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.
After seeing his role in the offense diminished over the course of the season and being suspended from the Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III has made the decision to leave the Irish in hopes of getting a job in the NFL.
Atkinson is the third Notre Dame underclassmen to announce his decision to leave the program with a year of eligibility remaining. He joins defensive standouts Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, although the two defensive players have much better odds of being picked early in the upcoming NFL Draft. Atkinson likely would have benefitted by returning to the Irish in 2014 after rushing for 555 yards and three touchdowns. He only had one game this season with over 75 rushing yards. Atkinson was suspended from Notre Dame’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance against Rutgers for a violation of team rules. It had been reported he was texting family during a team meal.
“He look at as an opportunity,” Atkinson’s father, former Oakland Raiders great George Atkinson Jr., said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Associated Press. ”We did our due diligence and decided to roll the dice with it.”
Notre Dame’s running game should be in decent shape in 2014 without Atkinson returning. Junior Cam McDaniel led the team in rushing this season with 704 yards. Tarean Folston should also be a significant contributor to the offense in 2014.
Tommy Rees passed for 319 yards in his final game for Notre Dame, but it was the leg of kicker Kyle Brindza who helped Notre Dame put away Rutgers in a 29-16 victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish defense was tested at times by Rutgers but managed to come up with the big stops and forced three turnovers (not including an interception on the final play of the game) to capture a win in Yankee Stadium.
Just hours before kickoff the Irish suspended running back George Atkinson III for a violation of team rules. Tarean Folston got the start for the Irish anyway and led Notre Dame with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. Cam McDaniel also contributed with 73 yards as Notre Dame found a rhythm on the ground in the second half to pull away from Rutgers, who ends the season with a 6-7 record. The real player of the game for Notre Dame was place kicker Brindza, who successfully kicked five of his six field goal attempts.
Both programs will now enter an offseason centered around changes for the program. Rutgers is off to join the Big Ten while Notre Dame will remain independent in football but begin a new scheduling agreement with the ACC. The Irish will also have some shoes to fill on the coaching staff and on the defensive line.
Notre Dame’s 2014 outlook could be a bit more promising after taking a step back from the national stage in 2013. Quarterback Everett Golson will give the offense a spark if he returns in good shape starting this spring. Golson’s absence from the team this season due to academic suspension threw a curveball at the Irish heading in to the year, but Notre Dame has some jobs to fill before even thinking about what the roster will look like. Notre Dame must replace both coordinators this offseason after both were hired away to serve as head coaches elsewhere. The defense will also lose some key players with Louis Nix III on his way to the NFL and Stephon Tuitt potentially joining him.
Rutgers will now begin to make the transition in to the Big Ten. Rutgers will join Maryland as new members of the conference next summer and begin competing in the Big Ten’s new eastern division along with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. Rutgers will have their work cut out for them in their debut in the new conference. Rutgers will make their Big Ten debut at home against Penn State and will also host Michigan and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights will also visit Ohio State and Michigan State.
Notre Dame is set to take on Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx, but they will do so without the services of running back George Atkinson III and reserve corner back Jalen Brown. Both have been suspended for the game for violations of team rules, according to CSN Chicago.
Atkinson III tweeted claimed he was suspended for texting his family during a team meal, and suggests he has done so all season without a problem. That tweet was removed, but the Internet sees all and never forgets. Atkinson’s loss from the game will hurt the Notre Dame running back depth but his role in the offense seemed to be diminishing as the season played out. He is second on the team in rushing with 555 yards but he has not had more than seven carries in a game once since the middle of October. Atkinson has also applied for a review for the NFL Draft, so his days with the Irish may have been numbered anyway.
Despite the suspensions for the game, for whatever the reasons may be, Notre Dame should still be a solid favorite against Rutgers. Freshman Tarean Folston is expected to start at running back for the Irish.