CHICAGO – This is the kind of game we’ve been waiting for. Everett Golson didn’t start at quarterback on Saturday night against Miami, but he played and played well. More importantly, the Fighting Irish ran the ball better than they have in a decade in their 41-3 shellacking of the Hurricanes at Soldier Field.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage (and) played physical today,” head coach Brian Kelly said of his Irish. “And defensively, after we settled down to the speed of the game, (we) limited a very good offense to…we didn’t give-up the big plays.”
The defense nearly gave-up the big plays. In fact, they really did give-up two big plays on Miami’s first possession, but their best receiver, Phillip Dorsett, dropped what would have been 72 and 43-yard touchdown passes from Stephen Morris.
“We were in position, but we didn’t finish the play,” Kelly said of the deep balls that went Dorsett’s way. “I think they felt like ‘hey we were in good position’, and then that burst at the end and then they saw it. We made it pretty clear to them that they (ND defensive players) had to pick-up their pace and they did a very good job in the second quarter moving through the rest of the game.”
By the time the night was over though Morris, who was coming off a career-best 566 yard passing day against North Carolina State last week, was limited to 18-of-35 passing for 201 yards. The mobile QB also ran the ball for just 14 yards on two carries. Dorsett, who had more than 370 receiving yards in his last two games, was held to six yards on one reception. He had three dropped balls.
The Fighting Irish defense held the Hurricanes to 285 yards of total offense on 53 plays. They managed just 84 rushing yards and 13 total first downs. Notre Dame has not allowed a touchdown in its last 12 quarters. The 39 total points allowed this season is the lowest total since the 1975 team allowed just 34 points over the first five games. The Hurricane offense was averaging 35.6 points entering the night.
Notre Dame was just as impressive on the offensive side of the ball when it came to controlling the line of scrimmage. They gouged Miami to the tune of 376 rushing yards. It’s the most for a Notre Dame team since running for 380 against Boston College in 2000.
“Clearly we felt like we would find a way to run the football today,” Kelly said of his team’s offensive strategy. “Our game plan was situated on running the football, which equals time of possession for us.”
The Irish dominated time of possession 39:08 to 20:52. Cierre Wood had his best game of the season with 118 yards on 18 carries. He scored two touchdowns. George Atkinson led the Irish with 123 yards on 10 carries, while scoring on a 55-yard run. Wood and Atkinson became the first pair of Irish backs to surpass 100 yards in the same game since Rashon Powers-Neal and Ryan Grant did it against Stanford in 2002. Of ND’s 376 yard rushing total, 270 yards came in the second half.
Notre Dame’s leading rusher coming into the game was Theo Riddick, but the senior did not see action in the second half after suffering an injury.
“He had a bruised elbow,” Kelly said of Riddick after the game. “He probably could have carried well with his left arm, but we were running well with those two guys and George had just hit a couple in there, so there was really no reason to throw a guy in there that had an elbow bruise.”
Riddick did have three receptions for 15 yards before leaving the game. He also had five carries for 21 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run for the team’s first score of the night.
Quick QB Rotation
There were plenty of rumors going around on Thursday that Tommy Rees, who replaced Golson in the first half of the Michigan game two weeks ago, would start instead of Golson Saturday night. That did indeed happen, but Rees’ start didn’t last long.
The junior took Notre Dame’s first three snaps of the game after a Miami punt, but Golson entered after a roughing the kicker call extended a drive that would have ended with a three-and-out.
“It was important for me after disciplining him to get him back in the game right away,” Kelly said of his decision to go right back to Golson after Rees had run just three plays. “To let him know that I had trust in him and that I believed in him. I think that helped him to go in and be relaxed and feel like ‘hey I’ve got the head coach’s support here even though I goofed-up.”
Kelly’s decision worked-out in both the short and long term in the game. Golson directed the last seven plays of the drive, which ended with Theo Riddick’s one-yard touchdown run. Golson was 2-for-2 on the drive and would complete his first six passes before his first misfire of the evening. He also had two runs for 21 yards during the drive.
Golson’s short stint on the bench on Saturday was due to tardiness on Friday.
“He was meeting with a professor and he lost track of time,” Kelly explained after the game. “He knows he’s gotta communicate with us and do a better job of that, but he took full responsibility and accountability for it. I thought he came in and played very well. I was proud of him today.”
Golson came into the game with a net of minus-11 yards rushing on 21 carries this season, but he carried six times for 51 yards. The biggest reason was the addition of the zone read, which allowed him to keep the ball himself or hand it off to a running back based on his read of Miami’s defensive ends.
“We had not run any zone read before,” Kelly said of the new wrinkle that was added for the team’s fifth game of the season.” We were not comfortable going into that part of the playbook. He’s done a better job with it. I feel more confident in doing that with him.”
Golson was also 17-of-22 for 186 yards through the air. He was 2-of-2 for 33 second half yards. Rees did come back in the game with 9:51 remaining and the outcome decided. He was 2-of-4 for 25 yards passing.
Saturday Night In Chicago
The announced crowd for the “Shamrock Series” game at Soldier Field was 62,871, and Kelly was happy with the new environment in a smaller “home game” setting than usual.
“When they ran out of the tunnel it was a pretty exciting atmosphere,” Kelly said. “They are used to Notre Dame Stadium and 81,000, but the 60-plus thousand that were here tonight made for a great atmosphere here in Chicago. From our standpoint our football team really fed off that energy.”
The Irish can now also put away the special uniforms they wore for the game.
- The only three points Notre Dame gave-up all night came on a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter. It’s the first time an opponent has scored in the first quarter this season.
- The Irish have won 36 of their last 38 games when outrushing an opponent.
- Manti Te’o led ND with 10 tackles for the 21st double-digit tackle game of his career. He has also led the Irish in tackles in 23 games in his career. His 372 tackles ranks fourth in school history.
- Notre Dame remains the only FBS team not to trail at any point this season.
- Tommy Rees is now 13-4 as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.
- The Irish defense has gone seven straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. The last time they started a season with five straight games without allowing a rushing score was 1989.
- Notre Dame has yielded just nine rushing touchdowns in it 23 games. The only defense to allow fewer over its last 23 contests is Alabama with six.