Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer continues rise, defense finally steps up

After five minutes Saturday, Notre Dame was on pace to score 276 points, which would have destroyed the school-record 142 the Irish put on the board in a shutout of American College of Medicine and Surgery of Chicago in 1905.

But American College of Medicine and Surgery of Chicago, Syracuse is not.

The Orange were on pace to score 156 of their own after the teams combined for 36 points in those first five minutes of a shootout-turned-rout in Notre Dame's 50-33 victory at MetLife Stadium.

"ND" continued to stand for "No Defense" until the Irish, who fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after last Saturday's loss to Duke, limited the Orange to six second-half points after taking a 33-27 at halftime.

The teams combined for 437 yards during first quarter that stole 52 minutes of actual time.

And while the points total record was safe, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer's career mark for passing yards wasn't. He finished with 471, the most in an Irish victory and the third-most in a game in school history.

Still, Kizer was somewhat critical of his own play after completing 23 of 35 attempts for three touchdowns and one interception.

"This is the sloppiest 50-point performance I've ever been a part of," said Kizer, who has thrown for at least two touchdowns and run for at least one in his last five games, the longest such streak among FBS players. "Sloppiest 400-plus pass game I've ever been a part of.

"That's the best part about it. We're having a good time and there's still so much room to improve."

Kizer began to write his history on the first play from scrimmage when he united with Equanimeous St. Brown for a 79-yard pass and catch that put the Irish up 7-0 after 18 seconds.

Less than two minutes later, Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey scored and the madness was born.

Notre Dame's Jarron Jones blocked Cole Murphy's point-after attempt and Cole Luke picked up it up and returned it for two points.

Kizer and St. Brown then aired a rerun of the first play, this time for 67 yards, on Notre Dame's next possession to make it 16-6.

"I think I had a pretty good day today," said St. Brown, who had four catches for 182 yards.

After Syracuse answered with a 72-yard passing touchdown, C.J. Sanders returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score to make it 23-13. With 10 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter.

That's not to mention the touchdown that was, then wasn't after replay, when Torii Hunter Jr. wasted his breath running 59 yards to the end zone after he flipped over, landed on a Syracuse defender and continued running for what originally was ruled a 70-yard score.

After the game Greg Hudson, who took over for VanGorder as the team's defensive coordinator, led the fight song in the locker room, a decision players made earlier in the week.

The Irish rotated in many more players, including several freshmen, on defense and settled down to allow 488 total yards after giving up 223 in the first quarter.

"We have so many young players who can't sustain 70 or 80 plays," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "They're going to be good for 20 or 30 and we need to keep rolling guys in."

After becoming the last of 128 FBS teams to record a sack last week, Nyles Morgan picked up his — and the Irish's — second of the season Saturday.

For the first time during this 2-4 season, the Irish forced a fumble, thanks to James Onwualu. Notre Dame also allowed the Orange to convert just 3 of 15 third-down chances, incremental improvements, the Irish insisted, that have had everything to do with attitude.

"It was an interesting week," defensive lineman Isaac Rochell said. "But I think we did check a lot of boxes."

And there are a few more to go.

pskrbina@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribSkrbina

Irish 2-minute drill

Turning points: DeShone Kizer's 54-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Stepherson early in the third quarter gave Notre Dame a 40-27 lead. Dexter Williams ran 59 yards for a score on Notre Dame's next drive. Williams briefly left the game with a sore knee but returned. "I told him he's indestructible," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

Play of the game: The touchdown that didn't count. Notre Dame receiver Torii Hunter Jr. appeared to have a 70-yard touchdown to his credit after he flipped, bounced off a defender and ran 59 yards to the end zone. The officials on the field agreed, but replay officials did not, ruling that Hunter's shoulder had touched the ground.

Telling stat: .0001. Percentage points by which Notre Dame trailed Michigan in all-time winning percentage going into Saturday's games. The Irish began this year the tradition of selecting a player to wear the No. 1 jersey before each game to reflect being first all-time in that category, but didn't do it this week after falling behind Michigan with last week's loss to Duke.

Looking ahead: Notre Dame hits the road again next Saturday when it visits North Carolina State (3-1), which beat Wake Forest 33-16 on Saturday.

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