Zaire throws for 313 yards, Notre Dame beats Texas in home season opener

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By: Tom Coyne, AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Malik Zaire passed for 313 yards in his first home start, and No. 11 Notre Dame held Texas to 163 yards of total offense in a 38-3 victory Saturday night.

Zaire was 19-of-22 passing with three touchdowns, including a 66-yard scoring strike to Will Fuller.

Fuller had two touchdown catches, Chris Brown had one scoring catch, and freshman Josh Adams ran for a pair of TDs, including 14-yard score on his first career carry.

Notre Dame took advantage of an inexperienced Longhorns squad starting three players who were in high school a year ago, amassing 527 yards of total offense.

The Irish improved to 9-2 against Texas, and to 10-2 in home night games. The Longhorns, coming off a 6-7 season, lost a season opener for the first time since 1999.

Fighting Irish team notes, provided by The University of Notre Dame:

  • • Notre Dame’s defensive effort tonight is its best in a season opener since shutting out Nevada, 35-0 on Sept. 5, 2009. Tonight is also the largest margin of victory in a home season opener since that game. The Irish beat Navy, 50-10, to open the 2012 season in Dublin, Ireland.
  • • The Irish defense allowed just 60 yards rushing and 163 total yards of offense Saturday night. It was the first time since Army (174 yards, 27-3 Irish win) on November 20, 2010 that the Irish have held an opponent under 200 yards of total offense.
  • • The Irish have now won seven of their last eight home openers, including a 5-1 mark under Brian Kelly.
  • • With the win, Notre Dame improves to 9-2 against Texas. It is the most wins against the Longhorns of any school that has never shared a conference with Texas.
  • • With the win, Notre Dame maintains its lead over Texas for the second-most victories in college football history (883 to 881). The Irish continue to be first place all-time for winning percentage at .732 (883-310-42).
  • • Notre Dame has now shutout its opponent in the first half of three of the last four night games at Notre Dame Stadium (tonight, 2014 vs. Michigan and 2012 vs. Michigan).
  • • Tonight’s game is just the 12th night game in Notre Dame Stadium history. The Irish are now 10-2 in those contests. The Irish last opened its season at home at night on Sept. 15, 1990 in a 28-24 win over Michigan.
  • • The Irish did not lose a turnover tonight. Notre Dame is 17-0 under Brian Kelly when not turning the ball over in a game.
  • • Texas’ third quarter field goal was the first points yielded by the Irish in a home night game over a span of 133:34, dating to a second quarter field goal by USC’s Andre Heidari on Oct. 20, 2013.
  • • Notre Dame’s 95-yard scoring drive late in the first quarter is ND’s longest drive since a 95-yard scoring drive on Sept. 27, 2014, against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium which was capped by a 23-yard pass to Will Fuller.
  • • The Irish had two scoring drives of at least 90 yards tonight. That is the first time it has happened under head coach Brian Kelly.
  • • Tonight’s game is the 244th consecutive sellout at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have sold out 292 of its last 293 home games dating back to 1964.

The following is a transcript of Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly’s news conference after the game, provided by ASAP Sports:

COACH KELLY: Nice victory for our football team. Good opener against a Texas team we have a great deal of respect for and their tradition, and we saw how well they travel. They were here in droves. So any time up open up with a team like Texas and are able to get a victory, you feel really good about it.

I know our kids are excited about the win. They are excited about their preparation and then putting it together. I knew we were excited about playing. Our pregame meal lasted about two and a half minutes. So they were really excited about playing this game. Really, for an opener, except for a couple procedure penalties where we at home had a hard time hearing, cadence, was pretty loud, electric atmosphere.

We felt like things that you normally see in an opener were not there, and I think that’s attributed to a lot of veterans, a lot of leaders on our football team so. Good victory and it’s only one. We opened up with a great win against Michigan; so it’s a long journey for our football team. We are excited about the win, but we’ve got a long way to go.

So with that, we’ll open up to questions.

Q. Inaudible.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, obviously a knee injury. We do not have an MRI to go on yet. We’ll get one tomorrow morning and then I know I talked to you folks tomorrow afternoon, hopefully we’ll have more information.

Q. Inaudible.

COACH KELLY: Sure, absolutely. We expect all of our guys to play up to what we believe they are capable of. Certainly there’s a number of things you can do better. But we believe in Malik and we trust in him.

Again, I would say that there are a number of things that he saw for the first time; that he’ll get better from what he obviously was in front of tonight. Did some really good things.

I think we put him in a good position to succeed. I think the game plan was such that we wanted to run the football. I thought we did that and gave him some

throws that we thought would really be high percentage for him and I think it worked out very well for him.

Q. Did T.J. impress you the way that he ran?

COACH KELLY: We were hopeful. Again, I think we’ve kind of gone over this before. When we put him there in the spring, I was extremely pleased with what I saw at first glance and that was his inclination was to run inside and play physical.

My experience told me that if a guy naturally, instinctively wants to run inside. You can teach him the other things. There’s other things that we’ve got to teach him, some of the other things in the offense. He thought he was going to get a different kind of hand off one times and a couple things with protection. But he’s a big kid, athletic, strong. He’s not afraid. He’s a veteran and I think he showed that tonight.

Q. Josh Adams coming in, was there anything you saw in preseason camp that led you to believe that he could come?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, quick study. He was able to pick up all the protections early on. Really walked in, smart kid. And any time when a freshman can come in and pick up all the protections early on, it’s been my feeling that he’s ready to play, provided he’s got the skill and also what kind of skill he has.

We felt like he was a kid that was under the radar last year. He had a knee injury that kind of took him off the radar a little bit. But he’s just scratching the surface. He’s got elite speed. He’s got great size. Got good ball skills and obviously he’s a kid that we believe in.

Q. The performances of Daniel and Tillery at nose tackle?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I didn’t think Texas — they had a tough time blocking that group and I thought that that singularly was probably the biggest factor in the game is that they had a difficult time blocking our defensive front line and that’s Cage, that’s Tillery, obviously in particular, the two inside guys, Sheldon Day.

But those three tackles, obviously if they are doing their job, you know, good things are going to happen. You could tell that it was going to be difficult for Texas to run the football because of their play.

Q. I know you’re trying to be pragmatic and it’s only one game. For those of us who have only seen Malik in the Bowl game, his passing and depth — is this the type of player you envisioned with him when you started him against LSU and obviously his growth in the spring?

COACH KELLY: Obviously we felt like he was more than just a runner, but he gives you more of a dimension in the fact that when you can balance up the numbers in the running game with him and his ability to run his own option and then the play-action pass, it just looks like you’re scaling at times when you control playaction with him.

But he clearly has the ability to throw the football as much as we would need him to throw it and throw it accurately, which he did tonight. Vertically, down the field, I thought he pushed the ball down the field accurately. He threw precision routes on dig routes. So we knew what he was capable of. I think he put it together tonight and he’s got room to grow.

Q. The turnovers obviously-

COACH KELLY: Well, I think that, you know, we’re quite aware of where we were last year when we turned the football over.

So I think Coach Sanford has done a great job in developing that kind of identity with our quarterbacks, and I think we feel confident that we’ll continue to work on that and we know that that’s a secret — no secret, but it’s a thing that we know, it’s going to be singularly the reason why we can win.

Q. How did the play-calling go? How did the whole operation go?

COACH KELLY: I thought it was great communication. You know, we were able to really stay ahead of the game in terms of what we wanted to accomplish. But I think I’ve said this clearly and I’m not trying to be coy with anybody. There are different times where we’re all interjecting our ideas and our thoughts, but we do that on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

So we have in front of us essentially what we want to do. We have openers and we’ve calls and we’ll collaborate, the three of us, Mike, Mike and myself, as to where we want to go every series. So good communication. It was clear; it was concise, and we knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish. It was very comfortable out there offensively in terms of what we wanted to do next.

Q. You lost a defensive lineman and a good running back before the season but you said this team was your deepest team. Was the

performance by the backup guys at those positions an indication of that?

COACH KELLY: I think so, and we talked about that in the locker room, and what’s very important for our football team is to continue to — we have some young guys that we think are still capable of playing for us that are down on the depth chart a little bit. They kind of have that look like, well, I may never get out of this position that I’m in.

