Notre Dame whips Rice with QB Golson back in fold

The Sports Xchange

August 30, 2014 at 4:04 pm.

Everett Golson was a hard man to tackle in Notre Dame's win over Rice. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson waited more than a year and a half to return to the field.

When Golson’s opportunity arrived Saturday in the season opener against Rice, he took full advantage. He threw for two long touchdowns and rushed for three more to lead the No. 17 Fighting Irish to a 48-17 season-opening win against the Owls.

If not for a couple of dropped would-be touchdowns by Notre Dame receivers, Golson could have added to his lofty totals in his first game since the Jan. 7, 2013, BCS national title game against Alabama. He finished with 295 passing yards and five total touchdowns, including passing scores of 75 yards and 53 yards, and he joined Paul Hornung and Jarious Jackson as the only Notre Dame quarterbacks to rush for three touchdowns in a game.

Notre Dame averaged 9.0 yards per play and finished with 576 yards, while Rice countered with 5.6 yards per play and tallied 367 yards.

Rice kept the score within four points until late in the first half, but they could not keep pace in the second half as the Irish built a 31-point lead. A heavy rainfall early in the second half complicated the comeback effort for the Owls, who returned 10 starters from their Conference USA championship team a year ago.

Notre Dame did not appear to be slowed by the absences of four key players who sat out amid an academic fraud investigation. Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and backup linebacker Kendall Moore each missed the game as part of a probe that Notre Dame announced Aug. 15.

Rice largely was unable to take advantage of Notre Dame’s depleted roster. Junior quarterback Driphus Jackson threw for one touchdown before being replaced in the fourth quarter by Tyler Stehling, who added a 53-yard touchdown pass with 4:57 remaining to snap the Irish’s streak of 27 unanswered points.

After sitting out last season because of an academic violation, Golson wasted little time in reminding opponents about his running ability. On Notre Dame’s third series, the senior tucked the ball and sprinted through the middle of Rice’s defense for an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Irish a 7-0 lead with 6:02 to go in the first quarter.

Rice evened the score on its next possession with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to sophomore wide receiver Zach Wright with 2:13 remaining in the quarter.

On Notre Dame’s next play, Golson then showed he had the arm to go with his quick feet, heaving a 75-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller, who spun free from Rice safety Julius White for the score. The play marked the longest touchdown pass of Golson’s career and the longest touchdown pass at Notre Dame Stadium since 2010, when Dayne Crist connected with Michael Floyd for an 80-yard score.

Rice trimmed the deficit to 14-10 on a 33-yard field goal by James Hairston with 5:51 remaining in the first half.

Golson then led Notre Dame to two more scoring drives to extend its lead to 28-10 by halftime. He ran in from 14 yards with 2:33 left and then hit junior wide receiver C.J. Prosise for a 53-yard score with five seconds left in the half.

In the second half, Kyle Brindza kicked field goals of 36 and 29 yards for Notre Dame. Golson added a 4-yard TD run in the third quarter and sophomore running back Greg Bryant completed the scoring with a 17-yard run with 3:32 left in the game.

NOTES: The Fighting Irish debuted their new FieldTurf surface after 84 years of playing on grass at Notre Dame Stadium. The installation of the artificial surface began in May and was completed in early August. … Rice OL Ian Gray’s father, also named Ian, flew in from his job in Saudi Arabia to watch his son play for the Owls. The elder Ian Gray played defensive tackle for Notre Dame in 1977. … Former Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne was inducted this week into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Rockne led the Fighting Irish to a 27-10 win against Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl.