No. 6 Notre Dame overcomes slow start, beats UMass

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By: Tom Coyne, AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — C.J. Sanders scored on a 50-yard punt return to spark sixth-ranked Notre Dame to four straight touchdowns and break the Fighting Irish out of a slow start to beat Massachusetts 62-27 on Saturday.

DeShone Kizer threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Chris Brown with 6 seconds left in the first half to give the Irish a 35-20 halftime lead. C.J. Prosise scored on a 16-yard run and freshman Dexter Williams added a 14-yard TD run to open the second half to give the Irish a 48-20 lead.

Marquis Young had an 83-yard touchdown run for the Minutemen (0-3) and Sekai Lindsay and Jamal Wilson added 1-yard TD runs.

Notre Dame improved to 4-0 for the second straight season, the third time in six seasons under coach Brian Kelly but just the sixth time since its last national championship in 1988.

 

The following is a transcript of the Brian Kelly post-game news conference:

BRIAN KELLY: First of all, credit UMass. I thought Mark Whipple and his staff and his players played extremely hard today. They had a great plan coming in. You know, I think they’ve got a great chance of winning the MAC. Did some really good things offensively, very creative, played hard.

We just — we were pretty good up front offensively. We’re able to control the line of scrimmage around the football today. I think that was the difference in the ballgame.

You know, hats off to UMass and the way they competed. I think that the kind of schedule they played early on bodes well for them.

You know, I think the thing that stands out is we challenged our football team at halftime to play to a higher standard. I think they played to a higher standard in the second half offensively and defensively. Gave up two big plays in the first half that we weren’t pleased with, a lead draw that we’ve got to fit better, and certainly the reverse pass where we just — we lost our focus on that play. It was well-designed, but we’ve still got to be in better position.

But all in all, I think when you look at it, we were able to get a lot of players some playing time. The young backs stand out to me; Adams and Williams getting in was very, very important to us. Josh got 13 carries, Dexter got seven. So taking some of those carries away from CJ was important to us. Getting Brandon Wimbush in there I thought was also very important, and we’ve wanted him to run the offense. That was very important to us.

We really felt like trying to make sure that when he went in there, regardless of what the score was, we had to give him real game experiences and do the things that may happen in a game situation. He is our backup, and he has not played any football, and he’s a true freshman. That was very important to us.

I think our special teams were outstanding today. Tyler Newsome, our punter, a 52-yard average. C.J. Sanders returning a punt for a touchdown, stopping a fake. I thought the special teams work was outstanding, as well. So a lot of really good things.

Again, I thought UMass was a tough team to defend offensively. They do so many things.

I think at halftime they had 16 personnel groupings and make it really difficult to match up to. We’re pleased with the win, and we’ll enjoy it for 24 hours and then we’ll get ready for the next opponent.

Questions?

Q. Brian, just evaluate DeShone Kizer today and a little bit Brandon Wimbush. Did he give you what you wanted?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I thought DeShone missed some throws today. He got a little off balance on some of his throws, especially to his left, where he has a tendency to overstride a little bit and lock out his front leg. But he knows what to do and how to do it. He made the corrections later in the drive. Threw a great ball on a dig route and then came back with a great smash fade throw to Chris Brown. He can self-correct, which is the great thing about that young man, after making a couple of poor throws.

Again, he shows great poise, great presence out there, and again, throws for a high completion percentage. I thought he was a little late on the interception, although that’s probably a ball that Will normally catches. He was a little late on the throw. But again, high percentage at 15 for 22. That’s where we’d like him to be, in that high completion percentage.

And then Brandon I thought did some good things today and got a little out of his realm, a little bit later with some misreads in our run game where he thought he was supposed to throw the ball out and he’s supposed to actually run the football. But those were great learning experiences for him.

As you can see, he’s athletic. He can throw the ball deep. Will did not make that catch that he threw down the field, but he’s capable of pushing the ball down the field as well as running the football. We’ll continue to work with him, and he’s got a lot of talent.

