Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown dazzles in starting debut

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Equanimeous St. Brown shouldn’t have been able to catch the football.

Notre Dame’s 6-foot-5, 205-pound sophomore wide receiver sprinted uncovered down the seam in the second quarter of the Irish’s 50-47 overtime defeat at Texas, a blur of long limbs, long names and previously untapped potential. DeShone Kizer’s looping liner stuck improbably to St. Brown’s fingertips, and he smothered it into his stomach as Texas safety Dylan Haines crept slowly into the frame.

Haines threw his shoulder into St. Brown’s legs at Texas’ 3-yard line. He was upended, an impromptu gymnast, using his right arm to springboard his body and catapult it into the end zone.

It was a 30-yard touchdown, St. Brown’s second of the game and his Irish career. It was immediately trending social media material. It was the most memorable moment in a coming-out party Notre Dame fans had been waiting more than a year to attend. But more than anything, it was a near-impossibility.

It shouldn’t have happened. How did it happen?

"It was a play we've been running and practicing all week long," St. Brown said. "I knew it was going to come to me and I just had to make a play."

Did head coach Brian Kelly expect this kind of performance?

After the end of the marathon, the seventh-year Irish coach answered concisely.

"Yes."

In the first start of his Notre Dame career, St. Brown finished with a team-high five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. His first catch of the game was a 13-yard touchdown, in which Kizer wisely threw a jump ball and the sophomore with the seemingly infinite reach extended both arms to snag it.

"That's like second nature to me," St. Brown said.

Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown (6) makes a touchdown catch over Texas’ Davante Davis (9) during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

As former Notre Dame standouts and current NFL wide receivers Will Fuller and Chris Brown watched from the sideline, St. Brown made plays.

This time last year, it was the other way around.

"I was a little nervous, but more excited than nervous," St. Brown said of his first career start. "I know what to do and I'm confident in my ability."

Of course, St. Brown wasn’t Notre Dame’s only offensive hero in an otherwise devastating night. After earning his 12th consecutive start, junior quarterback DeShone Kizer showed why, throwing for 215 yards and five scores and running for another. Senior running back Tarean Folston recorded a redemptive career-long 54-yard run in his first game back from a torn ACL. Notre Dame’s other featured running back, sophomore Josh Adams, tip-toed along the sideline to haul in an acrobatic 17-yard touchdown. Senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. added a touchdown catch, though he later left the game after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone.

The young Irish offense did its part.

The defense? Not so much.

But in a game full of grand debuts, St. Brown’s left a lasting impression. Sure, Texas freshman quarterback Shane Buechele showed poise and accuracy beyond his years, throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. And yes, sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford rebounded from his own torn ACL by snagging a second half interception and returning a blocked extra point attempt for points. Texas even unveiled a brand new mascot, trotting out Bevo XV in front of a school record 102,315 fans.

But none of them pulled off a twisting handstand into the end zone.

Unfortunately, style points don’t win football games.

Tepid defenses don’t win them, either.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown (6) falls into the end zone for a touchdown over Texas’ Dylan Haines (14) during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown (6) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Josh Adams (33) during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN