SOUTH BEND — Texas arrived in Indiana with energy and a renewed spirit. They exited the same way they left 2014; a complete mess.
Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire accounted for three touchdowns, freshman Josh Adams scored twice, and the Fighting Irish defense did the rest as ND walloped the Longhorns, 38-3, at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night.
Junior Will Fuller finished with 142 yards on seven grabs, two scores, none prettier than the perfect deep ball snagged at the 5:50 mark of the 3rd quarter which gave the Irish a 24-3 margin and basically killed any hope for the Texas faithful.
“We talked about on defense containing their quarterback and not allowing him to throw and he had all day to throw the football and (Notre Dame) was able to execute on some big plays,” said Charlie Strong. “But we have to get better. We have to improve. We are just a better football team than we showed and I just keep saying, that we just got to keep believing in it because we can’t just go out there and not execute and not complete a game.”
It’s the first season-opening loss for the Longhorns since North Carolina State in 1999.
The Texas (0-1) offense was putrid. After spending an entire offseason working and tinkering with the offense, they tallied 75 1st half yards and 163 total, while Swoopes and Heard were sacked four times and pressured a dozen more. The Longhorns have now been outscored 117-20 in the last three contests. Notre Dame totaled 230 (1st half) and 527 overall.
“You know what we have to go do is we have to relax and guys just need execute, and then we have to get them in the right place and that didn’t always happen,” Strong explained. “And when you recognize what your weaknesses are, then you can’t go out there thinking ‘this is going to work. We’ve got to get a package put in place let’s go run with it.”
Tyrone Swoopes and the offensive line had troubles all night. Swoopes finished 7-of-22, for 93 yards passing, and added 36 yards rushing. Another poor performance in a line of poor performances. The o-line was beaten repeatedly. And when seniors Daje Johnson and Johnathan Gray combine for 85 yards, it’s just not your night. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard played two series, and after completing a pass, moving the chains twice, and getting the wind knocked out of him, didn’t see the field for the remainder of the evening. Wide receiver Marcus Johnson left the game in the 2nd quarter with a foot injury and was wearing a boot after the contest.
“(Heard) is going to get more playing time,” said Strong. “He got tired and he’s going to continue to play and the line is going to continue to get better but everyone has to get better. I just felt like Tyrone could make the throws to get us back in the game.”
The offense showed some life on its first drive of the 2nd half. Swoopes hit freshman John Burt for a 48-yard pitch-and catch but the drive stalled as Nick Rose nailed a 41-yard field goal to put UT on the board, 17-3.
“We’ve got to get our defense off the field,” said Gray, who showed fire after drives that stalled with numerous 3-and-outs.
Notre Dame opened the scoring on its second drive when Zaire hit WR Will Fuller for a 16-yard scoring strike and an early 7-0 lead. After another UT 3-and-out, Adams punched it in from 14 yards on his first ND carry for a 14-0 advantage late in the 1st quarter.
Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon connected on a 38-yard field goal midway through the 2nd quarter giving the Irish their biggest lead; 17-0.
Rose made a 52-yard field goal – twice – to end the opening stanza, but Notre Dame called timeout both times. Rose missed wide left on his third attempt.
A few of the bright spots on a dark night were the freshmen, Malik Jefferson (nine tackles/ 2.5 TFL), Kris Boyd (three tackles), and John Burt in particular.
“You look at the young players,” Strong said. “Malik ended up playing good, Boyd made plays on special teams. We have to keep those guys headed in the right direction.”
Two of the notable plays of the game were Burt’s 48-yard catch and Breckyn Hager’s tackle for loss and ensuing attempt to fight half the Irish 2nd team offense.
“At the end of the day we lost,” said Jefferson. “As a player I feel like I need to get better and try to lead this team to victories in the future.”