Or were the Irish prematurely preoccupied with Clemson?

Irish senior defensive tackle and captain Sheldon Day said it was neither. He said it was more of matter of UMass surprising ND with some new formations and trick plays, and the Irish responding with vigilante defense — falling out of their team framework and trying to do other players’ jobs for them.

“Step up and raise your level of expectation and standards,” Day said of Kelly’s halftime message

Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder didn’t wait until halftime, according to Day, readjusting the X’s and O’s on a board on the sideline.

“We refocused,” said Day, whose unit yielded 450 yards by game’s end, but many of those coming after halftime occurring when mop-up crews by both teams were in full swing late in the game.

ND quarterback DeShone Kizer’s second career start almost became an afterthought. The redshirt freshman threw for 207 yards on 15-of-22 accuracy, with TD passes to Will Fuller and Chris Brown and an interception.

He also rushed for 42 yards on nine carries with a TD.

“I thought DeShone missed some throws today,” Kelly said. “He got a little off balance on some of his throws, especially to his left, where he has a tendency to overstride a little bit and lock out his front leg.

“But he knows what to do and how to do it. He made the corrections later in the drive. … He can self-correct, which is the great thing about that young man, after making a couple of poor throws.”

Both Kizer and the Irish defense will have to be more consistent, and from the start if Notre Dame is going to continue evolving toward a playoff team.

“No one is going to outscore us. That's the mind-set that we have to have as an offense,” Kizer said. “We have way too many threats and way too good of an offensive line to stop us from going back and forth with a team like that.”

The ND school record for points, incidentally, is 142 set in 1905 against American Medical. And speaking of medical, the Irish appear to have escaped a season-ending injury in a game for the first time this season.

However, wide receiver Corey Robinson, Kelly reported, did injure his knee in warmups and missed the game. The Irish didn’t end up needing him after all.

Whipple, meanwhile, sensed the avalanche was coming and that there wasn’t much UMass could do once it started.

“I don't tell them to look at the score,” he said. “I mean, are we going to take a picture with their iPhone? Let's just go play the next play, that's all. That's all you can do in these things.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame's Josh Adams (33) shakes off a U Mass defender during the second half of the Fighting Irish's win against the University of Massachusetts, Saturday, September 26, 2015 in South Bend. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)