Notebook: Will Fuller gains some redemption in loss to Stanford

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Not Will Fuller? Anybody but Will Fuller?

The Notre Dame football team’s prized receiver just doesn’t drop passes. Sure hands. Constant focus. Speed to burn. Dependable as the day is long.

That’s why Fuller’s three dropped passes against Boston College last week were so stunning. Despite being the object of exotic coverages with multiple defenders, the 6-foot, 184-pound junior found a way to get himself open.

Problem was, he forgot to catch the ball. Three times.

“I can’t even explain how I dropped (the passes),” Fuller said with a sheepish grin days before CFP No. 6 Notre Dame took on No. 9 Stanford. “I was upset. Being right at practice (is the way to deal with it).”

What’d quarterback DeShone Kizer have to say about it?

“Absolutely nothing,” Kizer said. “He’s a great athlete, one of the best (receivers). There’s absolutely nothing that should be said to him. He’ll make adjustments. He’ll come out and make great plays just as he did weeks before.

“He had some great plays against Boston College, the way he broke off his guy on the ‘go’ ball (long pass). Those are things that I have to understand that he can do at all times. He’ll figure it out on his own.”

Fuller had one last opportunity for redemption Saturday night at Stanford, a 38-36 Cardinal victory.

He had a solid start by catching the first two passes thrown to him for 29 yards. A third reception for 11 yards in the second quarter set up a big 73-yard connection for a touchdown with 2:15 left before halftime.

He did have one pass glance off his hands during the game, but Fuller finished with a game-high six receptions for 136 yards.

“We were inconsistent against Boston College,” Fuller said of his objective against the Cardinal. “We have to play a lot better. It’s always been a tough, physical game. (Stanford) always has a physical team.

“Stanford’s quite a different animal. They’re a really tough group. They play some really physical football, so we’re going to have to bring it. This is a big game for them, too. This is their chance to knock us out.”

The Irish offense has gone through the season waiting for that one “special” performance. Maybe the bowl game will provide the chance, though the Irish did amass 533 yards, including 299 on the ground, Saturday night.

“(Receivers) coach (Mike) Denbrock says something about (not having put together a ‘best’ game yet) every week,” Fuller said. “If every position group can do its job, we can be real scary. We still haven’t gotten it yet.”

Sanders’ dash

C.J. Sanders’ 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 9:18 left in the first quarter was Notre Dame’s first return for a score since George Atkinson III brought one back against Southern Cal in 2011.

On the corner

Junior Devin Butler, who started against Arizona State and USC last season, got the call Saturday night to fill in for the injured KeiVarae Russell. Russell went down with a fractured tibia against Boston College last week.

Early in Stanford’s first offensive series, Butler was sent to the sidelines and grad Matthias Farley, normally a safety, filled in for him at corner on running situations. Butler made a solid play, breaking up a pass on the first ball thrown in his direction.

But Butler looked bad on a short pass to Michael Rector. He missed the tackle near the line of scrimmage and Rector scored from 14 yards out.

Actually, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan picked on Irish cornerback Cole Luke more than Butler in the first half.

Eyeing the Irish

With the bowl invitations set to be distributed Sunday, Dec. 6, after the Playoff Selection Committee reveals its choices, only two bowls were represented at Saturday’s Notre Dame-Stanford game.

The Orange and Alamo bowls were in Stanford Stadium for a look at the Irish and the Cardinal. Given the outcome of Saturday's game, ND won't end up in either of those.

No Prosise

The high ankle sprain from last week’s win over Boston College kept senior running back C.J. Prosise sidelined on crutches against Stanford.

That opened the door for Josh Adams to get his second career start. His first was a couple weeks ago against Wake Forest, when Prosise was out with a concussion.

Adams filled in well, rushing for an ND freshman-record 168 yards on 18 carries on a 62-yard touchdown.

Lot o’ green

Remember how burnt orange flooded Notre Dame Stadium in the Irish season opener against Texas?

Well, Notre Dame pulled the same thing on Stanford. There was a strong showing of Irish fans, most wearing green, in Stanford Stadium on saturday night.

They made some loud statements during introductions.

Sign of growth

Notre Dame’s ball, third-and-four on the Stanford 7-yard line in the second quarter. The Cardinal defense sends everyone on a blitz of Kizer.

Remembering the lessons he learned from throwing three interceptions against Boston College, Kizer chose to throw the ball out of the end zone while under pressure.

“Every drive should end in a kick,” Kizer said earlier this week. This one did, a 25-yard field goal by Justin Yoon.

With 12 seconds left in the first half, the Irish were driving inside the Cardinal 30 when Kizer lost his first fumble of the season, after running into his center, Nick Martin.

Squibs

• In part because of Sanders’ kickoff return for a touchdown, Notre Dame didn’t run its first offensive play until the 1:48 mark of the first quarter. Stanford ran 23 offensive snaps and held the ball for 12 minutes and 55 seconds of the first half.

• The biggest play on Notre Dame’s first offensive series was one that didn’t happen. On fourth-and-one at the Stanford 4, a running play by Kizer that appeared to be stopped was ruled no play because of a false start by center Martin. The Irish at least got three points out of it with a Yoon 26-yard field goal.

• Stanford was successful on its first five third-down conversion tries, and was finally stopped in the second quarter.

• Fuller’s 73-yard TD reception was his ninth of the season of 30 yards or more. It was Notre Dame’s 13th scoring play of 50 yards or more, a school record. Later, Josh Adams made it 14 with his 62-yard TD run.

Notre Dame's Will Fuller (7) celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the first half of Notre Dame's 338-36 loss at Stanford on Saturday night. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)