Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against Texas?

Jaylon Smith - Notre Dame LB vs. Texas
Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We saw ruthless, brutal physical domination. After establishing that, Brian Kelly’s 2015 Fighting Irish used a remarkable array of skilled players and a stunning performance by Malik Zaire to dehorn Charley Strong’s Texas Longhorns 38-3. 38 points? Was it an homage to the 38 scored on January 2, 1978 by Montana, Ferguson Heavens and that bunch? Regardless, Kelly’s minions waltzed across Texas like they were Ernest Tubb.

Brian Van Gorder’s Defense was magnificent. Certainly, the Texas Offense was young, more calf than steer. Certainly they got their ears boxed. Texas generated two plays of more than 20 yards. EIGHT (8) first downs. The defense established tone early with the chilling three and outs on the first two Texas’ series. This allowed the offense time to unfold, while Harry’s Hammers, Stanley, Nelson, Martin, Elmer and McGlinchey, played an anvil chorus on Longhorn defenders. By season’s end, the Texas defense may be the best in that fantasy league which calls itself the Big XII. By the third quarter Prosise was adding yards whlle Harry’s Hammers pushed the pile as if it were a rugby scrum. That is seldom seen against a Charley Strong/Vance Bedford defense.

Malik Zaire was expected to be a dazzling runner and an adequate passer. That was incorrect on both counts. In the offseason, Mike Sanford kept muttering about Zaire getting his base right. Zaire must have listened. Differing from some of his predecessors, Zaire seems to have a fetish for throwing to open receivers. Thus: 19-22-313-3-0.

Jaylon Smith!

Goodness gracious! He has been fully weaponized, and Van Gorder and Elston may soon get a visit from the folks enforcing the Geneva Conventions. He is doing things on the field that have not been seen around Michiana before. Is it sacrilegious, and a blasphemy against Buoniconti, Lynch, Crable and T’eo to harbor the thought that Jaylon Smith might be the greatest Notre Dame linebacker of all time?

Next Man In

Ther is nothing so pharisaic as a slogan decoupled from the commitment to honor it. But Notre Dame walks this talk. Jarron Jones, and it was joyous to see the hulking 94 on the sideline, goes down and Daniel Cage steps up and in. Yes, Cage has a backup, more about him within. Tarean Folston leaves the game, glumly after 6 minutes. Prosise steps up and Josh Adams steps in.

Newcomers of the Match

Jerry Tillery-ah, so that’s what all the fuss was about? Big, quick, eager, hot in pursuit. The best thing about him is that Daniel Cage starts, preserving Tillery from traveling a bridge too far, too soon.

Josh Adams-it is poignant that Folston was the domino that fell to give Adams the opportunity, but his touchdowns were not flukes. Great vision in the hole, and a patience beyond his class year. He will not score two TDS per game, but he will score a lot before he departs du lac.

Against Georgia Tech, Navy Clemson, USC and Stanford, (well at least the first four) the defense’s mettle will be tested, but the Van Gorder defense was more than solid in its first outing.

Player Development Wizards

  • Quenton Nelson-Harry’s pipeline spits out another gem, and Alex Bars is only a smidgen behind.
  • Romeo Okwara-at last, the child becomes the man.
  • Daniel Cage-fat and winded as a frosh, he is good to go.

This is some kind of mature team. Only two underclassmen started, Quenton Nelson and Cage.

Bottom Line

  • The Irish will not finish the season winless. And that is the only definitive conclusion we can reach at this point.

But as Aesop began and Steven Covey magnified, it is about the goose, production capacity. more than about production, the golden egg. So far we have one golden egg, apparently anathema to people wearing burnt orange. But, you know, it may be from a very healthy, fertile goose.

Kelly Messes with Texas

We are Notre Dame and we mess with Texas whenever we please. While not for those squeamish about sadism or mental cruelty, Kelly’s two time outs to ice Nick Rose were cold-blooded magic.

What Will We See Against Texas?

  • A dead man walking, Mike London.
  • The dreaded “sandwich” game. Human nature is seldom defeated. After the emotion of the home opener against Texas and the upcoming battle royale between Van Gorder and Paul Johnson, this game is a textbook sandwich game.
  • While UCLA drubbed UVA the Cavs usually have one decent home game in them each year. It is realistic to expect that Virginia will play better than its potential while Notre Dame will underperform its potential. (This section is not entitled “What do we want to see?” but “What will we see?”)
  • A game in sunlight, an increasingly rare setting for the Fighting Irish

Don’t Forget This

On September 3, 2016 Notre Dame will travel to Austin to play Strong’s third edition of Texas. Strong, and all of us, know the potential for improvement in the third year. Texas, simply, is a team on the make, and playing defense the way they will in one more year probably violates the code of the Fantasy League disguised as the Big XII. Please do not assume that the 2016 game will be a replay of the 2015 game.

Who dem Hoos?

Go Irish!

