Punt return sparks Irish in rout of UMass
South Bend, Ind. — Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome pinned back Massachusetts, and returner C.J. Sanders got the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish going.
After Newsome placed a 52-yard punt on the Massachusetts 1, the Fighting Irish defense held the Minutemen to a yard on three plays and Sanders answered with a 50-yard punt return that helped spark Notre Dame to the 62-27 victory Saturday.
Sanders cut at the 35 to avoid two Minutemen and made another cut at the 10 before racing into the end zone with 3:21 left in the first half to give the Irish a 28-20 lead.
“The special team work was outstanding,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, pointing out Sanders especially. “He’s a very shifty runner. He’s got great vision. It was a big play. It gave us momentum, certainly.”
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day agreed.
“Just to see that little guy run, it definitely brought us a lot of excitement on the defense,” he said.
UMass safety Trey Dudley-Giles said it had the opposite effect for the Minutemen.
“It just killed our momentum,” he said.
DeShone Kizer threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Chris Brown with 6 seconds left in the first half to give the Irish a 35-20 halftime lead. C.J. Prosise, who rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns, added a 16-yard scoring run and freshman Dexter Williams added a 14-yard TD run to break open the game.
Marquis Young had an 83-yard touchdown run for the Minutemen, and Sekai Lindsay and Jamal Wilson added 1-yard TD runs and Shakur Nesmith added a 33-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame improved to 4-0 for the second straight season, the third time in six seasons under coach Brian Kelly. Massachusetts fell to 0-3 for the fourth straight season since moving up to the FBS level.
The 62 points were the most by the Irish since a 62-0 win over Rutgers in 1996 in Lou Holtz’s final home game as Notre Dame coach.
“Their varsity was better than our varsity, and their JV was a little better than our JV,” Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple said. “We kind of put a little shock into them and woke them up I guess at the end of the second quarter.”
The Irish rushed for 457 yards, marking the fourth straight game of rushing for more than 200 yards. Prosise became the first Notre Dame player with three straight 100-yard games since Darius Walker did it in 2005.
“The line just had an amazing game for us,” Prosise said. “We had a lot of big holes to run through. All we had to do was make somebody miss back end and we were able to make some big plays.”
DeShone Kizer was 15 of 22 passing for 207 yards with two touchdowns and one interception and freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush was 3 of 5 passing for 17 yards and scored on a 58-yard run late in the third quarter. Will Fuller added his sixth touchdown catch of the season for the Irish.
The Irish got backups in on both offense and defense in the second half, giving starters some rest heading into the game at No. 11 Clemson on Saturday.
Massachusetts burned the Notre Dame defense for several big plays to keep the game closer than expected throughout most of the first half.
Blake Frohnapfel was 20 of 40 passing for 233 yards with one interception and Tajae Sharpe had eight catches for 83 yards. Backup Ross Comis was 8-of-8 passing for 69 yards with a touchdown as the Minutemen finished with 450 yards total offense.
Newsome averaged 52.4 yards a punt Saturday, breaking the school record of 51.9 yards set by Geoff Price in 2006.