Notre Dame vs. Texas: Game Grades, Analysis for Irish
Notre Dame became the third top-10 team from the preseason AP Top 25 poll to lose in Week 1 after falling in two overtimes at Texas, 50-47. For the Fighting Irish, there were some positives, and certainly some negatives, and the coaching staff will have plenty of work ahead of it to prepare for Michigan State in Week 3 and Stanford in Week 7 before enjoying a bye in Week 8.
We'll break down all of the good, bad and very ugly in our Week 1 Notre Dame game grades. And we might need a parent or guardian's signature on this one.
Brian Kelly was insistent for the past few weeks that he would definitely play both of his experienced quarterbacks, and he was true to his word. He wanted to see which one would perform best under pressure and let the game dictate who would emerge as the go-to guy.
That ended up being DeShone Kizer—at least for this week. Kizer finished with 215 passing yards and a whopping five touchdowns on 15-of-24 passing. He also added 77 rushing yards on 13 credited carries.
Malik Zaire was just 2-of-5 for 23 yards in limited action, with Kizer showing much better chemistry with the receivers.
Is the quarterback battle over? Probably not. But as of right now, it's clear Kizer has the inside track.
If you really think about it, that's OK. Zaire is talented enough that he could certainly be used in plenty of other ways. Notre Dame is a bit thin on talent at a number of skill positions, and if Kizer truly emerges as the permanent starter after games against Nevada next week and Michigan State after that, don't be too surprised to see Zaire utilized in other ways.
Passing Offense Grade: B+
With all the talent Notre Dame lost at running back, you might expect the running game to take a bit of a hit. Tarean Folston had other ideas.
He rattled off a big run on the Irish's first drive of the game that led to a touchdown. After a few plays, Folston had people ready to forget about all the departed talent. But as the evening air grew colder, so did Notre Dame's running game.
After a 54-yard run to start, Folston finished with just an additional 34 yards. Josh Adams accounted for 43 on 11 carries, while Zaire was held to zero net yards on just three attempts. It was Kizer's 77 yards in designed draws and scrambles that provided much of Notre Dame's sustained ground game on the evening.
And it wasn't enough. Kizer had the lone ground score on the evening, and if Notre Dame hopes to get past tough opponents like MSU and Stanford, or even Miami and USC, the ground game is going to have to consist of more than just draws and scrambles.
Run Offense Grade: C
Typically, an 18-year-old true freshman quarterback stepping in front of 102,000 fans against Notre Dame in his first-ever collegiate start is a recipe for disaster. For Shane Buechele, it was his coming-out party.
Notre Dame's defense's depletion due to graduation, departures and off-field issues has been widely covered these past few days and weeks, but this should have been an opportunity for a young, inexperienced secondary to get its feet wet against a young, inexperienced passing game.
Instead of getting its feet wet, Notre Dame got pretty soaked.
Buechele torched the Irish to the tune of 280 yards on 16 completions, and the Irish faithful watched its corners and safeties getting torched all night long. Were it not for a few pretty bad Texas drops, this game may have been even worse for the Irish.
A coaching staff, no matter how good, cannot manufacture speed overnight. But scheming to Texas' speedy wideouts simply didn't happen (we'll get to that later), and Texas probably won't be the fastest team Notre Dame sees in 2016.
Shaun Crawford does, however, deserve credit for a great interception and 22-yard return that sparked Notre Dame's comeback in the second half. Absent that catalyst, it's doubtful this game ever gets to overtime. But the Irish will need a lot more than an occasional interception to change the trajectory of the defense.
While it remains to be seen how long various suspensions will last, Notre Dame will have to work with the tools it has available. In the short term, that means a lot of altered scheming and play-calling. We don't envy Brian VanGorder's job at the moment.
Pass Defense Grade: D+
If you thought our grade for the Irish's pass defense was bad, you might want to look away for a moment.
It's been quite a long time since we've seen a Notre Dame front seven get pushed around the football field quite like the Irish were in Austin on Sunday night. It wasn't just D'Onta Foreman and his 131 yards on 24 carries, either.
Texas utilized its own version of the two-quarterback offense, but with one very distinct difference: Tyrone Swoops. A massive man in his own right, Swoops, at 6-4 and 250 pounds, is a monstrous quarterback. What's more, he's usually joined by some extra muscle up-front on the offensive line in order to open up gaping holes—which is exactly what happened.
Swoops took advantage of a Notre Dame front seven that looked completely overmatched by a stronger Texas line, even managing to make his own running holes when needed. Swoops finished with 53 yards and three touchdowns—including the game-winner in the second overtime—while the Irish were able to offer little more than token resistance.
Texas runners also seemed to have the ability to simply bounce off Notre Dame's tackle attempts, and many plays ended with a plethora of would-be Irish tacklers lying on the field wondering what exactly had just happened.
Like the pass defense's speed, size isn't something a team can manufacture. Tackling, however, is something that can—and must—get better for Notre Dame. You can expect a bit of extra homework in this area for the Notre Dame defense in the weeks to come.
Run Defense Grade: F
It's hard to look at the special teams performance against Texas and get too upset. It was, after all, a couple of special teams plays that gave the Irish a chance to win this football game late in the second half.
Despite having one of his two field goals blocked, Justin Yoon connected on all six of his critical extra points and converted a 39-yarder in overtime.
But C.J. Sanders provided the first big play. He returned a second-half Texas punt 40 yards into Texas territory to help continue Notre Dame's comeback effort (an effort which saw the Irish score 21 unanswered points).
The second critical play for the special teams came with three minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Texas had just scored a touchdown to retake the lead when Crawford picked up a blocked point-after-touchdown (PAT) attempt by Texas and returned it for two points the other way. Instead of staring at a 38-35 deficit, Notre Dame was suddenly getting the ball back with the score tied at 37.
Sure, it didn't all come up roses in the end, but that's not the special teams fault.
Still, take away that blocked field goal, and overtime may never have happened in the first place.
Special Teams Grade: A-
Week 1 can be a strange thing in college football. There's no preseason, and there's always a fair amount of personnel turnover. The latter was especially true for Notre Dame this past offseason, and the fact Coach Kelly and his staff had their work cut out for them was no secret.
We're not making excuses, mind you. Things happen, both on and off the field, which can impact how the season unfolds, and coaches are expected to do the absolute best they can with the tools at their disposal.
And that is where Kelly and his staff failed in Austin.
To his credit, when it became apparent that Kizer was having the better night of the two Irish quarterbacks, Kelly stuck with him. But as the game wore on, it seemed as if Kelly's play-calling became more and more conservative, even when tied or trailing. Rather than playing to win the football game, Kelly seemed to be playing not to lose.
With the score tied and two minutes left in the game, Notre Dame was facing a 3rd-and-12 from its own 27. Kelly's call? A Tarean Folston halfback dive for two yards.
The old saying is prevent defense prevents you from winning. In this case, we could say prevent play-calling prevented Notre Dame from winning.
It's far too early to bury Kelly and VanGorder for this loss, and anyone calling for their heads (as many Notre Dame fans like to do) are shouting from a place of emotion, not intellect. Kelly is still one of the greatest coaches, not only in the game today, but in Notre Dame's storied history. One game does not make or destroy a season. One loss does not end all hope.
As already stated, everyone knew Kelly had a lot of work to do before the season began. The workload now looks like it could stun a team of oxen in its tracks.
Coaching Grade: C-
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Featured Columnist and Notre Dame Live Correspondent David Luther on Twitter @davidrluther.