Q. When you compress the not-so-good first half of defense with challenging them and how they responded, when you push all that together, what do you think overall for the defense?

BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think everybody would say that UMass presents some unique problems. They do a very good job with their scheme. They put up points against virtually everybody that they play.

I think we played better in the second half. We transitioned out of option last week. Probably a little bit of a slow start, finished strong.

All in all, a lot of things to work on, but I like the way we finished.

Q. No Luatua today, and anything sinister with Ronnie Stanley?

BRIAN KELLY: Nothing sinister with Ronnie Stanley. He’s had some patellar tendonitis, but nothing major. Luatua had a concussion, and went through the protocol and just felt like he wasn’t at the level we wanted him for this game, but expect him to be with us next week, but we’ll continue to work him through the protocol.

Q. With the C.J. Sanders punt return, 21-20 at that point, how important was that for you guys, and how unsurprised were you to see that happen with a kid that’s been as explosive as he’s been?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think he’s been close quite a few times. We’ve iced the outside. We had him backed up there pretty good, so we doubled outside. In those situations you’re gambling a little bit when you double outside. We felt like to fake a punt there, you’d really have to be gambling. We borrowed a couple guys from the inside to double outside and it gave him some room.

He’s a very shifty runner. He’s got great vision and did a nice job on the holdup, and he did the rest. It was a big play in the game, gave us some momentum certainly, and kind of turned the tide a little bit for us.

Q. You mentioned how important it was to get the young freshmen some action. Looked like you made a conscious effort to get Josh Adams some competitive action.

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we wanted him early touching the football, for C.J. And again, I think we had made that decision that even last week, that we probably redlined C.J. a little bit, and we had to really get Josh involved early, which we did, and then it was nice to see him run well. And then Dexter obviously is a very gifted player, and we saw that today. He’s got great speed. He’s just still learning, but I think we all saw today what kind of athletic ability he has.

Q. Because of the injuries you’ve had, you’ve had to reshuffle; how much are you still learning about your team in terms of what buttons to push, how everything can work together best?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I know the football team and its heartbeat very well. I think we’re still learning about certain players and what their strengths are. I think that’s a fair question as it relates to the kind of players they are and their skill set. I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for the pulse of the team and its leadership core and then how these younger players fit into that group. They really like each other, and they enjoy playing.

It wasn’t a flat team today. It was an excited team that played with a lot of energy, but I do agree that we’re still kind of sorting out, you know, the certain roles for the players on this football team.

Q. Is that something you feel like needs to be expedited from here or is that sort of a natural process when you’re shuffling in so many guys due to injury?

BRIAN KELLY: No, I think when we lost — when you lose your starting quarterback and now we’re still learning about the strengths of DeShone Kizer, we’re still fitting certain plays and things that he likes, I immediately knew where to go after a couple of incompletions. We immediately flipped that script, and we’re still learning about C.J. in certain things.

I think you’re absolutely right on that we’re still learning about the players in particular that have had to come in and step in after these injuries, especially the tight end position now, too.

Q. The safety position, how did you feel like Farley, Redfield, they both saw quite a bit of time today?

BRIAN KELLY: It’s one that I didn’t think we were — I didn’t think we were supporting the run effectively early on with our safety play. I thought we were a little late. We got much better in the second half.

Q. You mentioned DeShone being able to self-correct. As a coaching staff, what does that do for you when your quarterback is able to identify what he did wrong even before he gets to the sideline?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, we spend a lot of time on trying to figure out the best way to teach, and really, I think to be a good coach, I think you really need to know how kids learn and also how to best get them to be the best player they can be in a short period of time.

One thing about him is that if you really do a good job of showing him something, he’s going to pick it up, and if you remind him about it, he can self-correct. Some can’t. Some need more film. Some need more repetition. He’s not that kind of guy. So I think it’s just really getting to know your guys and how to teach them, and we can do that through some techniques of understanding how they learn.

