Jonathan Doerer drilled a 48-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining to lift Notre Dame to a come from behind 32-29 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night. The Fighting Irish had trailed by 29-21 with four minutes left before Jack Coan came off the bench to lead two clutch scoring drives. His touchdown pass to Avery Davis and subsequent two point conversion to Kevin Austin tied the game at 29 with just over two minutes on the clock. Notre Dame got the ball back at their own 25 moments later before Coan marched them down the field to set up Doerer’s winning boot.
The game was a seesaw battle for the full 60 minutes. The Hokies started fast by racing to a 10-0 lead before the Irish elected to bench Coan in favor of Tyler Buchner. The freshman led Notre Dame on two scoring drives in the second period as the Irish took a 14-10 lead with 32 seconds left in the half. Tech was able to answer in the waning moments with a quick drive and improbable 52-yard career best field goal by John Parker Romo as time expired.
Trailing now by 14-13, the Hokies took the second half kickoff and drove quickly down the field. A touchdown pass was called back due to a penalty, but Parker Romo nailed another three pointer to put his team back in the lead by 16-14.
Tariq Bracy’s interception later in the third quarter gave the ball back to Notre Dame in scoring territory. Buchner led the Irish on a scoring drive that Kyren Williams finished with a scintillating ten-yard run for a 21-16 advantage.
Virginia Tech could not answer on its next series. Things looked bleak for the hosts as quarterback Paul Burmeister appeared to injure his shoulder and was helped off the field. However, the game flipped again moments later when Buchner was picked off near the sideline by Jermaine Waller, who returned it for the go ahead touchdown at the end of the third quarter. A two point conversion failed, so the Hokies held a slim 22-21 lead.
Buchner tried to make amends but he was largely ineffective on the next two Irish possessions. When he threw another interception midway through the fourth period, things looked bad for Notre Dame. Tech made matters worse for the visitors when Burmeister scrambled for a 19-yard touchdown.
The deficit for the Irish was now eight points with 3:55 on the clock. Coach Brian Kelly reinserted Coan into the game since his team had to throw it. The veteran carved up the Hokies with a series of crisp throws to multiple receivers before hitting Davis with 2:26 remaining. Coan then scrambled on the conversion attempt before launching a prayer that Austin plucked from the air to tie the game.
Notre Dame’s defense forced a quick three and out on the ensuing series. Coan went back to work and hit Braden Lenzy and George Takacs to set up Doerer’s winning kick. The Irish had come back twice during the evening to pull this one out, and it took nearly every player on their roster to do it.
Buchner was unshackled in this contest and allowed to throw the ball downfield. He looked like the future at times with a few outstanding throws but displayed poor judgment and accuracy in other instances that proved costly. Coan was harassed and tentative in the early going, but looked like Joe Montana when he reentered the game in the last four minutes.
Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions:
Which team will be most successful on third down? The Hokies converted several key third downs to frustrate Notre Dame. Cam Hart may be the best Irish cover corner, but his poor tackling nearly cost them the game. The Irish also failed on a third and one in the waning moments that made Doerer’s field goal longer than it should have been.
Can the Irish tackles handle Barno and Garbutt without significant help? Tech’s pass rushers dominated early, but Notre Dame’s offensive line adjusted and actually played well over the last three quarters.
Will the Hokies QB and receivers exploit the Irish back seven in coverage? Hokie wideout Tre Tucker proved to be a handful for the secondary, but the overall pass defense held up okay.
Which team will have the most productive running game? Both Burmeister and Buchner ran well for their respective teams but Williams was the difference for Notre Dame. His hard running lifted the Irish to a season best 173 yards on the ground.
Can Kevin Austin bounce back from another poor performance? Austin made a few clutch receptions including a beautiful 46-yard bomb from Buchner. He had no drops. His two-point conversion was the play of the night.
Which defensive front will best rattle the opposing quarterback? The Hokies started well, but Notre Dame’s rush was more effective over the last three periods.
How will the Irish handle their first hostile environment since Florida State? The appeared flat and out of sorts at the outset, but Buchner seemed to ignite them before Coan ultimately finished the job.
Is the ACC Network a better bargain than Peacock? The announcers were like nails on a chalk board. The Irish have to stop putting games on these second rate networks.
The team will have a bye next week before hosting the USC Trojans on October 23. Hopefully they will regain the services of star tight end Michael Mayer, who sat out tonight’s game due to a leg injury. Running back Chris Tyree also was forced to exit the game with a turf toe injury. Hopefully it won’t cause him to miss additional time. Freshman Logan Diggs filled in admirably for Tyree. He flashed a smooth running style and finished with 29 yards on six carries. Diggs also caught a 15-yard pass.
Otherwise, there are plenty of things to clean up on both sides of the ball. The defensive alignment with three down linemen has been a disaster and tackling is still a problem along the back seven. The offensive line is better but not what anyone would call “good”. Finally, the quarterback situation is no less muddled. I suspect we’ll see Coan continue to start with Buchner afforded more opportunities to run RPOs and attempt to improve his accuracy as a passer. It appears the coaching staff considers him to be the future at the position. His athleticism is undeniable, but I’m not sure my heart can take too many more nights like this one.