SEPTEMBER 5, 2015 - Notre Dame (7) Will Fuller races to the endzone for a 66-yard touchdown as Texas (21) Duke Thomas trails behind during the second half of action held Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, September 5, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Football

Notre Dame 38, Texas 3: Five key plays

Posted September 6th, 2015

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There were 127 offensive snaps taken in Texas’ 38-3 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday.

Here are five that ended up making a big difference:

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1. A brief history of time

Texas fans will argue the play clock had expired on third-and-11 early in the game. The officials disagreed, and Notre Dame’s Will Fuller hauled in a 16- yard touchdown pass to go ahead 7-0.

Not unlike the rest of the night, coverage on the play was poor by the Longhorns. Antwuan Davis, making his first start at cornerback, did little to disrupt Fuller’s slant pattern, and Fuller found a cozy spot in the end zone in front of safety Dylan Haines.

So had the clock reached zero? Tough to say. By the end the game, Texas fans had bigger issues to discuss.

2. Longhorns take a whiff — or two

Another blown third down by the Texas defense. This time, it came after linebacker Malik Jefferson destroyed Josh Adams in the backfield before halftime. It was the sort of thunderous play that could have swung momentum.

Needing another stop to get the ball back, though, Texas faltered badly. Hassan Ridgeway missed Irish quarterback Malik Zaire in the hole. Naashon Hughes whiffed too, and Peter Jinkens was out of position. For good measure, John Bonney also missed a tackle, and Zaire rumbled for 14 yards. Eventually Hughes got up and chased Zaire out of bounds. Just a bad defensive play.

3. Texas misses its chance

Tyrone Swoopes’ best throw was followed by one of his worst. No one can question the junior’s arm strength, which was on display in the third quarter with a beautiful deep ball to freshman John Burt for 48 yards. Like that, the Horns had reached Notre Dame territory for just the second time.

(Speaking of Burt, the NBC crew said the freshman reminds Texas play-caller Shawn Watson of 2015 first round draft pick DeVante Parker of Louisville. That’s encouraging.)

Three plays later, though, the drive stalled when Swoopes threw high for Armanti Foreman on a short drag. It is true that Swoopes was running for his life most of the night, but not on this play. He simply missed his mark.

Nick Rose’s 41-yard field goal was a rather weak consolation prize.

4. Notre Dame’s 66-yard dagger

Against his better judgment, Notre Dame’s Amir Carlisle hesitated and returned Rose’s ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and got to the 10. Irish coach Brian Kelly was displeased.

Rather than capitalize, Texas’ defense shrunk and surrendered runs of 7 (Zaire) and 12 yards (C.J. Prosise) before the Irish delivered the dagger that would remove any shot of a Texas comeback. From the Irish 34, Fuller sprinted by Duke Thomas, who apparently was expecting help overtop that Haines didn’t deliver. The result was an easy touchdown and a 24-3 Irish lead. Play-by-play announcer Dan Hicks said, “All of the momentum Texas thought it had is gone.”

No one asked Longhorns coach Charlie Strong afterward about the blown coverage, not with so many big picture topics to sort through.

5. Gray matters. Right?

Announcers were surprised midway through the third quarter when Johnathan Gray carried for only the fourth time. If Texas could have a do-over, Gray might have gotten a fifth carry immediately after.

Left tackle Connor Williams moved to the other side for an unbalanced front, but the added beef was useless, and Daje Johnson was dropped backward for five yards on a jetsweep.

Gray was incredulous over not getting the ball, motioning to the sideline that he would have preferred they run up the middle. After the game, Gray was diplomatic, but it’s clear the senior team leader was at odds with Watson, the play-caller.

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