Q. With Luatua out, what did you feel like you got out of Weishar?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I thought we got some good in-line blocking. Our two tight ends were very effective today, especially with they got into their three-down package. I’ll have to watch the film, but I thought Chase Hounshell did a pretty good job in-line blocking for us today, and Nic Weishar. We were effective getting the edge today on our outside zone play.

So my first inclination would be to say that both of them were effective in their roles at the tight end position because we played a lot of two tight ends today.

Q. Corey Robinson, was he hurt?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, he tweaked his knee in pregame. Sprained knee, yeah. Unbelievable. He was going for some popcorn — no, I made that up. He was not going for popcorn. Don’t write that down.

He was just running some drills and sprained his knee. We just felt like it was important to keep him out of it. He didn’t feel 100 percent, and so we’ll get an MRI in the morning and hopefully we don’t — we’re optimistic that it’s not anything major, but we want to make sure and get a look at it tomorrow morning.

Q. You guys spread the ball around pretty good today. Was that something that you guys were trying to — was that a conscious thing to get more people involved or was that DeShone going off of what UMass was doing? Coach Whipple said they were trying to keep Will from beating them.

BRIAN KELLY: Well, there was more double zone today. That opens up other receivers. We’ve had this conversation a few times. Will had coverage over the top of him which opens up other receivers. It opens up the middle. The tight end was open a lot today. We’re going to utilize the receivers that are in our progression. There are certain formations that we can get into that are going to get Will one-on-one and we’ll take our shots when we get them, but by and large, answering your question, more double zone on Will gives these other guys opportunities to catch more footballs.

Q. C.J. is obviously getting more comfortable and comfortable at the running back position. That has to do with obviously getting the reps, but what else is he doing that you’re seeing that he’s able to grasp the position so quickly?

BRIAN KELLY: I’d like to say that — first of all, Autry Denson does a great job. He’s our all-time leading rusher here at Notre Dame. He’s able to have conversations about the position that are real in a way that he’s played the position, so he can really impact him with a lot of knowledge, so that’s been very helpful in his learning curve.

I’d say the other thing would be that he’s a natural runner, and if he wasn’t, I don’t think that he could have been ascending in the manner that he is. He’s ascended quickly, and so I think we’ve got to credit the athlete himself as a natural runner of the football.

 

The following is a transcript of the DeShone Kizer post-game news conference:

Q. Not that you’re a veteran by any stretch of the imagination, but it appears like you’re feeling more comfortable in the position all the time.

DESHONE KIZER: Yeah, you know, once again, preparation this week was great. Offensive line was just balling like no other today. When everyone else around you is coming out play good ball, it’s easy to be comfortable.

Hopefully we can continue to get into a routine here on the way to prepare and the way I prepare for each game when it comes to the small things. I learned from some mistakes in the last game and the way I should go about the night before and things like that, and things kind of worked a little better this week and a lot of that will roll into the following weeks.

Q. When they cut the lead down to 21-20, what were your thoughts?

DESHONE KIZER: No one is going to outscore us. That’s the mindset that we have to have as an offense. We have way too many threats and way too good of an offensive line to stop us from going back and forth with a team like that. We did quite a bit of research and preparation on some of the things that they wanted to do, and we knew we had a couple plays dialed up that we were going to hopefully be able to be successful, and with those plays not being called yet, we knew we were going to be able to come out there and throw up a couple more touchdowns.

As long as we keep the confidence and the swagger that we’re going to go out there and score every drive, you don’t necessarily get nervous in that situation.

Q. What were your thoughts of Brandon Wimbush?

DESHONE KIZER: Awesome. Awesome. We talked all week. We knew the opportunity was going to eventually come to get him some playing time. You know, I spent a lot of time talking to him about you’re a five-star athlete coming out of high school. You have all the talent in the world. That stuff can translate over to the college field if you’re comfortable in what you’re doing.

