Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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26 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED TURNING POINT If there was a flicker of hope left for Nevada in the first half to make the game competitive, it came with 5:03 remaining until the intermission when it pinned Notre Dame back at its 12-yard line while trailing 18-0. A defensive hold by Nevada, get- ting the ball in good field position, scoring before halftime and then re- ceiving the second half kickoff could have at least made it interesting. The Wolf Pack put Notre Dame into a third-and-14 hole at its 8-yard line, but junior wide receiver Corey Holmes made his first career catch on a 15-yard pass from junior quar- terback DeShone Kizer. The methodical downfield march continued while converting on third-and-two and third-and-three. The 13-play, 88-yard drive culmi- nated with a two-yard option pitch TD to senior running back Tarean Folston with 35 seconds left to make it an overwhelming 25-0 at halftime. STAT OF THE GAME Notre Dame finished 6 for 6 in the red zone. More importantly, the last five resulted in touchdowns. While achieving this against an outmanned Nevada defense might be construed as padding the num- bers, the fact that Notre Dame was able to accomplish it with mainly a sophomore and freshman contin- gent at the running back and re- ceiver positions is encouraging. Kizer especially has a nose for the goal line with his 230-pound frame, but he also maneuvered to buy time for his receivers. Notable is that even though the Irish have several large targets for fades or jump balls, it was sopho- more slot receiver C.J. Sanders, at 5-8, and freshman wideout Kevin Stepherson, at 6-0, that were found for four- and seven-yard scores. LET'S GET PHYSICAL Notre Dame's next opponent, Michigan State, has had a clear, unmistakable identity for a decade under head coach Mark Dantonio: Blue-collar physicality on both sides of the ball and consistently excellent fundamentals. That is a direction Notre Dame might head in 2016. Last year, with the game-breaking Will Fuller at wide receiver and the explosive C.J. Prosise in the back- field, Notre Dame unofficially set a school record for most 50-yard scores in a season with just over a dozen on offense. This year, it will need to lean on a more methodical approach — simi- lar to Michigan State. Defensively, it went to more base principles against Nevada with a four-man line while protecting an extremely young secondary. It might not be fancy, but it can work, as it has for the Spartans for a while. THREE OBSERVATIONS BY LOU SOMOGYI Senior linebacker James Onwualu spearheaded a strong defensive effort for the Irish with team-best totals of five solo stops and two tackles for loss. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA OFFENSE: QB DESHONE KIZER Notre Dame was not overly explosive against Nevada, and none of its offensive players put up major numbers. The Irish grinded out a win, and the efficient performance of the junior quarterback was a primary reason. Kizer set a career-best mark by completing 83.3 percent of his passes (15 of 18), and ended the night with 156 passing yards and two touch- downs. He also rushed for 35 yards and a score in the win. DEFENSE: LB JAMES ONWUALU The senior linebacker is a captain for the Irish, and against Nevada he played like it. He led the Irish with five tackles — all solo stops — and two tackles for loss. While those numbers were good, it was his disciplined play that proved crucial to Notre Dame's defensive success. In the second quarter, Nevada tried to catch Notre Dame off guard with a reverse, but Onwualu stayed home and made the stop for a seven-yard loss. Later in the same quarter, Nevada had crossed into Notre Dame terri- tory, but Onwualu sniffed out a misdirection run and tackled Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi for a three-yard loss. Nevada's drive stalled out just two plays later. SPECIAL TEAMS: RETURNER C.J. SANDERS For the second straight game, sophomore C.J. Sanders made a signifi- cant impact in the return game. His 24-yard punt runback in the second quarter gave the Irish the football at the Nevada 25-yard line. Three plays later, Sanders finished off the drive with his second career receiving touchdown. In the third quarter, he ripped off a season-long kick return of 37 yards, giving the Irish the ball out at their 43-yard line. Both of his returns set up touchdowns for the Notre Dame offense. Sanders finished the game with 107 all-purpose yards. TOP PLAYERS OF THE GAME BY BRYAN DRISKELL

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