Against an overwhelmed opponent, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to find their way back to winning ways with a 44:21 home win over the UNLV Rebels. The result was effectively decided at half-time, thanks in part to some outstanding performances from the special teams. But the Irish effort was not without its flaws.
A balanced attack up front helped Notre Dame have consistent rallies, especially when it came to the running game. Three different Irish rushers reached the end zone while Logan Diggs led all Notre Dame rushers with 130 yards. A fly in the ointment was another fumble from Audric Estime, his third error in the last four games.
Below are some of the most important aspects of the game:
Fireworks in the first quarter
The opening stages of the Notre Dame competitions this season have been generally quiet, particularly from the Irish side. That perception was shattered against UNLV as the two teams combined for 30 points in the opening 15 minutes. Notre Dame brought 23 points to the board, an early cushion that combined with UNLV’s lack of real offense contributed to the easy win.
The Irish got going on their opening drive, moving 75 yards in six games with catches from Michael Mayer and Jayden Thomas covering 80 percent of those yards. After her next drive faltered, Blake Grupe kicked the first of two field goals for the quarter. Solid special teams also helped the Irish score 13 more points.
Isaiah Foskey is usually better known for his ability to reach quarterback, which he did three times that game. However, he also managed to block back-to-back punts in the first quarter. That helped Notre Dame score 10 points on the clock in less than two minutes.
Foskey’s first block came at 6:32 and gave the Irishman the ball at the Rebels’ 20 yard line. Drew Pyne needed only two plays and met Michael Mayer on a point shot that followed an incompletion. Then Foskey repeated his action and gave the Irishman the ball, which resulted in a three-and-out and a 27-yard field goal.
Solid two-star defense
For a good chunk of the first half, Notre Dame’s defense was able to knock out much of UNLV’s passing strategy. This was partly due to the absence of Doug Brumfield, the Rebels’ regular starting quarterback, who was still recovering from a concussion. His substitutes Cameron Friel and Harrison Bailey completed 17 of 33 passes but only floundered for 153 yards.
Had the Irish defenders not allowed two more big games, UNLV’s numbers would have been just as weak. Courtney Reese’s 142 yards on ground came mostly in those games, the first of which was a 74-yard rush in the first quarter that set up the Rebels’ first touchdown. In UNLV’s second series after the break, Reese broke up a 47-yard scamper in the first game.
Notre Dame led 30-7 at halftime, but that lead might have been larger if their offense hadn’t stalled in the red zone on multiple occasions. The aforementioned field goal from a punt block erased four potential points and was followed by another field goal on their next drive after beginning possession at UNLV 32.
Before the first half was over, Notre Dame flipped the ball over at the Rebels’ seven-yard line. After extending their lead to 30-7, another missed opportunity came when Pyne was picked up in the red zone in the final minute before halftime. While none of these cases affected the outcome of the match, the Irish will not have that luxury against more challenging opponents in the coming weeks.
Stopping UNLV on the first two descents paid off for Notre Dame as the Rebels failed on all 12 attempts in the third descent. That level of futility contrasts with the Irish, who allow Stanford to convert seven different third-down chances in this embarrassing upset.
That sort of litmus test isn’t always a viable yardstick when it comes to victory, especially considering the caliber of Notre Dame’s opponent. However, in an already disappointing season that’s heading for a challenging time, hopefully numbers like this week’s goose egg will serve as motivation.
Notre Dame, who head into their away game against the Syracuse Orangemen next Saturday, is in the unusual position of having the worse of the two schools. Syracuse is 6-1, the first loss coming on Saturday against Clemson, who face Ireland on November 5th. Actually taking place in Syracuse is a rarity considering it’s only happened twice before. The last time was in the finals in 2003, during the second season of the short Tyrone Willingham era, and ended in a 38-12 loss by Notre Dame. Before that, you have to go back to 1914 when the Irish, led by Knute Rockne’s predecessor Jesse Harper, won 20-0.