He was very comfortable going out there. He was obviously put in a position where there wasn’t too much pressure on him, and he balled out just like we expected.

He has a really live arm. We got to see it today on that pass to Will. I mentioned earlier a couple weeks ago that it’s hard to overthrow Will, but look at that kid, he overthrew him, and he has the speed and all the talent, and for him to come out tonight was awesome.

Q. Coach Kelly talked about the little extra for Will (inaudible) do you feel like this was growing experience for him to take the next step?

DESHONE KIZER: Yeah. In game planning, you’ve got to expect a team to do something different for look, especially with the first three games that he had, going for over 100 yards passing each week with just one guy. You’ve got to expect something different, and each team is going to have a different plan.

As a quarterback myself, I’ve got to be able to understand the plan they put in mind to stop him. This week they dropped a nail safety — we expected that in the third quarter they would have a nail safety come up a little higher. They played him a little farther back to try and stop the post route and borrowed the safety from the backside to get over to Will. That’s something that you learn and you go and you’ve got to be able to see and be able to adjust to it, and towards the end of the first half and starting the second half, I had a good read on it. I’ve just got to be able to understand a little quicker what the adjustments are on the style of offense that we have, that we haven’t seen.

Q. Amir Carlisle responds with one of the more attractive options —

DESHONE KIZER: Yeah, he’s a veteran. He knows how to run good routes. He knows how to get into the holes of the defense, and that’s kind of the situation that we had. We had a couple plays where he was running up the seam, missed him on one, came back two, and was able to get it in his hands. He’s a playmaker, and you know that once the ball is in his hands he’s going to be able to get a couple extra yards after it. So it was just being able to rip some balls inside instead of just going north and south outside to Will. To have the option to be able to do both of those was awesome.

Q. You’ve now played in four games, started two. Heading to Clemson next week, can you do anything to simulate what you’re going to experience?

DESHONE KIZER: I can assure you one thing: We’re going to prepare the same way. I’m going to prepare the same way. Georgia Tech was a big game, Texas was a big game, Massachusetts was a big game, and Virginia was a big game, and I’m going to prepare the same exact way that I would for any other game, and hopefully we’ll put together and I have complete confidence that we’re going to put together a great game plan for Clemson, and we’re going to come out with the same swagger, the same confidence, and hopefully the same comfort going into kind of a big away environment.

Q. How important was it also to get the running backs in there, as well, Josh and Dexter, to get them a little game experience?

DESHONE KIZER: It was awesome. It’s awesome. The young guys can play. Obviously we see that week in and week out. Those guys are playing their butts off.

You’ve got to give it to the offensive line. No matter who’s running behind that, there’s going to be some sort of a hole or some sort of a gap. If the young guys are patient, they’re going to get their yards. That’s their learning. Dexter is an explosive style of guy. Josh kind of runs the ball a little different; he likes getting north and south a little more, and it brings a little more of a variance of the way the Irish are going to run the ball.

Q. Coach called you a self-corrector; what do you correct heading into a big game next week?

DESHONE KIZER: You know, obviously I haven’t had the opportunity to watch film on what happened, but obviously there’s some of the same issues from last week with throwing the ball in the dirt. I’ve got to ensure myself that that’s not going to happen again. Out on the field, it was all about just being able to trust it and be decisive and letting the ball rip, and I was overthinking it a little too much. I’m trying to gauge the safeties and how they’re going to treat Will, and so just throwing the ball outside reminded me to go get it.

The mental end of things was able to be corrected this week, but when it comes to long-term situations, I’ve got to make sure that the balls are in a catchable position, not in the dirt.

Q. Do you think that comes with experience?

DESHONE KIZER: Yeah, with experience comes comfort, with comfort comes success. I guess that’s the best way of putting it. You go week to week, you get to prepare. For the first time I really got to prepare as the starter for a different defense than what the first game was.

I think we did a pretty good job. Obviously we came out and we put up some big numbers on offense, and hopefully I can continue to learn how to adjust and prepare for the next one.

