Bennett Jackson provided an immediate spark with his 35-yard opening kick return sprint to the right side. Steve Filer sealed the edge while Robert Hughes, Duval Kamara, Daniel Smith and Chris Salvi all executed their blocks to give Jackson a forward cushion before he had to cut after the 20-yard line…Only Bobby Burger (pancake) and Robert Hughes (seal) did their jobs on Notre Dame’s second kick return (18 yards); some odd blocking choices up front by Salvi and Prince Shembo contributed to the minimal gain.
Nice effort by Jackson, Filer, and long-snapper Jordan Cowart to corral the nation’s best punt returner – Shaky Smithson – on Ben Turk’s first punt.
Special teams coach Mike Elston deserves credit for the design of Blanton’s block, scoop, and score touchdown to give the Irish a 7-3 lead. Shembo came untouched up the middle and the freshman ran at the Utes’ left edge protector, allowing Blanton a clear outside lane for the easy block. Great presence of mind by Blanton not to run into the kicker; he came under control for the block, never leaving his feet.
Jackson’s penetration drew a 10-yard holding penalty on Notre Dame’s first kick-off (David Ruffer sent it to the 1-yard line). Austin Collinsworth might have received a block in the back as well. Jackson ended up making the tackle down at the 45-yard line though it came back to the Utah 10 due to the penalty…Bad luck on Ruffer’s second kickoff as it landed out of bounds one-yard short of the end zone.
Good form and a helmet-on-ball hit by freshman Austin Collinsworth causes kick returner Shaky Smithson to fumble the half’s opening kickoff. Collinsworth’s fellow freshman Daniel Smith pounces on the ball at the Utah 26 yard-line…
Another big special teams play as the Irish scored one play later on a 26-yard Tommy Rees to Duval Kamara touchdown pass to take a 21-3 lead…
Ruffer’s next kick-off landed six yards deep in the Utah end zone for his ninth touchback of the season…
Ruffer’s final kick-off (28-3 Irish) lands at the Utah 2-yard line but Smithson outran Bennett Jackson to the far side for a strong 25-yard return. Outside contain corner Lo Wood was blindsided on the play by a vicious block.
A nearly perfect special teams day was sullied by fair-catch interference on Bennett Jackson, though when you release the hounds all day, it’s sometimes difficult to eventually call off those same dogs when the outcome is decided.