It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the Spring of hope, it was the Winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, then, finally we still had everything before us. Who knew that Charles Dickens understood Notre Dame football?
The Irish achieved their first road win, and moved to 2-0 with the 34-27 win over Virginia.
FIRST QUARTER DOMINANCE WITH TWO ASTERISKS
The Irish established, for the second week in a row, brutal control of both lines of scrimmage in the first quarter. The defense kept up its pattern of forcing two three and outs on the opponents first two possessions.
But an old problem returned and a new one arose. The Irish, despite having over 11 minutes of possession in the first quarter, stalled in the red zone and near the red zone. The new problem was that Zaire seemed to be high on many throws, a surprise after his laser accuracy against Texas.
TWO SPECIAL (TEAM) MOMENTS
Say hello to Pryce Tracy, the Special Teams Assistant hired by ND to assist Scott Booker. Tracy has been busy and on Notre Dame’s first possession the Irish appeared to line up to attempt a field goal. Then Deshone Kizer, with Justin Yoon running around end on a clever fake, threw his first touchdown pass (a shovel pass is a PASS) to Durham Smythe. Doubling down on special teams the Irish then lined up in the formation perfected by Chip Kelly and went for two, but Kizer was stopped just short of the goal line. While Kizer was no doubt proud of his first touchdown pass in an Irish uniform, it is his second touchdown pass that, some day, he will retell again and again to his grandchildren.
Control just sort of drifted away from the Irish. Viriginia did not so much seize momentum as they did snatch it when the Irish weren’t looking.
He was not stopped by the talented Irish secondary, and caught 11 balls for 153 yards. He had 42 catches last year and was the leading returning Cavalier receiver, but Artavis Scott and Juju Smith will be licking their chops when they look at the cutup of Severin’s catches. Virginia 14- Notre Dame 12 at halftime.
The Irish charged out of the locker room at halftime and temporarily restored control, with Zaire’s bomb to Fuller regaining the lead. Zaire would finish 7 of 18 for 115, a pedestrian 6 of 17 for 56 without the third quarter bomb to Fuller.
The Irish were driving toward the Virginia goal line late in the third quarter when Zaire picked up 3 yards to the Virginia 24. Zaire, having gained his 87th rushing yard, grimaced and reached down to his ankle……
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
Spring outlook: “The Irish offense should be explosive, led by quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire and junior running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.”
Not any more.
NEXT MAN IN
Deshone Kizer handed the ball to C.J. Prosise, the Virginia native, who galloped in from 24 yards out for a commanding, so goes the cliché, 26-14 lead with the third quarter waning.
Prosise is fast and powerful, with some elusiveness. Denson will polish his effectiveness at the second and third levels and he will be an even greater force by November.
But Virginia kept clawing and scratching and Matt Johns kept finding Canaan Severin. Virigina went ahead 27-26 with a mere 1:54 to go.
Green clad Irish faithful stood out as the contrast with their ashen faces only made the green seem richer, brighter, more futile, more desperate.
THE WILL TO WIN; THE DESHONE TO WIN
All seemed lost until Kizer bulled for a first down to the ND 32. The Virginia goal line seemed unreachable in the mist, and nervous Irish fingers calculated the yardage needed for Justin Yoon to either make his third field goal or miss his second attempt.
But the coaches called a great play and Will Fuller cemented his All-America status with a lovely catch of a fine throw by Deshone Kizer. The two point conversion was caught by Torii Hunter from Kizer and the final was Notre Dame 34-Virginia 27.
Adversity does not build character. Adversity reveals character.
2-0 this year, and an intriguing three game win streak over Power Five teams, LSU from the SEC, Texas from the Big XII and Virginia from the ACC. LSU and Texas have won National Championships in this millennium.
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST GEORGIA TECH?
“I’m the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood here. You tell the angels in heaven you never saw evil so personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.” Christopher Walken as Vincent Coccotti, counsel to Blue Lou Boyle, the “Sicilian Scene” from the 1993 movie “True Romance.” When Brian Van Gorder took over for Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Van Gorder summarily, and loudly, junked Johnson’s option offense. Johnson was already on his way to Navy, but it did not sit well with him. Paul Johnson will be in “a vendetta kind of mood” against Van Gorder. This is personal, not business.
In the last three games of 2014, Georgia Tech rushed for 399 yards against Georgia, 351 yards against Florida State and 452 yards against Mississippi State’s proud Bulldogs.
Justin Thomas is the fastest quarterback Notre Dame has faced since Denard “Shoelace” Robinson of Michigan.
A forgotten past national championship. Bobby Ross led the Yellow Jackets/Rambin’ Wreck/Engineers to a split national championship in 1990. But for a clipping call against Greg Davis on a marvelous punt return by Raghib Ismail against Colorado, Georgia Tech would have been the unanimous National Champion at 11-0-1 with the tie against North Carolina.
An interesting question about Notre Dame’s defensive design. Last year, Van Gorder brought out a special linebacker-heavy defense against Navy. Expect more of the same. Remember, Bobby Elliott has been working on stopping, or slowing down the option as one of his most special projects since he moved to the non-coaching position as “Special Assistant to the Head Coach.” Van Gorder will be as focused as Johnson. It may be a test of how much his players care about Van Gorder. Johnson has called him out. Will the players rally to defend Van Gorder?
A game in which the offense might have to rescue the defense. A huge test for Team 127, the moniker that Kelly bestowed on the 2015 Irish. Sometimes, Notre Dame responds better to a challenge than to success and adulation. In ’93 a wunderkind quarterback named Ron Powlus broke his collarbone, but the whole team responded and the team was unbeaten until that fateful afternoon against Tom Coughlin, Glenn Foley and Pete Mitchell. Some guy named Kevin McDouogal played great all year as the Notre Dame QB. The other offensive players have to lift up Kizer. He’s a better passer than runner, so rest assured Kelly, Sanford and Denbrock are scheming feverishly. A fair amount is at stake.
This Saturday is a Notre Dame moment. The Song does not say “We dominate weak opponents.” It says “What though the odds be great or small.”
Suck it up. Quit whining. You know the team will.