Both Notre Dame and Texas kicked off the 2016 season still uncertain who would, or should, be their team’s starting quarterback this fall. Consider this season opening game a live audition of sorts. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly started by alternating his two quarterbacks, DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, each series the Irish had the ball. Texas head coach Charlie Strong was a bit more reserved, starting the game with Shane Buechele for one full quarter before getting Tyrone Swoopes onto the field following a timeout. As the first half drew to a close, if that is enough of a sample size to base any important decisions, it appeared Kizer and Buechele were establishing themselves as the top options for their respective teams after leading, or finishing, two touchdown drives each. Buechele and Texas have the edge on the visiting Irish, 21-14 at the half.And what a half it was.
And what a half it was.
Notre Dame was first on the scoreboard when Kizer completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Equanimeous St. Brown to cap the opening drive of the game. The two had tried hooking up on the first offensive play of the game, but Kizer’s pass attempt fell incomplete. Fortunately for the Irish, running back Tarean Folston broke free for a 54-yard gain after breaking a tackle through the line of scrimmage. With a few blockers opening up a huge piece of open field on the right side of the line, Folston put the Irish inside the red zone for the first time this season. A few plays later, on 1st and 10 from the Texas 13-yard line, Kizer tried finding St. Brown once again in the end zone for the early touchdown. St. Brown later caught a fantastic pass from Kizer and did a somersault into the end zone after planting his hand on the ground to keep his movement going toward the end zone.
Buechele led Texas for a touchdown on Texas’ first possession, and he later finished off a second touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. He looked sharp as well with a good deep ball and perfect placement, and he received some good help from his receivers as well. Buechele dropped a perfect pass on the edge of the end zone sideline that was able to be hauled in by Armanti Foreman to tie the score at 7-7.
Texas later put together an impressive 16-play, 88-yard touchdown drive, which saw Swoopes make his season debut before Buechele finish things off with a short touchdown run from the one-yard line. After the Irish tied the score at 14-14 in the second quarter, it was Buechele again showing off his arm and dropping a ball in the hands of 68 yards to Jerrod Heard, who was taken down at the one-yard line. With a first and goal from the one-yard line, it took Texas three tries to push across the goal line against the Irish defensive line. It was Swoopes who took the snap and dashed to the right edge of the line with Notre Dame stacking the middle.
It was an eventful first half between the Longhorns and the Irish. In the second half it will be fascinating to see how the dynamic of the offensive decision-making goes at the quarterback situation. Texas has gotten some really good stuff through the air from Buechele, although Swoopes has produced on the ground. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is still getting most fo their offensive production with Kizer on the field.
Heading into the 2016 season opener on the road against Texas, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly remained firm on the idea of using two quarterbacks during the game. DeShone Kizer got the start for the Irish against the Longhorns, while Malik Zaire has to wait his turn. Kizer got the Irish off to a quick start right out of the gate, helping give Notre Dame an early 7-0 lead.
Kizer was just 1-for-2 on his opening series to the 2016 season, but the one completion was good for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Irish the first score of the game. Kizer found wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown one a first down inside the red zone after missing on a pass attempt to St. Brown on the first play of the game. Notre Dame’s opening drive was highlighted by a 54-yard run by running back Tarean Folston, putting Notre Dame just inside the red zone.
On Notre Dame’s second offensive series, Kelly gave Zaire his first chance to lead the offense this season. It was less productive with just one pass attempt falling incomplete after a pair of rushing attempts for Folston. Kizer returned on Notre Dame’s next offensive series and completed two passes for a total of seven yards before taking a sack on a third and 13, leading to a punt.
Keeping true to his word, Kelly continued to alternate quarterbacks by sending Zaire out for Notre Dame’s next offensive series, which continued as the first quarter came to a close.
So far there is no reason to suggest one quarterback is ultimately better than the other, although Kizer is responsible for the only touchdown drive so far (again, boosted by a big run by Folston). Will this continue for the entire game, or will Kelly settle on one guy at some point this evening?
Notre Dame already knew it would need to replace an All-American offensive lineman who was leaving school early. Now, one of the players for which Ronnie Stanley cleared holes is moving on as well.
On Instagram Saturday, C.J. Prosise announced that he will be leaving the Irish a year early in order to make himself available for the April NFL draft. The running back’s decision, which has been expected given his talent and the position he plays, comes one day after Notre Dame closed out its season with a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
It also came a couple of days after he confirmed that he had received a grade from the NFL’s draft advisory committee, but declined to reveal the result.
After rushing for just 126 yards combined the previous two seasons, the converted wide receiver broke out as a redshirt junior in 2015 in leading the Irish with 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those totals were tied for 57th and 46th nationally, respectively, although those numbers are somewhat skewed by the fact that he recorded no statistics in two of the final three regular season games as well as essentially the entire bowl game because of ankle and concussion issues.
One area that will likely catch the eyes of NFL scouts, besides his speed, is his pass-catching ability as he was fifth on the Irish in receptions (26) and receiving yards (308).
Despite Prosise’s early departure, the Golden Domers should be more than fine in the backfield.
Tarean Folston, the team’s leading rusher in 2014, is expected to be fully healthy after sustaining a knee injury in the season opener and missing the remainder of the 2015 season. Josh Adams, second on the team with a school freshman record 835 yards and a team-leading 7.1 yards per carry, returns, as does fellow freshman Dexter Williams (81 yards on 21 carries). The Irish also have commitments from a pair of touted 2016 running back prospects, Tony Jones. Jr. and Deon McIntosh.
Another week, another key Notre Dame player lost for the year. Sophomore safety Drue Tranquill, who was injured in Saturday’s victory over Georgia Tech while celebrating with his teammate son the field, has a torn ACL. His season is now cooked, as announced by Notre Dame today.
Tranquill underwent surgery for a torn ACL last November, but that surgery was on his left knee. This latest ACL injury is in his right knee.
At some point conventional wisdom would suggest the mounting injuries will catch up to Notre Dame somewhere along the way. If the Irish continue to pull out wins despite the injuries piling up, then Brian Kelly needs to be recognized for some tremendous coaching efforts this season.
Tranquill’s injury means Notre Dame has lost six players for the season to various injuries. Last week the Irish lost quarterback Malik Zaire and tight end Durham Smythe and running back Tarean Folston was lost following the season opener. Notre Dame also saw defensive back Shaun Crawford and defensive tackle Jarron Jones go down for the year in preseason camp.
The hits just keep on coming for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Just days after learning quarterback Malik Zaire is done for the year with a season-ending ankle injury, the Irish have reportedly lost another offensive starter for the year. Tight end Durham Smythe reportedly injured his shoulder and his knees in the first two games of the season, against Texas (shoulder) and Virginia (ankle). Smythe is expected to undergo surgery procedures this week, according to Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated and his original report.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has not commented on the reported injury, although Kelly is scheduled to meet the media today as per his regular schedule. Smythe, a junior, caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown this season.
As noted by Keith Arnold over at Inside the Irish, the tight end position is actually a pretty deep one for Notre Dame. It is just full of raw potential at the moment. Depending on the calls on the field, Alizé Jones, Tyler Luatua and Chase Hounshell and Nic Weisher could all help fill the void.
With Smythe apparently done for the season, that brings Notre Dame’s mash unit up to three offensive starters with Zaire and running back Tarean Folston.