SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Fans seated in the north end zone at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday hung over the railing, arms outstretched in hopes of a high-five from Corey Robinson. They yelled his name in unison and cheered as the junior wide receiver exited the field. Earlier, Robinson’s teammates offered similar treatment, first a wall of them on the field followed by a slow procession of those who stopped by on the sidelines to celebrate.
Hoping to make any kind of positive impact on Saturday’s game against USC, Robinson delivered arguably the game’s biggest play when he caught the go-ahead touchdown in a 41-31 Notre Dame victory with 9:06 left in the fourth quarter. Given how the first half of his season has gone, Robinson couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.
“It picked me up,” Robinson said. “Especially when I got to the sideline, all the guys came up to me and congratulated me. Obviously that’s a great feeling to know your team has that kind of confidence to support you and just comes around.”
Expectations have been high for Robinson after he produced 40 catches and five touchdowns last season. But headed into Saturday’s game, the San Antonio native had seven catches for 88 yards and no scores.
Perhaps what stood out more than the lack of catches is the two Robinson didn’t have in late in a two-point loss at Clemson on Oct. 3.
But the memory of Robinson’s struggles didn’t stop coach Brian Kelly from dialing his number in a 31-all contest with the Irish facing third-and-8 from the USC 10-yard-line. Facing man coverage, Robinson broke to his left, fought through the coverage of cornerback Iman Marshall and dove with his arms outstretched to haul in a perfect 10-yard pass from DeShone Kizer for the score.
Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell -- who had an equally impressive grab of his own two plays later on an interception of USC’s Cody Kessler -- didn’t see the end result of the play. He merely saw where the ball was placed and assumed the Fighting Irish would settle for a field goal and a three-point lead.
“All I could see was the ball extremely to his outside shoulder and I was like ‘There’s no way’ and all of a sudden I can see the crowd going nuts,” Russell said. “I just kept asking ‘How the heck did he catch that? How the heck did he catch that?’ Everybody said he literally reached down and grabbed it. That’s what he does. I call him Big Play Robinson. When his number’s called he usually makes big plays.”
Robinson hadn’t made many of those plays this season.
He suffered a knee injury last month and missed the chance to pad his statistics against UMass. Then came the loss to Clemson where he dropped a potential 49-yard touchdown in rainy conditions as well as a two-point conversion. Those plays prompted Robinson to say he didn’t step up when he needed to and was seeking renewed confidence.
[NBC SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear here]
Some of the best advice Robinson received came from his father, NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, which focused on worrying about the rest of the season.
“(He said) you can’t let the past affect the present and the future,” Robinson said. “We have five more games so I can’t let one game two or three weeks ago affect the rest of the season especially when I’m in a position to contribute to the team’s success.”
Robinson didn’t care how he contributed on Saturday night. Could have been a catch for a first down. He would have been equally satisfied with a downfield block to spring Kizer for a long run.
But the touchdown and its rewards were even better.
“I had to do whatever just to catch that ball,” Robinson said. “I just rolled over and all the guys were in my face so I guess it was a touchdown.
“(It was) elation just to enjoy the moment with the team.”