Notre Dame relentless on both sides of the ball in romp over Army

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The boats sped along the San Antonio River on Friday night, announcing their arrival with a flurry of cymbals and drums, a fleet of sound and fury.

As the ferries passed, one after another, fans on the River Walk looked up from margaritas and bulging burritos, aiming cameras at the Notre Dame marching band. They clicked away, their flashes lighting up the river, as each segment of the band played and passed on a different boat. Drums. Trumpets. Tubas. Trombones.

The boats churned merrily forward, its crew wearing cowboy hats, serenading San Antonio’s Shamrock Series guests in an impromptu parade. Fans in green, blue and gold leaned over railings and lingered on bridges, gleefully clapping along.

Sometimes Notre Dame's band goes past you on a boat on San Antonio's river walk. pic.twitter.com/AXaVNztyev

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

The boats kept coming — wave after wave after wave. They were relentless.

Much like the Irish offense on Saturday.

Notre Dame (4-6) scored on its first six offensive possessions in a 44-6 trouncing of Army (5-5) inside the Alamodome on Saturday, piling up 476 total yards. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer was responsible for a healthy chunk of them, completing 17 of 28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, while adding 72 rushing yards.

Sophomore wide receiver C.J. Sanders returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a score. Freshman Kevin Stepherson hauled in a 37-yard touchdown. Senior tight end Durham Smythe — who hails from Belton, Texas, and had a healthy helping of friends and family in attendance — added two touchdown grabs. It was the first two-touchdown game of his college career. Running backs Josh Adams and Tarean Folston tacked on touchdowns.

The Irish kept coming — wave after wave after wave.

“We were able to throw the ball over their heads, and it backed them off, so it gave us some opportunities to run the football,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly explained. “I think any time that you get the ball vertically down the field, it's going to open up your running game, because they certainly weren't going to play their safeties down (in the box).

“They were much more interested in staying over the top, which gave us the opportunity to get some pretty good looks to run the football.”

Run or throw — on Saturday, it didn’t matter. The Irish rushed for 261 yards and 6.1 yards per carry, and Kizer completed passes to 11 different receivers, efficiently distributing the football.

And then in the locker room, he got one back.

“He's maturing as a quarterback. He got the game ball,” Kelly said. “He made a mistake obviously in the red zone (with an interception in the end zone). You can't make those, but I liked his leadership today. I liked his leadership all week.

“He was vocal. He was holding players to a higher standard. I liked his toughness, and he's growing. This is only his second year as a quarterback, and you can start to see the things that a quarterback needs to successfully win football games. One of those things is he's got to be a really good leader, and I thought he was a really good leader today.”

After the game, Kizer trotted from one end of the Alamodome to the next, donating pieces of gear to fans and shaking hands before leaving the field.

For one Saturday only, his home was San Antonio, not South Bend.

“At Notre Dame there's a lot of tradition that rides with us everywhere we go, and to play against Army in a city like this, it's awesome,” Kizer said. “It's the reason that we choose to go to a school like Notre Dame, to take advantage of opportunities to play in venues like this and in cities like this. It was really an awesome experience.”

Notre Dame’s defense can say the same, after it held an Army triple-option attack that entered Saturday’s game averaging 320.6 rushing yards per game to just 229 yards and six points. A week ago, Navy scored touchdowns on four of its five drives and never punted against the Irish.

On Saturday, the Black Knights were 3-for-11 on third down, punted four times, threw an interception and turned the ball over on downs.

Same style of offense. Different results.

“I think it really came down to just having the two games back-to-back,” said senior linebacker James Onwualu, who led the Irish with 13 tackles, including a sack. “It helped a lot of guys that hadn't really seen this style of play really pick up and understand the game and how to play it.

“(There was) some great adjustments by the coaches but also some young guys really going to work in practice and picking up on this style of offense.”

Buried on the back end of a forgettable season, Notre Dame finally gave its fans a performance to remember. The defense kept swarming. The offense kept coming.

Wave after wave after wave.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorelC

Notre Dame’s Cole Luke (36) and James Onwualu (17) make a tackle during Notre Dame's 44-6 romp over Army Saturday at San Antonio, Texas. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)