Led by frosh QB, Notre Dame stuns Utah
Utah’s fall has been swift. From rapid-scoring offensive juggernaut, the Utes are suddenly a team that can do little right — two Saturdays in a row.
This time, in their first trip to South Bend, the Utes ran into an inspired Notre Dame and couldn’t even locate the end zone.
One week after a 47-7 thrashing from TCU, the 15th-ranked Utes played flat football and the timing could have not been worse.
The Irish controlled the lines, got two huge plays from their special teams and designed a solid, power-oriented game plan that allowed freshman quarterback Tommy Rees to be comfortable and effective. He threw three TD passes in his first start, two to Duval Kamara.
The result: a 28-3 Irish victory, their first over a ranked team since beating Penn State in 2006, ending an 11-game skid in those games. No wonder Notre Dame students poured onto the field to celebrate with the players when time ran out.
”We were riding high. Had eight in a row,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ”Right now we’re not feeling real good about ourselves. I can tell you that. But nobody feels sorry for us. … But right now we’re reeling a little bit.”
Notre Dame’s defense bottled up Utah — which came in averaging 41 points per game — and stopped the Utes from scoring in the second half after they reached the 6 and 12 on separate drives.
”The biggest factor in the game was our ineptness on offense,” Whittingham said
Utah managed a season-low 265 yards total offense and only 71 yards rushing. It was their lowest scoring game since being shut out by UNLV on Sept. 22, 2007.
The Utes have lost now two straight for the first time since dropping the first two of the 2007 season.
”I really don’t know what the issues are. Something has to be done. We have to change something and start heading in the right direction,” said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who was 24 for 39 for 194 yards.
Returning from a week off, Notre Dame (5-5) was the much fresher team and moved within one win of becoming eligible for a bowl.
”You saw it today, a football team that didn’t have on their shoulders the traditions and reputations and all the things that you have to worry about sometimes being a football player at Notre Dame,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. ”They just flat-out played.”
An untouched Robert Blanton blocked Sean Sellwood’s punt, picked up the ball and ran in for a TD from 6 yards out late in the opening period to put Notre Dame ahead 7-3.
”We were struggling and that jump started the whole sideline and team. From that point, we started rolling,” Rees said.
Austin Collinsworth hit Utah return star Shaky Smithson on the second half kickoff, jarred the ball loose and Daniel Smith recovered for the Irish. On the very next play from the 26, Rees threw to a wide open Kamara for the TD, putting the Irish up 21-3 just 13 seconds into the third quarter.
”I went through the hole and the helmet hit the ball,” said Smithson. ”That was a great play. You can’t avoid that if a helmet his the ball.”
Rees, who replaced injured starter Dayne Crist during a loss to Tulsa two weeks ago, got better as the game progressed and finished 13 of 20 for 129 yards.
”Everything in our game plan was you’ve got to run the football, we’ve got to be high percentage in our throws and not put Tommy in too many positions where we could turn the ball over,” Kelly said.
”I wasn’t going to put this game on Tommy Rees. I was going to take shots when we had opportunities because he’s an accurate thrower of the football.”
Notre Dame’s win was also its first since 20-year-old student videographer Declan Sullivan was killed when the tower from which he was filming practice toppled over on a windy day. For the second straight game, the Irish wore a helmet decal in the shape of a shamrock with DS in the middle.
”It’s emotional,” Kelly said. ”It’s been a tough couple of weeks.”
Kamara had only seven catches all season entering the game but lined up Saturday with freshman TJ Jones banged up.
”It’s about just being patient. Things will work out for you,” said the senior receiver. ”No matter what game you’re in, you have to try to make a difference. And you never know which play is going to be that play.”
Rees and Kamara hooked up again on a 12-yard TD pass that capped a quick 63-yard drive, one that included a 24-yard pass to Michael Floyd.
Jonas Gray, the third tailback used by the Irish in the first half, broke off a 36-yard run in the second quarter, thanks to a crushing block from Floyd, to get the ball to the Utah 8. And after a pass interference call against Utah’s Brandon Burton – the Utes’ seventh penalty of the opening half – Rees hit Floyd with a 3-yard TD pass to put the Irish up 14-3.
The Utes were penalized 10 times in the first half, including five in the opening quarter, and finished the game with 11 for 70 yards. Utah’s running game never got untracked, either, managing just 71 yards on 29 carries.
Utah scored first on a 46-yard field goal from Joe Phillips. But that was it for the Utes.