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  1. Hello Duranko,

    Thanks for your response, brother. I was in ND stadium when I saw Ricky make a game winning 60 yard (?) run against MSU. He had great vision on that play as he cut through a crease that was very tight at the second level….then, to the house (Touchdown Jesus end zone). It seemed like deja vu when I saw Frosh Adams last weekend.



  2. Woody you are not the only one who thinks that Adams is evocative of Watters. Quite a few think that, but FWIW, I’m not yet one of them. I love his patience (perhaps better than Watters) and vision, not sure that he has Watters breakaway speed.
    And it was Jerome Heavens, but I merely missed a comma, as I was trying to include “Heavens, Ferguson” with Montana in the litany.

    For Peter Recchio, I agree about restraint, but as with another poster I think that Texas is not that bad. Let’s see what happens to them over a 12 game season.

    On restraint, I will not exhale until the clock strikes midnight on Oct. 17th. It’s a long season. But I thought those throwing brickbats on Van Gorder and the defense were blithering idiots. I expexcted the defense to be much closer to the first 6 games of 2014 than the November run. We don’t play, however, a double-barreled competent offense until Clemson. Georgia Tech will be a challenge but they are unconventional, sui generis.

    Peter, I’ve always enjoyed argument and chaos on an opponents sideline. I am secretly hoping as a trailing indicator that we have another opponent staff reshuffling after we play Virginia. London’s seat is already hot. My surmise is that we will allow the Hoos fewer first downs and few yards than they gleaned against UCLA.

    Conjecture notwithstanding we’ll have a pretty decent sample size by mid October.

    I’ll remain restrained until then, Peter, but good luck with the madding crowd.

  3. For this game, unquestionable improvements over last years second half of the season…..although it is only ONE game against a poor team….need a larger sample size to judge

  4. Hey Duranko,

    Am I the only one who thinks Frosh Adams is like Ricky Watters? Ricky could take it to the house on any given carry. He was lightening!!!


    PS wasn’t it Jerome Heavens, not Ferguson Heavens?

  5. It amazes me how when ND struggles in their first game, people are all up in arms about why they can’t blow that team out etc.. So when the come out and blow Texas out of the water, the same skeptical stuff happens.

    This team is different, you can tell. There is something different in the air. The D is for real, and that Josh Adams guy looks to be the real deal, great vision and he can boogie. Runs a lot like that dude in alabama.

    We should be excited this year, the talent is there, the speed is there, and they are deep. No more pushover ND.

    Go Irish.

  6. What will we see against Virginia?

    Here are a few tidbits that might help decide.

    Virginia (Offense) vs UCLA
    Virginia had 19 first downs that included 3 rushing and 13 passing.
    They were 4-13 (31%) on third down.
    They ran 34 times for 98 yards
    They passed 35 times, completing 21, for 238 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.
    They allowed 1 sack for 5 yards.

    ND (Defense) vs Texas
    Texas had 8 first downs, 2 rushing, 5 passing, and 1 by way of penalty.
    They were 2-13 (15%) on third down.
    They ran the ball 26 times for 60 yards.
    They passed 23 times, completing 8, for 103 yards.
    ND forced 10 punts.
    ND complied 4 sacks for 31 yards (and had a bunch more QB hurries)

    Current injury reports:
    We already knew that Bryant, Jones, Crawford, & Williams were lost for the season, added to that list is Folston & Sebastian.(out)

    Virginia started the season down a WR who was injured in fall camp.(out)
    Adding to their list this week is their starting Center(out), staring OT(out), and another WR(out)
    Questionable for Saturday’s Game is another OT, and a third WR.

  7. jeff, I will venture that Texas will win a lot more than four games. 9/5/12 was more elgquent of how far Notre Dame has come than of how far Texas has to go.

    Remember this team, younger, was unbeaten going in to Tallahasee last October. You have to ask yourself what was the aberration last year, Sept-Oct or Nov.

  8. The main thing that needs to continue to happen is the dominance on both lines of scrimmage. The way the offensive line blocked on Saturday night Bruce could have ran the ball in from the one yard line. If ND can control the line of scrimmage the backs can fall for five yards. If they are able to do that and grind games out in the 2nd half it will be a great season.

  9. I just hope we can keep this up on the road versus UVA and I think we can. Virginia and their O Line is really banged up right now and our D Line should be able to keep up this constant pressure especially Cage and Tillery. Its only one game but this defensive line looks nothing like last year and thank God BK brought in a new D Line coach. Matched our season high in sacks (4) in game one.It could have been more had not Kelly called off the wolves!

    Hate to see Folston go down but I think CJ is going take this opportunity and run with it. This kid plays very similar to Arian Foster and Matt Forte and he is only going to get better playing behind this line!

  10. A great game on both sides. It was great to see Adams first play be a touchdown. To think I was worried about Malik Zaire under center. This team has great potential. How about that offensive line too. How many times did they all come to the aide of the running back to help him get a few extra feet. That could make all the difference between first down and not first down. And the defense was phenomenal. Granted, Texas is in a rebuild right now, but that defense was scary (for the other team that is).

