NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Fans clad in Burnt Orange and Leprechaun Green filled the seats at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night and were treated to a 38-3 dismantling of the Texas Longhorns by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
“All in all for a first game, this is what you should look like and it’s something that you can build on,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
For only his second career start, Notre Dame junior quarterback Malik Zaire played like a wily veteran. He completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, two of which found junior wideout Will Fuller, who hauled in seven receptions for 142 yards.
Zaire’s .864 completion percentage is second in school history for a single game behind only Steve Beuerlein’s .909 (10-of-11) against Colorado on Sept. 22, 1984.
“We did a good job executing, we did what we practiced,” said Zaire. “The intensity and what we brought to the table from the whole week and the whole summer, preparing for not only this first game but the season, showed up.”
The Irish were fundamentally sound, highly efficient, and simply faster. Even with Zaire’s performance, the Notre Dame defense, led by junior linebacker Jaylon Smith, just might have been the story of the game. He commanded the troops and had seven tackles, while also recording one sack. As a unit, the Irish defense allowed 60 yards rushing and 163 total offensive yards.
On the other side, the Longhorns seemed confused, sluggish, and often upset. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed 7-of-22 passes for only 93 yards. He was pulled after opening the game with two straight three-and-out drives, giving way to redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, but Swoopes ended up playing a majority of the contest.
“It’s always a shock when you go get embarrassed,” said Texas head coach Charlie Strong. “I think we are a better football team than that.”
There was a lot of credit given to the Texas offensive line heading into the matchup as four of the five starters from a year ago were returning. Two freshman earned starting nods, though, in Connor Williams at left tackle and Patrick Vahe at right guard. That youth was enough of a weak spot for the Irish defensive line to attack and earn four sacks, two each against Swoopes and Heard.
“I think we just have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback,” said Strong. “When they got to third down, they just teed off and were able to get the pressure.”
Things were so horrendous for the Texas offense that UT alumni and PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth took to Twitter to voice his opinion.
But the Longhorns defense wasn’t much better. Zaire had all day to throw in the pocket. When pressure did come, the lack of communication across the levels of the Texas defense allowed for big plays with Zaire’s speed or the quarterback finding wide-open teammates down the field
Junior running back Tarean Folston, the returning leading rusher for the Irish, only managed three carries after suffering a torn ACL in the first quarter. An MRI early Sunday confirmed the injury, as Folston will miss the remainder of 2015 and have surgery in the next 10 days.
Without Folston, the Irish relied heavily on freshman Josh Adams (two rushing touchdowns) and senior C.J. Prosise, who carried 20 times, averaging 4.9 yards per rush.
“We didn’t want to start off with the mentality of it being just the opener,” said Smith. “We wanted to start off mid-season, with the mid-season mentality. You always got to clean up some little stuff. We’re heading in the right direction.”
To top things off, there were no turnovers in the game. The victory was straight up by the Irish, as Notre Dame played more physical and outsmarted the Longhorns.
“We felt like things that you normally see in an opener were not there, and I think that’s attributed to a lot of veterans, a lot of leaders on our football team,” said Kelly.
With the win, Notre Dame improves to 9-2 against Texas. It is the most wins against the Longhorns of any school that has never shared a conference with UT. Meanwhile, the loss snapped Texas’ streak of 15 straight season-opening victories.
The Irish next head to Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers, looking to continue their strong start, and Texas hopes to right the ship in their home-opener against Rice University.
Zach Sepanik is a Masters graduate of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism & Mass Communications ('15). He co-founded GamedayU, an on-site pregame show that travels to every OU football game. Sepanik joined the Pick Six Previews staff in February 2014, covers the Big 12, and travels to marquee games throughout the season.
Follow him at @ZachSepanik on Twitter.