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

Sheldon Day - Notre Dame DT
Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports

Leveraging a dominating offensive line with a bewildering array of skilled players Notre Dame disposed of a pesky band of Minutemen, 62-27.  Notre Dame moved to 4-0 with a 5 game winning streak intact.

Scripted Begining

The defense started with a three and out, and would have extended it to four successive games begun with two three and outs but for a Jaylon Smith facemask penalty.

A 58 yard burst by Prosise and a surprising seven yard scamper by the not immobile Deshone Kizer gave the Irish a 14-0 lead with 19 seconds left in the first stanza. The Irish have scored at least 7 in the First Quarter of every game.

Nine Nettlesome Minutes

Just when the rout appeared to be on, UMASS showed its spunk.

First, there was an apparent work stoppage by the Notre Dame linebackers and safeties as Marquise Young galloped 83 yards with Prosiseian  ease to put the Minutemen on the board as the first quarter ended.

Then Kizer was charged with an interception as the ball bounced off Fuller and was grabbed by UMASS. The clever Whipple, running an offense whose scheme(s) was the diametric opposite of Paul Johnson’s, concocted a mix of runs and passes to matriculate the ball into the end zone. ND 14-UMASS 13.

The Irish answered with a pass from Deshone Kizer to Will “I score every game” Fuller and the Irish were back up 21-13.  But UMASS stormed back with a long pass and two interference penalties against Luke and Okwara to punch in a 1 yarder for a 21-20 deficit. Just 9 harrowing  minutes had elapsed since the 14-0 Irish lead.

Special (Teams) Moments

Just when it looked as if the Irish were in for an unpleasant afternoon, special teams made some plays.

The increasingly competent Tyler Newsome dropped a downable punt on the UMASS 1.  After a quick, and welcome, three and out, UMASS punted out of its end zone.

C.J. Sanders, showing the most elusive moves seen in South Bend since Kim Dunbar swivel-hipped past Jerry Dominiack’s accounting controls, took his FIRST scoring punt return in for a 28-20 lead.

Kizer got the ball back with 1:27 left and was Cool Hand Deshone, getting off nine plays, the last a strike to Chris Brown, for a 35-20 Irish halftime lead.

After Prosise scored on the opening drive of the second half, Whipple went all in and tried a fake punt.  But there was a werewolf sighting, as Jarrett Grace was not faked by the fake and he and Martini, for all practical purposes, ended the game.

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Newsome, Sanders, Grace and Martini had made special teams plays that impacted the game.

Third Quarter, 8 Minutes Left

Brandon Wimbush entered.  It has been many moons since the Irish have been able to send in the second units with 23 minutes left in the game.   The first strings had done their part.

Did Amir Carlisle Arrive?

After Brown last week, Carlisle had an impactful outing with 5 catches for 52 yards, with better results returning kicks. He may be ready to finish his ND career on an uptick.

Newcomers of the Match

Alize Jones – he is starting to show glimpses of big play ability. Alize will probably make many catches for the Irish, but may not set receiving records for a Notre Dame Tight End because of:

Nic Weishar – needed his redshirt year, but is now ready to make catches for Kizer and Wimbush. His hands are as good as advertised.

Josh Adams – Rangy, shifty, good vision, his cutback away from the sideline to the middle of the field on his 70 yard TD was a sophisticated, NFL type move.

Dexter Williams -smaller than Adams, but shifty and elusive. He was one of five player to rush for more than 40 yards.

C.J. Sanders – got a catch to go with his long awaited first TD as a punt returner.

Tevon Coney – great tackling machine, he will make many tackles for the Irish defense.  Coney is quiet and  workmanlike but  a monstrously efficient player.

Brandown Wimbush – Oh Yeah! His touchdown run was sweet.  The stat sheet shows him 3-5 for 17 yards.  But his two incompletions are what raised eyebrows.  The textbook spiral to Will Fuller was one, and the scramble to Equanimeous St. Brown was even more awe-inspiring.  Sure Hiestand will need to coach the OL to mind the scrimmage line when Wimbush scrambles, but Wimbush is an agent of chaos for opposing defense.  He is explosive.  EXPLOSIVE!

Depth? Let Us Count the Ways

Former starters Tarean Folston, Malik Zaire and Durham Smythe are out for the year.  Postulating their full return to health for Spring Practice, is it safe to assume that any or all of them will regain their starting positions?

A Portentous October Fortnight

It begins on October 3rd in Death Valley against Clemson, with Navy the following week in the “sandwich” game, followed by USC’s talented Trojans under the lights in South Bend on October 17th.

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These 15 days will define Notre Dame’s team in 2015, Team 127. Clemson is not an easy place to play.

Navy’s specialty is warfare on water and bugging the heck out of the Fighting Irish football team. They have a reputation for taking enough out of a team so that the team often performs poorly the week following their game with Navy.

Then the Trojans. All true Notre Dame fans have endured championship dreams nightmared by USC, often when it was least expected.

It’s quite a stretch, an unforgiving moment.  A gauntlet.

When the clock strikes midnight in Michiana on October 17th we will know much more about Team 127. So will the nation.

What Will We See Against Clemson?

