TE Durham Smythe comes up big for Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — The Under Armour cleats Durham Smythe wears are size 13.5.
He needed every last fraction of an inch to make his highlight catch Saturday against N.C. State.
The Irish tight end hauled in a Brandon Wimbush pass on the sideline by dropping the toes of his cleats inbounds before falling to the ground. The 11-yard reception was Smythe's most memorable contribution to a 35-14 victory over N.C. State, but the fifth-year senior made plenty of impact elsewhere.
He finished with three catches for 52 yards, both team highs, and started the Irish scoring with a 25-yard touchdown reception. Smythe was also tasked with helping block defensive end Bradley Chubb for most of the day.
Smythe said he was cognizant of where Chubb, an AP midseason All-American, was lining up on every play.
“Especially at my position,” Smythe said. “We're tangling with that guy 75 percent of the time in the run game.”
Chubb tallied eight tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack, but it wasn't nearly enough to prevent Notre Dame from rushing for 318 yards. Chubb's one sack came when he was matched up one-on-one with tight end Alizé Mack.
“He's one of the best players I've played against in five years here on the edge,” Smythe said. “It's extremely tough. Putting that burden on a tight end is tough to do. But ultimately as a group, we held on to him pretty well.”
Smythe held onto the ball when it was thrown to him too. His tiptoe catch in the second quarter extended the drive on a third-and-6. The next play, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson caught an 11-yard touchdown with some fancy footwork of his own to give the Irish a 21-14 lead.
Smythe's sideline reception required some improvisation.
“Coming out of my route, I actually thought the ball was thrown to the opposite side of the field,” Smythe said. “Finally, I brought my eyes back to Brandon scrambling out and felt there was a little bit of room there. I threw my hands up, and he really put it in the perfect spot. I didn't even feel the defensive back behind me there.”
The defensive back, cornerback Johnathan Alston, actually hit Smythe's left arm in an effort to break up the play to no avail. Smythe squeezed the ball between his hands and pointed his toes to complete the catch.
The officials reviewed the play, but the call stood as a completed pass. Smythe received confirmation as it played on the video board in Notre Dame Stadium.
“Originally I was 100-percent confident,” Smythe said. “Even when they ring the review, you think for a second, 'Did I?' but at the end of the day I was pretty confident.”
Smythe gave Notre Dame a bit of confidence with his touchdown catch in the first quarter. The Irish had just fallen behind 7-0 thanks to a blocked punt by N.C. State. But the Irish offense took the field and tied the game quickly.
Running back Josh Adams ripped off a 35-yard run on the first play of the drive. Then Notre Dame hurried to the line and converted on a simple post route to Smythe. He cut into an opening in the N.C. State defense, caught the ball near the five-yard line and outran safety Jarius Morehead into the end zone.
“Tempo is a pillar of our offense this year,” Smythe said. “That drive started with Josh on an inside-zone play running like 40 yards down the field. We got up to the line quick and ran a pretty fast tempo to get to the line. We ran one of our tempo plays, and the backside safety was caught a little off guard. There was space there.”
Smythe received one of two game balls — the other was given to linebacker Te'von Coney — from head coach Brian Kelly. His work as a receiver was certainly part of the recognition, but Smythe's role helping block with the offensive line shouldn't be ignored.
It takes more than a few players to run over the No. 6 running defense in the country. A pair of size 13.5 cleats helps in the running game too.
“That was an extremely talented front, one of the best we've seen this year,” Smythe said. “At the same time, I'm a little biased.
“Working with these five big guys we have up front, I would never want to be on the opposite side of that. Even coming into the game, we knew how talented they were, but me personally, I don't have a huge doubt that we can run the ball on anybody.”