Notre Dame storms past UMass after early scare

By Mark Chiarelli

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

SOUTH BEND, Ind — With his offense backed to the brink, and his team tempting fate, University of Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple wanted to take a chance, even despite being backed up against his own end zone as his team’s drive was set to start at its own 1-yard-line.

He elected to dial up a deep passing play to Tajae Sharpe. Trailing by a single point and with momentum on his side, he went for the big play, sensing an opportunity against No. 6 Notre Dame.

But UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel’s pass to Sharpe along the left sidelines fell incomplete. Two plays later, the Minutemen were forced to punt.

And on that play, their dreams of an upset bid became nothing more than a fantasy.

Notre Dame’s C.J. Sanders returned the Logan Laurent punt 50 yards for a touchdown, setting off a prolific scoring barrage en route to a 62-27 Fighting Irish win Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I got aggressive,” Whipple said. “I thought we could take a shot with Tajae and maybe get 99 (yards). You have to make a decision there and we backed up and then they run it in, it kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

Notre Dame (3-0) ripped off 41 straight points and finished with 681 offensive yards, 457 of which came via the run, and the game was out of reach for much of the second half.

But it didn’t always appear that way.

Notre Dame ran the ball with authority in the first half, riding running back C.J. Prosise (15 carries, 154 yards, two touchdowns) to an early 14-0 first quarter lead. But UMass (0-3) running back Marquis Young answered with an 83-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, the first of his career.

Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer threw an interception on the team’s first play of their ensuing drive to Trey Dudley-Giles, setting up an eventual 1-yard touchdown run from Minutemen freshman Sekai Lindsay with 11 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half

Suddenly, it was 14-13. UMass had its chance.

Notre Dame responded with a 10-play touchdown drive, but it didn’t deter the Minutemen from answering in bold fashion.

UMass running back Andrew Libby took a toss from Frohnapfel to begin its drive, but immediately threw it back to Frohnapfel, who then found Shakur Nesmith on a 56-yard pass, which set up an eventual 1-yard touchdown run by running back Jamal Wilson, drawing UMass within 21-20 with 6:44 to go.

The Minutemen then forced Notre Dame to punt, setting up the drive beginning at the 1-yard-line. Then it all fell apart, starting with the punt return for a touchdown by Sanders. The Irish scored again three minutes later on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Kizer, and took a 35-20 lead into halftime.

“It just killed our momentum,” Dudley-Giles said.

UMass relented early in the second half, giving up a touchdown three minutes into the third quarter. The Minutemen couldn’t handle the sheer size of Notre Dame along both the offensive and defensive lines.

“We put a little bit of a shock into them and woke them up, I guess, at the end of the second quarter,” Whipple said. “We just couldn’t handle their line, their offensive line manhandled us.”

The Irish made it 42-20 just three minutes into the third quarter, and UMass never answered offensively. The loss is the Minutemen’s third straight to start the season, following a devastating loss to Temple last week and a season-opening blowout loss to Colorado.

“We were with them for the first half,” Frohnapfel said. “But it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.

“It’s tough. When you’re playing a team like that, when they get a lead like that, it’s tough to come back. We were trying to take every chance we had, but against a lead like that, it’s tough to overcome.”

Frohnapfel finished 20-of-40 for 233 yards, and Young rushed for 103 yards on five carries. Sharpe led all receives with eight catches for 83 yards.

UMass will return to Amherst and begin preparation for Florida International, which it will host at McGuirk Stadium next week. Dudley-Giles said the team’s confidence hasn’t wavered despite the loss to the Irish, and Whipple acknowledged the team is moving on to a more manageable part of its schedule.

“I just don’t like losing, I don’t care who it is to,” Whipple said. “We’re back in our element now. We have to get our guys prepared for Florida International, starting tomorrow.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.