Notre Dame’s Potent Offense Primed for Virginia

Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver William Fuller (7) jumps into the end zone for a touchdown in front of Texas Longhorns safety Dylan Haines (14) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver William Fuller (7) jumps into the end zone for a touchdown in front of Texas Longhorns safety Dylan Haines (14) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The expectations for Notre Dame’s offense were set almost unreasonably high for the 2015 season. Armed with arguably the best offensive line talent since legendary coach Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines and complemented by a deep wide receiver pool – as well as emerging running back star, Tarean Folston – the lone question mark was at quarterback. Malik Zaire played with poise in his first career start – and win – against LSU in the Music City Bowl, but this was different. No longer a mere plug-and-play starter, Zaire is now the face of the Notre Dame program. Could he handle the pressure and the spotlight of the team being completely his?

Zaire’s response to such questioning was emphatic, and he put forth nearly identical production to Notre Dame quarterback transfer Everett Golson in his first start for Florida State. The difference, of course, was Golson’s strong outing was against Texas State, a program that only joined the FBS ranks several short years ago, whereas Zaire humiliated one of the winningest programs in all of college football on national television.

Zaire answered critics who questioned his passing ability in comparison to Golson’s by completing 86-percent of his passes, the second highest one-game performance in school history. As it turns out, Zaire wasn’t an impediment to star wide receiver Will Fuller’s quest to capture the Biletnikoff Award, an honor annually given to the nation’s best receiver. Fuller hauled in 7 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns, including this 66-yard bomb.

The long touchdown pass highlights how well Notre Dame’s inexperienced players played against Texas. Will Fuller blew past Texas cornerback Duke Thomas, who expected safety help from Dylan Haines. But Haines was out of position in order to help cover true freshman tight end Alizé Jones, who already is making an impact. Zaire recognized the lack of safety help over the top and threw an easy, accurate touchdown pass to a wide open Fuller.

Even Notre Dame’s negatives had a bit of shine to them. The numerous false start penalties from the offensive line didn’t prevent the offense from piling on 527 yards of offense against the Longhorns, 214 of which were on the ground. Even when running back Tarean Folston went down with what would turn out to be a season-ending ACL injury, C.J. Prosise, a wide receiver converted to running back, managed to rush for two yards shy of 100 yards, averaging nearly five yards per carry in the process. And true freshman running back Josh Adams shined in his first game action, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns on only five carries.

Notre Dame is set to take its offensive prowess to Virginia against a Cavaliers defensive unit that experienced headaches similar to those Texas endured. Virginia was completely outmatched in its 34-16 loss to UCLA, and failed to score a touchdown until the waning moments. And a limited time of possession didn’t stop the Bruins from racking up over 500 yards of offense against Virginia.

True freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, making his collegiate debut, systematically dismantled Virginia and boasted numbers similar to Malik Zaire’s. Rosen completed 80-percent of his passing attempts for 351 yards and 3 touchdown passes, throwing to 11 different receivers in the process.

“Their receivers outplayed our corners,” Virginia head coach Mike London bluntly stated after the game, a sentiment shared by the Cavalier defense.

“We’ve got to do a better job covering on the back end and getting pressure as a whole defense,” said cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, a one-time four-star recruit.

Mike London will have his work cut out for him this week. Virginia’s inability to create pressure against a UCLA offensive line that surrendered 41 sacks one year ago, the highest number in all of the Pac-12, is a troubling development given offensive line is an area of strength for Notre Dame. And as Texas learned the hard way, allowing Malik Zaire time to find his cadre of talented wide receivers is a recipe for disaster.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. I’d like to see BK use the TE’s more (especially in the red zone) and also give the freshmen RB’s more carries. Virginia played good D in their secondary – we need to do more of that too. The Irish looked tired in the second half. This was a good wake-up that should tell the players and coaches that they need to prepare for every game like they did for LSU last year.

  2. The tale of two teams.

    Absalutle dominance in every area in the Texas game at home.

    And then….Virginia! Wow

    If last nights defense shows up for the GA Tech offense it could be an ugly…ugly loss at home.

  3. Virginia escape

    Sent from my iPhone

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Bruce Johnson
    Date: September 12, 2015 at 7:41:05 PM EDT
    To: Bruce Johnson

    Zero for ten on third down
    They couldn’t run without the one fast back beating the defense on the outside
    A missed field goal
    27 points given up on defense
    When they couldn’t run Kelly starting calling weird pass plays
    With predictable results
    The offense loses confidence in its ability to control the game
    It become a crap shoot
    With luck governing the outcome not coaching discipline or strategy
    They lose confidence
    Only Irish luck got us home today

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Jarron Jones
    Taren Folston
    Malik Zaire

    The ArchAngel bids you a speedy and healthy recovery.
    We will miss you and anxiously anticipate your glorious returns.

