(WSCR) – Saturday was Tommy Rees’ first start for Notre Dame as they faced Utah and the new QB did not disappoint. The Irish held the Utes to a meager three points while Rees threw three touchdown passes as Notre Dame finished 28-3.
By RICK GANO
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Freshman Tommy Rees threw three touchdown passes in his first collegiate start and Notre Dame used two Utah special teams mistakes Saturday to rout the slumping, 15th-ranked Utes 28-3.
Returning from a week off, Notre Dame (5-5) played like a fresh team and moved within one win of becoming eligible for a bowl. Utah (8-2), meanwhile, looked like a team still reeling from its 47-7 loss to TCU a week earlier.
The victory was Notre Dame’s first over a team ranked in the AP top 25 since 2006, when the Irish defeated Penn State. Students poured onto the field when the game ended, joining the celebration with Notre Dame players who won their home finale.
Robert Blanton blocked a Utah punt, picked up the ball and ran in for a TD late in the opening period. And a fumble on the second-half kickoff by star Utah returner Shaky Smithson was quickly turned into the first of two Rees-to-Duval Kamara TD passes.
Rees, who replaced injured starter Dayne Crist during a loss to Tulsa two weeks ago, got better as the game progressed and finished 13 of 20 for 129 yards.
Notre Dame’s maligned defense bottled up Utah – which came in averaging 41 points per game – and stopped the Utes from scoring in the second half after they reached the 6 and 12 on separate drives.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn completed 24 of 39 for 195 yards and was shaken up with just more than five minutes left after taking a hard hit after delivering a pass. He returned to the game two plays later.
Notre Dame’s win was also its first since 20-year-old student videographer Declan Sullivan was killed when the tower from which he was filming practice toppled over on a windy day. For the second straight game, the Irish wore a helmet decal in the shape of a shamrock with DS in the middle.
“It’s emotional,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks.”
Austin Collinsworth hit Smithson on the second half kickoff, jarred the ball loose and Daniel Smith recovered for the Irish. On the very next play from the 26, Rees threw to a wide open Kumara for the TD, putting the Irish up 21-3 just 13 seconds into the third quarter.
Rees and Kamara hooked up again a little more than five minutes later on a 12-yard TD pass that capped a quick 63-yard drive, one that included a 24-yard pass to Michael Floyd.
Jonas Gray, the third tailback used by the Irish in the first half, broke off a 36-yard run in the second quarter, thanks to a crushing block from Floyd, to get the ball to the Utah 8. And after a pass interference call against Utah’s Brandon Burton – the Utes’ seventh penalty of the opening half – Rees hit Floyd with a 3-yard TD pass to put the Irish up 14-3.
Blanton came roaring in untouched from the defensive right side and blocked Sean Sellwood’s punt, grabbed the ball and waltzed in for a 6-yard TD late in the opening quarter to put the Irish up 7-3.
The Utes were penalized 10 times in the first half, including five in the opening quarter, and finished the game with 11 for 70 yards. Utah’s running game never got untracked, either, managing just 71 yards on 29 carries.
Utah finished with 265 yards total offense after coming in averaging nearly 422 per game.
Kelly gambled on a fourth-and-3 from the Utah 49 on the first series of the game and Cierre Wood was stopped short of the first down. The Utes then moved to the Irish 27 on a third-down pass of 11 yards from Wynn to Fatu Moala, but had to settle for a 46-yard field goal from Joe Phillips with a 15 to 23 mph wind at his back.
Turns out, it would be the only points the Utes would muster all day in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.