SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Mike Mayer caught six passes for 115 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown, Isaiah Foskey blocked two punts to set up a touchdown and a field goal and Notre Dame beat UNLV 44-21 on Saturday, just the second victory in four home games this season for the Fighting Irish.
“We needed this. We needed this for our confidence,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “We are a good team that doesn’t always play that way. It’s our job as coaches to get our team to perform this way.”
Notre Dame (4-3) hadn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown in its first six games, being outscored 27-6, but scored two on Saturday and added a three field goals by Blake Grupe to open a 23-7 lead. It was a familiar story for the Rebels (4-4), who lost their third straight and have been outscored 96-40 in the first quarter.
UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said the Rebels need to play better.
“Blocked punts and turnovers and lack of execution are going to be hard to overcome on the road against a good team. I think our guys understand that,” he said.
The Irish added another touchdown in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by tight end Mitchell Evans and squandered two more scoring chances.
Drew Pyne, who entered last week’s game against Stanford completing 72.5% of his passes before going 13 of 27 against the Cardinal, struggled again on Saturday. He was 14 of 28 passing for 205 yards and threw the touchdown pass to Mayer and added a 4-yard scoring pass to Braden Lenzy. He also scrambled for a 21-yard run to set up the touchdown by Evans. Grupe kicked field goals of 43, 27 and 46 yards.
Logan Diggs rushed for 130 yards on 28 yards and Chris Tyree and Audric Estime added scoring runs.
Courtney Reese led the Rebels with 142 yards rushing on 11 carries, including runs of 74 and 47 yards to set up UNLV’s first two touchdowns. Jordan Younge-Humphrey scored touchdowns on runs of 2 yards and 1 yard.
The Rebels have struggled offensively since quarterback Doug Brumfield sustained a concussion in the first quarter two weeks ago. They also were without leading rusher Aidan Robbins, who injured his knee against Air Force last week.
Cameron Friel started at quarterback and was 9 of 18 passing for 73 yards. Harrison Bailey was 8 of 15 for 80 yards.
The Irish outgained the Rebels 428 yards to 299 yards.
Reese set up UNLV’s lone first-half score on a 74-yard when he broke free through the line and was caught from behind by linebacker J.D. Bertrand at the 1-yard line. Jordan Young-Humphrey scored on a 2-yard run on an option play to cut the lead to 20-7.
But any momentum the Rebels had ended when Foskey blocked a punt by Marshall Nichols and linebacker Jordan Botelho recovered at the UNLV 20-yard line. Pyne completed a 20-yard TD pass to Mayer two plays later.
After a three-and-out by the Rebels, Foskey blocked another punt by Houston Griffith recovered at the UNLV 14-yard line. The Irish settled for a 27-yard field goal by Grupe.
Freeman said the Irish didn't see anything to exploit with UNLV's punt protection.
“We just got home. It wasn’t that they had something particular that we’re going to exploit. Every week we feel like we can take advantage of our punt team,” Freeman said. “Those are game-changers.”
Foskey had three sacks, including on fourth-and-9 from the Notre Dame 49-yard line early in the third quarter. Foskey said the blocked punts were key to the win.
“I felt like it was very important," he said. "We had a lot of momentum and gave the ball back to the offense in the plus-territory, which is great for the whole team.”
Pyne left the game briefly after taking a hard hit at the end of a 21-yard run when he was tackled on the 1-yard line. Freeman said Pyne wanted to stay in the game, but doctors said he needed to be checked.
“After that series, a couple of plays, they said he was ready to go,” Freeman said.
UNLV: The Rebels have struggled without Brumfield. It was the third straight lopsided loss, following a 40-7 loss at San Jose State and a 42-7 loss to Air Force. The 74-yard run by Reese was more yards rushing than the Rebels had in the entire game against San Jose State (52 yards) and Air Force (61).
Notre Dame: After struggling in its first three games at Notre Dame Stadium against teams with less talent, sandwiching embarrassing losses to Marshall and Stanford around a come-from-behind win over California, the Irish put together their first dominant performance. It was their first victory by more than two touchdowns since winning at Stanford 45-14 in the regular-season finale last year.
UNLV: At San Diego State on Nov. 5.
Notre Dame: At Syracuse on Saturday.