  5. I’m new at this, but I’m reviewing the game film and I’ve analyzed 7 times where Golson would’ve fumbled. Again, just a novice here so I’ll defer to dave’s expertise.

  6. Kenny M
    In Jimbo Fisher’s post game comments here in Florida, he said this about Golson’s performance. “He had really good numbers, but he needs to work on his ball handling technique.”

    Along with Michael, that’s the last thing I’ll say about Golson on here and the others too.

  7. History will look kindly on the Golson era. 17-6 as a starter? Caretaker of an offense that played for a National Championship. Just as more time passes, I come to respect what Tommy Rees was able to accomplish in an ND uniform, as frustrating as he was in the moment.

  8. With the exception of Folsten’s injury and a few false starts the Irish looked very good. After watching some of the Virginia/UCLA game I can’t see Virginia posing much of a threat, if any to the Irish. As far as Golson is concerned, who cares, Malik is the ND QB. Golson had his chance, at times looked brilliant, unfortunately he couldn’t keep up in the classroom and it cost him. We can only wait a few weeks to honestly evaluate the Irish after games with Clemson, GT and USC. Texas doesn’t even come close to any of those teams, as a matter of fact, they are closer to Texas State. Things right now look bright as long as they can stay healthy. I think you will probably see a lot more of the wide receivers getting involved now that Folsten is out. It looks like an exciting season is headed our way! Go Irish!!!!!!

  9. Zaire had one of the best games in ND history. why are we talking about that turnover machine? Let’s feel good about where we are. Go Irish!

  10. Not a good pass? Over 50 yards in the air. Closer to left hash. No rainbow. Fuller slowed, didnt stop. Pass kept Fuller on his trajectory. Not pushing him out of bounds or back into the field. Looked pretty acceptable to me. I would have liked for EG to stay too. Obvious reasons. People move on. Wish them well, as we move on also. No need to trash them. Really looking forward to this season though. Could be one of the more exciting ones. Thanks.

  11. 1) If I “hated” Golson, I wouldn’t be of the opinion that he can win the Heisman.

    2) Let’s see how willing everyone on this board is to “forget the past” if and when ND loses with some less-than-optimal QB play in the near future. I’m sure no Kelly-Golson rants will get spewed here. Y’all are much too big for that.

    3) Anyone who compares Zaire’s sideline deportment with Kelly from that one game to Golson’s body of work…well, that’s pretty rich.
    Zaire was playing very well, ND was completely in control, and the comments from Kelly were almost certainly more minor, learning comments than they were screams of impatience and frustration at someone who simply refuses to get it.

  12. I think ND has the right fit QB that is now starting and I believe he will only get better as he continues to progress. Yes, there appear to be differences between Malik and Everett in how they approach the position they play. I look forward as a fan to see how MZ continues to evolve as QB. As for EG, I have no need to slam him. He did a lot of things that helped the team win during his time at ND. Unfortunately, I think 2013 was a year that EG may look back upon down the road and ask himself a lot of “What if” questions regarding if he had he played, would he be different or better, etc. I wish him the best and obviously he appears to be content at FSU. If ND and FSU should play each other in a bowl this season, then obviously I hope ND would crush him and his fellow Noles.

    Go Irish

  13. Golson is a hell of a QB who took this program to the title game. Saying that YOU THINK he would have fumbled 4 times is a little silly. In case you didn’t notice he played well week one for Fla St. The Golson hate is just dumb. Both programs seem very happy with their starting QB and Golson is gone so why keep bringing him up.

  14. Archangel, a couple of statements bolstering your good counsel to not look back.

    Lot’s wife looked back when she was told not to and turned into a pillar of salt.

    On a secular note, one of Satchel Paige’s tenets was “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”

    In ’66 the team did not look back on the beatdown from Michigan State (I know it was only 12-3, but the Irish had negative yards rushing. And they did not look back on the 0-0 ties with Miami.

    In ’73 they did not look back to the season ending embarassments at the hands of USC and Nebraska

    In ’77 they did not look back on the early season loss, a vile one, to Ole Miss in Jackson

    In ’88 they did not look back to woeful end to ’87 in Happy Valley, in the Orange Bowl and in the Cotton Bowl.

    Ever forward!


  15. You like your QB to be level headed.

    Not get too high when thing are going well, and not too low when they’re not.

    To be able to handle frustration, adversity, and criticism….. especially important traits…. and especially important when you’re the QB at ND.

  16. @ david-
    Golson was already great- in key instances, and in big games (see: Michigan,Fla.St., Stanford His ball security was a big issue. ND giving up more points their last 8 games- more than any ND team ever- to be fair- also had a lot to do with the disappointing season.
    Scapegoating Golson isn’t the whole story. Simple.