Q. (Inaudible.)

DESHONE KIZER: Yeah. It was a different experience. Didn’t necessarily think that was the way I was going to go in there, but things happen. You’ve got to be able to just step into it and not think and just play ball, and that’s what happened in the Virginia game.

Q. Talk about the thing you guys do after you score an extra point. Talk about how that got started.

DESHONE KIZER: It started off when Yoon got here; I was calling him Karate Kid, and it was just a little small thing that him and Scott Daly got involved and started doing that, and I decided I was going to join them. The snapper and the kicker have to get involved, who’s in between, that was me, so I had to make sure that I was getting involved with that little neat handshake that we have.

Q. In a two-minute drill type situation you guys had at the end of the first half, you ended up with a touchdown there. What did that do to stabilize everybody heading into the half?

DESHONE KIZER: It gave us a little bit of juice, a little bit of confidence, a little bit of confidence going into halftime. Allowed us to really see that we have all the tools and all the ability to go out there and drive the ball down, throwing the ball and running the ball, to put some points up on the board. Obviously it was a great learning drive that I think we’re going to be able to have a good time with when it comes to watching film with a couple balls in the dirt during that drive and a couple balls that were very well placed.

I’ll be able to see myself and how my footwork was on those drives. My footwork wasn’t as good, so hopefully I’ll really be able to learn from it and hopefully they’ll be even more successful and we can be a little more efficient on those two-minute drives.

Q. (Inaudible.)

DESHONE KIZER: Awesome. We were here last year. We learned from what last year’s experience was like. Now we get to continue the roll. This year we have this mindset of definitely taking it one week at a time, and we’re putting all our emphasis in preparation, and it’s been very good to us. Obviously we’re 4-0, and hopefully that same mindset that we have about preparing the right way will continue to roll on with a couple big games coming up.

Q. What type of things do you self-correct?

DESHONE KIZER: You know, simply put, you’ve got to be out there ripping the ball. You’ve got to be out there having complete confidence in every throw that you have, and those couple balls that were low, I didn’t really rip it like I wanted to, just simply because I didn’t have the mindset and the confidence of getting the ball out there. When I’m out there thinking a little too much or I’ve got something else on my mind, the last thing I do is just let it rip, and then when I’m out there and have complete confidence in the balls, I can make the balls. I mean, there was a couple dig routes and a couple crossing routes that I was able to just let it loose. I’ve got to be able to do that for every throw at all times.

Q. I think there was one to Fuller where (inaudible) on the wide side of the field. Was that kind of the one that really turned (inaudible)?

DESHONE KIZER: That was one where it was quite obvious that I didn’t have my footwork set to get the ball out right away. Once I got the mindset down that you’ve just got to go out there and play, I was able to correct.

Q. Getting the win is a primary goal, but do you feel like as an offense you checked off a lot of your secondary goals, getting those other backs in, your own improvement, the tight ends coming in and out, some of those secondary goals?

DESHONE KIZER: It was a complete team performance. We brought out quite a few of our backups who played really well today, and we were very successful with them. Kind of shows that even though you see six, seven guys go down for a season and we’re starting backups and then those backups’ backups are still out there and playing really good ball, it gives us a little more confidence going into the next round.

Q. I was just going to ask you about the second half versus the first half, what you think was the difference that you came out stronger? You talked a lot about confidence.

DESHONE KIZER: The way the second half went for us was exactly how the first half should have went. We had some jitters. They had a good game plan on defense. When it comes to the momentum side of the ballgame, they had a couple plays dialed up where they knew they were going to get some big shots on us, and they hit them. As an offense we’re trying to go against that momentum and we’re trying to keep things spinning our way.

Once we got into the second half, we had a clear plate, got the ball on the first drive and was able to drive down. That just puts into our minds the confidence and the swagger that we need to allow those drives to become a pattern and continue to move forward and get a touchdown.