  11. Let’s see how the Irish fair the next two weeks. It certainly was a dominating performance and it should of been against a terrible Texas team. I doubt Texas wins 4 games this year. How will Zaire perform when his team is behind and forced to pass. That’s remains to be seen.

  12. I hear you Duranko. I agree. But in this era where somehow “American Idol” took over all aspects of life, including cooking of all things. Style points seem to be everything. That said, I don’t personally worry about style points, I just think it is rough to develop your talent if you are in what would seem to be too many “uncalled for dogfights.”

  13. Regarding speed: I noticed also that we weren’t able to return any punts. I looked up the stat, and it turns out we had three punt returns for a total of one yard. Every time CJ wanted to get untracked, he was already surrounded, and should have called at least one fair catch that he didn’t. I think this was in part because their Aussie rules punter had some serious hang time, but some of it has to go to the speed of the defenders getting up the field.

    So, it looks like Texas has some pretty significant speed talent as well.

  14. Kenny, thank you for the correction, I feel both chastened and exhilirated that I committed more turnovers than our Irish!

    For spicey, you are correct on the speed. I first noticed the speed against LSU. Our receivers could get open against LSU while they couldn’t in the Sugar Bowl. Kelly does not have the roster he inherited,

    For fxm, I demur. I lived through ’77 and the horrendous loss to Ole Miss sandwiched between feckless wins against Pitt and Purdue. Notre Dame merely needs to win. I renounce Satan, ESPN, their pomps and their works, including “style points”. and September discussion of a December event.

    Bruce, you are the board expert in panic because you wallow in it. You are a drama queen and a tedious one at that,

  15. While everyone is talking about Zaire’s passing and running, I think the thing many are overlooking is his mastery of the the zone read offense. This allowed him at most times to find the wide open receiver or set the run up to the correct area. That’s a big difference from last year with a QB that made numerous mistakes reading the defense and pushing the ball to the covered man instead of the open one.
    I also thought Malik showed good sense when running, and going out of bounds rather than taking a hit on every running play. It’s a long season, he needs to pace himself.

  16. Bruce… Maybe Notre Dame can use Daniel Cage in a William Perry-type role on the one yard to goal situations.

  17. The year now depends onthe legs of Adams and Williams. And the offensive line has to be flawless. When the running game gets bogged down Kelly panics and starts calling weird pass plays. It all rests on the belief that on the Stanford 1 yard line for the ball game they know they can run it in hell or high water. They are not as big as conjar or bettis but maybe one or both have the heart of Reggie brooks.

  18. I know Texas is young and still trying to find their way in Charlie Strong’s regime. There is one thing that Texas has always had and that is speed. I saw some speedy players for Texas that will give every team fits. Notre Dame matched and in many cases over-matched Texas in the speed category. It was evident when ND was kickoff coverage. Every Irish player flew to the ball and the returner didn’t even have a chance. Overall team speed improvement will help this team compete against the best of the best this season.

    I hope against UVa that ND continues to put pressure on the QB. They did a great job against Texas. The real reason why ND won 38-3.

  19. Zaire impressed the hell out of me. He is a natural born leader with a rifle for a arm and plays with a swagger. I was down when Golson left. Its only one game and Zaire still has a lot to prove but DAMN this was a nice start to the season. The next 4-6 weeks is going to he brutal and hopefully we can run the table or at worst get to a 6-1 record. If that happens and this team can keep this train rolling…..


  20. Sorry, but if we want to be playoff bound, we have to destroy any team that got carved up by a true freshmen QB. No excuses.

  21. Duranko

    re: ” Is it sacrilegious, and a blasphemy against Buoniconti, Lynch, Crable and T’eo to harbor the thought that Jaylon Smith might be the greatest Notre Dame linebacker of all time?”
    I remember how much better Te’o got his last year at ND. I’ll be very surprised if Jaylon’s last year at ND isn’t this season- so let’s enjoy this one and revisit your question at the end of his career here.

    As for Virginia, first road game for ND; nationally covered home opener for them; classic dangerous “sandwich” game, and all that. That’s the ongoing challenge for players and staff. Just win-despite inevitable emotional let-down and tendency to look-ahead versus a ranked team. The next step in this team’s development (even if this next game is the “annual sleepwalking game”, as david said) is no matter where it’s played, or even when, is winning the games ND ought to win, like in 2012.
    Week 2 is one such game. Making more key plays than Virginia is all ND needs to go 2-0.
    As El Donaldo says, “It’s yooge!”

  22. “The Irish will not finish the season winless. And that is the only definitive conclusion we can reach at this point.”

    ND – Un defeated 2015

  23. “…..It is realistic to expect that Virginia will play better than its potential while Notre Dame will underperform its potential.”

    Odd. This is the very same game I noted a couple weeks ago with the exact same concern: ND’s annual sleepwalking game.

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