    Twice already I saw Zaire walk away from Kelly during the game vs. Texas.
    In your face doesn’t work with every athlete. When Kelly went for two against NW, after unsuccessfully changing holders, or decided to bench Redfield assisting a 43 point output from NW who hadn’t scored that many in their previous 5 games, who got in BK’s face about the obvious poor decisions he’d made that cost us that game as much as any players did? Not needed- he already knew . . .
    To be fair, BK is less demonstrative and out-of-control, and that is an excellent example for this team and his new QB who he wants to play “with emotion, but not overreact!”
    Ah! Words to live by, coach.

    Let’s quit looking back and scapegoating Golson. I’m going to follow my own advice earlier and no longer discuss Golson, or Hegarty, or Bryant, or last year’s NW fiasco. The rest of you can have the last word if you want it. But looking back at what wasn’t gained and is in the distant past can result in unforeseen costly head-on-collisions with what’s ahead. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Onward ever.

    Beat Virginia.

  17. @Jeff – “Handling failure” is what I’m so glad that Everett transferred and Malik is our leader. I could see the self-doubt written all over Everett’s face after committing one of his oodles of turnovers. Malik? I have brain damage and therefore a bad memory. I cannot remember any turnovers committed by Malik. But I’m sure he would not seem damn guilty was everett. (even if Everett weren’t)


  18. For those don’t quite understand or remember Golson’s problem: He simply would not protect the football. He ran with it like a loaf of bread. And a stinky loaf of bread at that.

    And when the big kids stole his lunch, he slunk back to the bench with that hangdog look, where Kelly waited to earn his salary as head coach. And he would simply shut those big ears completely off. I give Kelly a lot of credit for not yanking on the kid’s faceguard. But not for staying with a serial fumbler all season.

    Golson might very well win the Heisman at FSU. If Fisher is smart enough to have Golson hand the ball off, and virtually never EVER run it himself, he could be great. The only thing that Golson would then have to work on himself would be to throw the ball away on a broken play instead of scrambling into chaos.

    And if he doesn’t learn to do that…quickly…Fisher benches him, and he can focus on piano scales. Simple.

  19. Hey david and Ryan . . .
    Golson’s gone, and he wasn’t too shabby in his opener w/FSU either.
    Malik was great- no need to demean Golson. Don’t underrate, appreciate.

    BK and staff will probably keep CJ’s touches down so as to save him from too much pounding.
    He’s got good size but wasn’t expected to be a 25 or so carry RB, despite how dominant the OL can be.
    The young Frosh RB’s premieres were impressive, especially Adams.
    Both will need to grow up fast, especially in picking up blitzes, and definitely this week.

    VA’s 3rd year def. coord. is Jon Tenuta.
    Remember him? Former ND DC. Mr. Blitz early and often . . .
    Be looking for more than a few exotic blitzes directed at Zaire, who showed Saturday that with time,
    as Scott noted, he will destroy your D.’

    Will likely continue to see multiple formations to compensate for Folston’s loss – with four TEs ready,
    including HBack/TE #13 Luata as a blocker for Zaire– maximizing the great athletes still healthy.
    And nobody’s gonna remember or care about Alize Jones first drop by the time he’s done at ND.
    Fuller is awesome , Carlisle seems to keep getting better, and with Hunter, Robinson and C.Brown,playmakers abound.

    Looking for more dominance and destruction at VA, regardless how fired up VA is.

  20. Let’s not start flying the national championship banners yet. This reminds me of the feeling I had after the Michigan shutout last year. It felt damn good then and now though! If I have anything to add, it would be the great pocket presence of Malik Zaire. He didn’t look scared and he didn’t have Golson’s ridiculous restless leg syndrome. Overall an impressive win!

  21. FYI Dave Golson transferred to Florida St. and had less than a month of practice with his new team , won the starting QB job, then went something like 19-25 for 310 yds 4tds and zero picks. Zaire and Golson had great opening games against less than average teams. Let’s revisit this 6 games into the season. This Irish team will have been tested by then. I need to see how Zaire handles failure before I’m sold. Jury is still out.

  22. I really am not understanding how you could count 4 times when Goldin certainly would have fumbled. Lol

    Also, I’m gonna make a similar comment as you. I’ll bet, that you were one of the guys calling for Golsons hiesman the 1st 4 games last year. Lol

  23. The (clip above) bomb to Fuller was not a good throw. Will had to stop and wait for it. But still…I am very much more comfortable / confident with Malik-da-Freak as the distributor (QB) than Golson. Golson has talent. Malik has equal-if-not-better talent. The real difference? COMPORTMENT. Golson never presented as comfortable – confident as our leader. Malik presents like he belongs in a leadership position. OUR leadership role.


  24. I counted at least 4 plays where Golson would have almost certainly have fumbled the football. Zaire protected the football SO much better, and ran with purpose instead of scrambling.

    After Tommy’s inability to run at all, and Golson’s abject refusal to do it properly, it was a pleasure to watch a Heisman-worthy performance at ND stadium by the home team quarterback for a change.

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