Sept. 27, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - There was nary a sound anywhere on the University of Notre Dame campus this morning.
Sheer exhaustion reigned in residence halls and nearby apartments—anywhere students sought ways to recover from Saturday’s taxing 62-27 Notre Dame football victory over Massachusetts.
Medics all over town remained on red alert.
Brian Kelly’s Irish football team has suffered more than its share of injuries so far in 2015, but this time it was the Notre Dame student body that was at risk.
The student tradition of doing pushups to count every point scored by the Irish took a huge toll on campus—all because Notre Dame scored more points against the Minutemen than it had in any game in 38 years (since 69 against Georgia Tech in 1977).
With 8:34 left in the game at Notre Dame Stadium, freshman Josh Adams put the final Notre Dame points on the scoreboard with a 70-yard run. The Irish cheerleaders took the lead on the pushups. Then the students in the stands did their part to keep up—but it took them all of the timeout and more to (barely) accomplish their obligation.
On-call nurses at the Stadium winced.
At the 3:35 mark, Massachusetts scored its last touchdown—and that meant another timeout. This time Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” rang out through the Irish home venue and the students did their best to jump around and do their thing—but many faltered in mid-step. In the final minute they could barely keep up with the Irish jig.
In truth, the students are thanking their lucky stars this Irish pushup tradition involves only points scored and not rushing yards gained—because Kelly’s charges rolled up 457 ground yards, the first time in 19 years Notre Dame surpassed the 400-yard mark.
Pushups for rushing yards might well have translated to massive casualties on campus today.
C.J. Prosise did his part early. He already had his third straight 100-yard rushing day (the first time in 10 years an Irish player has done that) by three minutes into the second period. His resume included scoring runs of 57 and 16 yards and his final total showed 149 yards.
Then the freshmen took over.
That put the Irish on top 28-20 late in the second quarter and began a span of 8:58 in which they splashed 27 points onto the scoreboard.
That allowed Kelly to insert rookie quarterback Brandon Wimbush for the first time, and Notre Dame fans weren’t disappointed.
Freshman running backs Adams and Dexter Williams did their part as well. Thirty minutes after the game had ended, Wimbush, Adams and Williams—all sitting within a five-locker area where the Notre Dame backs dress—all sat peeling tape off their shoes and uniforms. They were sweaty and smiling—and life was good.
They’d earned their rookie stripes. Williams (14 yards), Wimbush (58 yards) and Adams (70 yards) accounted for Notre Dame’s last three TDs. They combined for 24 rushing attempts for 273 yards.
A couple of Wimbush’s plays that didn’t count impressed nearly as much as the ones that did. Wimbush’s first career pass attempt fell perfectly into Will Fuller’s arms 50 yards downfield—but replay showed the ball barely tipped the ground as Fuller fell. Later Wimbush connected with wide-open classmate Equanimeous St. Brown for a TD, only to have the play called back by penalty for an illegal teammate downfield.
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Massachusetts matched the Irish score for score in the early going with TD marches of 80, 50 and 75 yards. Sanders’ punt return created some separation—and it was off to the races from there.
The Irish finished with a gaudy 681 total net yards. Adams ended with 133 rushing yards, Amir Carlisle led the Irish with five catches for 52 yards, Fuller added his sixth TD catch of 2015, Newsome set a single-game record in averaging 52.4 yards per punt—and Greer Martini led the Irish in tackles with eight (KeiVarae Russell and Nyles Morgan had seven each).
DeShone Kizer’s second start equated to 15-of-22 success throwing for 207 yards and two TDs, plus 42 rushing yards (and a seven-yard scoring run).
As defensive line coach Keith Gilmore bounded up the stairs postgame into the Irish locker room, he noted, “W, W, W—they all count one.”
Injured quarterback Malik Zaire had a huge smile on his face as he and his crutches were greeted by University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., in the jovial locker room.
Said Kelly to his team, “The standard of play was much better in the second half. We raised the standard on defense in the second half.”
When the Irish head coach referenced the 457 Irish rushing yards, he didn’t really have to say any more. Hooting, hollering and a loud cheer rang out from the players.
“We stopped a fake (punt) and we had some good stuff on ST (special teams). You bowed up on defense the second half.”
Kelly awarded the game ball to the offensive line, with center and captain Nick Martin doing the honors as recipient.
“Let’s enjoy this,” said Kelly.
“It’s hard to win. UMass had a great plan coming in here. We have to play better. We know what the next step is.
“You are now in the center of it. But it doesn’t change anything about how we prepare.
“You earned it. We’ve got four of ‘em. It’s a third of the way done.”
As Kelly noted to the media, he and his staff and team are still learning how players like Kizer, Prosise, Adams, Wimbush, Williams and Jerry Tillery (among others) fit. Maybe none of that group was expecting to be playing a major role yet in 2015, but injuries dictated changes and the Irish have been able to roll with the punches.
Whether the Irish student body can withstand this physically taxing pace and keep up is another matter.
Thank goodness Notre Dame plays away from home this next weekend (at Clemson). There are a few extra days for the strength and conditioning crew to do its magic and have Irish students ready for their next home outing.
Kelly and his team, at least so far, have survived this unusually large rash of injuries.
Whether or not the Notre Dame student body can deal with this demanding pushup toll remains a fair question.