Everett Golson threw touchdown passes of 75 and 53 yards and ran for three more scores in his return after missing the 2013 season for academic impropriety, leading No. 17 Notre Dame to a 48-17 victory over Rice on Saturday.
Golson was 14-of-22 passing for 295 yards and ran for 41 yards on 12 carries. He also had two near-misses on long pass attempts. He scored on an 11-yard run on a planned keeper, a 14-yard scramble and a 4-yard run on a blown handoff.
The Irish opened the season without five players who are scheduled to appear before the school's honor code committee after being investigated for possible cheating. It was the sixth straight season-opening loss for the Owls.
One of the players out because of the investigation was DaVaris Daniels, the only returning Irish receiver with more than 15 catches last season. That didn't slow Golson, though. He connected with seven different receivers and the Irish amassed 576 yards total offense.
The most exciting throw was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller that traveled nearly 60 yards in the air. Fuller was in a full sprint and wide open and needed to slow down to catch the pass near the 25-yard line. Fuller then made Rice safety Julius White miss as he raced into the end zone. It was the longest TD pass for Notre Dame since 2010.
The 53-yard touchdown pass was a little better timed as Golson scrambled and threw a perfect pass to a wide-open C.J. Prosise in the end zone with 5 seconds left in the half, giving the Irish 28-10 lead. Golson was hit hard just after throwing the pass.
Golson became the first Notre Dame quarterback to run for three touchdowns in a game since Jarious Jackson did it against Stanford in 1998. The only other Irish quarterback to accomplish the feat was Paul Hornung against North Carolina in 1956.
Golson's final touchdown came with 17 seconds left in the third quarter when he turned left to make the handoff and Greg Bryant ran right. Golson squeezed between two Rice defenders and lunged into the end zone. Bryant added a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter after reserve quarterback Malik Zaire ran for 56 yards on his first collegiate play.
Driphus Jackson, making his second career start at quarterback for Rice, was 13 of 24 passing for 163 yards and one touchdown and interception. Rice backup quarterback Tyler Stehling threw a 53 yard TD pass to James Mayden later. The Owls were without receiver Jordan Taylor, who led the team in receiving last season, because of an injured left foot.
Rice kept the game close early, with Jackson tying the game at 7-7 on a 26-yard pass to Zach Wright, who was wide open, and closing to 14-10 on a 33-yard field goal by James Hairston. But the Irish broke the game open when Jackson was intercepted by Irish safety Matthias Farley at the Notre Dame 41 yard-line with 21 seconds left in the first half. Golson threw the 53-yard TD two plays later.
The Owls also tried a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from their own 31 late in the third quarter, but Luke Turner was tackled for a three-yard gain.
The Irish defense played solidly even missing three starters, holding Rice to 367 yards total offense. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams were out because of the cheating investigation and safety Austin Collinsworth, named one of the captains earlier in the week, missed the game with an undisclosed injury. He was on crutches with his right leg in a brace.
The Irish special teams, which have struggled under coach Kelly, got off to a good start Saturday. Notre Dame, which had a total of 106 yards in punt returns all last season, finished with 80 yards against Rice.
The game was the first for the Irish on its new FieldTurf playing surface that the school installed after needing to re-sod portions of the field four times in 2013.