  • A Hostile, revved up crowd. The Irish have not played in Clemson’s version of Death Valley (we have played multiple times in LSU’s rendition) since 1977. In that game, the zebras made things very difficult for Notre Dame.  Clemson fans fill up the stadium most Saturdays, but this is the ticket season ticket holders will keep and not give away to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
  • An unbeaten, well-rested squad.  Clemson last played on September 17th, in a 20-17 road win over Louisville.
  • A heralded, but oft-injured quarterback, Deshone Watson, who was rated America’s best quarterback by Rivals when he signed with Clemson in 2014. Watson can be a toxic combination, arguably the best “dual purpose” quarterback the Irish will face. Certainly he is not the running threat that Justin Thomas is and not the passing threat that Cody Kessler is, but he is skilled at both and can annoy the best defensive game plans.  He runs the first truly balanced, competent offense that Notre Dame will face this year.  This game will determine if Notre Dame’s pass rush and coverage skills are at a high level.
  • An aggressive defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, formerly of Oklahoma. While he is not Tenuta, he loves to dial up pressure, sometimes to a fault.
  • A young offensive line
  • A young defensive line, but with a stud in Shaq Lawson and some other rising talents
  • A situation in which Notre Dame could well dominate both trenches
  • First road start for Deshone Kizer
  • A standout cornerback, MacKenzie Alexander, who will try to cover Will Fuller one-on-one. The Kelly/Sanford/Denbrock axis must have Kizer prepared to laser to other targets.

Go Irish!

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14 Comments

  1. So true on the “two opponets”. The “D” line has depth and all need to play. Fast game these days and they could help out the D- backs. Providing ball doesn’t come out to fast. If so, get their hands up. Keeping O-lineman off the backers too. I think they will fair well against Clemson. Play physical and fast. Earn another win. Thanks.

  2. Peter, the verdict on the defense will be not rendered until October 17th. Clemson is too young, too banged up on the offensive line and without enough continuity of service from Watson to provide the acid test.
    I’m not in the least suggesting that Clemson can not win. But even an Irish victory will not settle the defensive questions listed below.

    Part of the challenge is going back and forth on offenses. Popping the clutch from GA Tech to UMASS is not easy. And we have to do it twice more in October, going from Clemson to Navy and then Navy to USC. Part of the challenge of the October gauntlet is navigating the shifting responsibilities after they get back from Clemson. Going from Navy to USC is a challenge.

    The biggest Achilles heel on the defense is the lack of enough coverage corners. Beyond Rusell and Luke lie Butler, Coleman, Watkins, Farley, none of whom has proven success. Crawford’s ascendance to the starting nickel was partly attributable to his abilities, partly to the lack of quality competition and coverage skills. Trust me, Sarkisian will test the coverage talent and schemes. USC is far from perfect, but their offense, with Kessler, the big line and the bevy of speed receivers, will stress test our defense. If you doubt that go back and look at Adoree Jackson abuse Greer Martini last year on Jackson’s touchdown.

    There are some explosive offenses out there, should Notre Dame get to the playoffs. Texas A&M, for example, with Allen and their bevy of receivers creates SEVERE matchup problems for the Irish.
    Even Ohio State’s receivers would create a matchup problem.

    Every week, a team plays two opponents:

    (1) The one on the schedule
    (2) its own potential.

    Everyone obsesses on the first, great coaches are always concerned with the latter.

    This Irish team has a lot of talent and athleticisim in a lot of places. It is well coached. The two areas that concern me are Gilmore’s unwillingness to play his depth and the coverage corner scarcity. I remain sanguine about Kizer. He will not be our limiting constraint in the regular season.

    We shall see.

  3. @Richard Anthony – My dad’s name was Richard, also; everyone called him Dick. You are a “sure been a long time since winning a World Series” Yankoffs fan; I love my “3-time MLB Champions since the turn-of-the-century” Red Sox. Or wait…this is a NotaDame board? OK – even Yankees fans are welcome as long as you’re NotaDame fans. GO IRISH! (Kevin, ND’89)

  4. Our defensive backfield this year reminds me of our O line last year. A lot of confidence going into the season but for what ever reason can’t put it all together. Pressure on the passer was a concern and seems to be a problem based upon the aforementioned. I wonder and hope that we have been saving the full unleashing of Jaylon on the pass rush for USC. I tend to think we have the best O line in the country. Maybe that break won’t be so good for Clemson since I think they will need a fast start to beat us.

  5. Nice to have two years in a row with a 4-0 start. Reminds me of the
    Holtz years; hope still floats into October. Now if we can have a healthy year, we might really make some noise.

  6. If we get past this with a new QB in that mess down there we will have a great chance for the
    playoffs. Kisar I really like but this is his first experience with this noise. Our lines should have an
    advantage.

  7. “C.J. Sanders, showing the most elusive moves seen in South Bend since Kim Dunbar swivel-hipped past Jerry Dominiack’s accounting controls, took his FIRST scoring punt return in for a 28-20 lead.”

    CLASSIC!

  8. Make no mistake about it the next 3 games will make or break NDs season. Clemson will be no picnic, Navy never is, and USC, well the only thing I hate more than USC is the Red Sox! The Trojans always cause havoc with the Irish. Only time will tell and should the Irish win all 3, then the skies the limit. Losing one certainly won’t mean the end to the season but two losses would be a disaster! Go Irish!

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