I told our coaches: It’s important that you go to these guys on Monday and let them know, they are probably going to get an opportunity to play this year. And to continue to work with them and continue to build their confidence that when we call on you, be ready, because we think we have some depth; that they may have to play for us and they are quality players.

It’s the best depth we’ve had. I’d rather not call on it continuously, but every football team is going to have to deal with some injuries, and we know we are going to have some after this game, as well.

Q. We’ve all seen Will Fuller for 14 games but is there any chance — what has made him the player that he’s become?

COACH KELLY: Very deceptive route runner. He sets up his moves extremely well. And, you know, I think more than anything else, when you play the X position, which is to the wide field, a lot of people that we are not interested in — teams are not interested in making those throws, nor will they attempt to make those throws.

We will put the ball out there. We will go make that throw to the wide field. Where a lot of defensive front coordinators will say, we won’t make that wide field throw. We’ll let them make it. We’ll go and make that throw. So we get the ball to Will vertically down the field where I think a lot of teams sometimes don’t challenge the wide field as much.

Q. I know you’ve got to watch a lot of film after the game with the offensive line, but as the game developed, how did you feel they were playing as a unit and controlling the line of scrimmage?

COACH KELLY: Much better. There was a lot of movement, a lot of activity. You could see their backers were running through gaps pretty regularly and gave us some problems early on. We stayed with our combinations a little bit longer in the second half. I think Harry did a good job making some adjustments on some of our schemes where we were kind of locking on and not keeping our eyes on some of the backers. We pushed through some of those combinations and were able to pick up some of those run-throughs much better in the second half. We knew they were going to give us some problems with their athleticism and their movement and they did at times. But when we were able to pick up their movement, we were able to control the line of scrimmage.

Q. On the other side, how important was it for you guys to keep their quarterback’s legs contained early on?

COACH KELLY: It was the key to the game for us. We felt like, you know, if he got out on us and got out on the perimeter, that’s where he could make the big plays, down the field throwing the football. If we could keep him in the pocket, we felt a lot more comfortable controlling the passing game. But if he was out on the perimeter, we were very concerned about that. So a lot of the things that we were doing were to try to keep him in the pocket.

Q. Can you talk specifically about Josh Adams, especially with Folston going down?

COACH KELLY: Again, as was asked earlier, we have a great deal of confidence in him based on what he did in preseason camp. Very thoughtful kid. Spends a lot of time on the details. And it let his athleticism come out tonight. He’s a very talented young man. Again, I think he’s somebody that we are going to count on for the rest of the year.

Q. The freshmen class you played them because you had to and now you played them because you choose to. How significant a development do you think that is for the program overall that you have some guys that can come in and help you play winning football?

COACH KELLY: I think any top-notch football program has to be able to call on some of these freshmen players that have the mental and physical, and I underline the mental, as well as the physical ability to come in and compete right away, because it creates competition within your promotion that rises all ships. And that means the upper classmen, as well.

Josh Adams has made my two veteran running backs better, because of his level of play and that’s across the board. Equanimeous St. Brown has made Will Fuller better.

So when you get a freshman class like that that can come in and compete and play at that level, those kids see it. Those veteran kids see it, and it really drives them to be better players. And I think it’s a very, very important factor.

Q. In your time here, openers, sometimes you get what you expect and sometimes you don’t. Is this as close to exactly what you thought you had throughout August showing up on opening night?

COACH KELLY: I thought we had an athletic football team. I thought we had the best depth that we had. But you still have to put it together. I thought our special teams, we missed a couple kicks here and there, but I really liked the way we played. I thought our special teams played with the kind of speed necessary.

So all in all for a first game, this is what you should look like and it’s something that you can build on.

Q. Did all the burned thorns (ph) in the stadium bother you?

COACH KELLY: Ah, a little bit quite honestly, I think in pregame. But in pregame you’re looking around and you see it. And then it just kind of closes in after that. But I was just, you know, probably just looking for something to complain about at that time, because (laughing) I had no players to get on or anything like that. (Laughter).

What I loved was our students. I mean, they were awesome. Just to see them there early. That was kind of the balancing factor for me is that when I saw some orange shirts, I could immediately turn over to our students and see them and just a massive amount of them over there. Made me feel better.