Jonathan Doerer drilled a 41-yard field goal in overtime to lift the visiting Fighting Irish to a 41-38 roller coaster victory over a feisty Florida State squad. Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 38-20 lead, but a furious rally by the hosts resulted in a tie score with 40 seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime, Ryan Fitzpatrick pulled a 37-yard attempt for FSU before Doerer drove a dagger through the hearts of the underdogs.
Both Seminole quarterbacks played superbly during the final period, with McKenzie Milton completing the comeback heroics started by Jordan Travis. Meanwhile, Jack Coan was solid for Notre Dame. He finished 26 for 35 for 366 yards and four touchdowns. It was almost not enough to win because the Noles refused to quit.
The Irish started fast with a touchdown on the opening series. Coan hit tight end Michael Mayer for a score when FSU blew the coverage and left him wide open. The defense then gave the ball back to Coan and the offense two more times in great position, but Notre Dame couldn’t capitalize due to poor play selection and execution.
Jashaun Corbin jumpstarted the Seminoles with an 89-yard scoring burst to tie the game at seven. Florida State’s defense began to swarm, and Travis scored again as the game entered the second period. The Irish finally righted the ship with a field goal, and Kyle Hamilton picked off a pass a few plays later. The turnover set up a a great catch by Joe Wilkins in the end zone on a pass from Coan for a 17-14 advantage with 2:21 left in the half.
FSU came out of the locker room for the third quarter and immediately punched the Irish in the mouth. Travis heaved a 60-yard bomb to Ja’Khi Douglas for a score to retake the lead. The extra point attempt failed after a poor snap and the Noles led by 20-17. Notre Dame responded, however, as Coan hit Kevin Austin with a beautiful scoring strike and Hamilton picked off another errant pass. Kyren Williams cashed in by taking a short pass and knifing into the end zone. The Irish finally had some breathing space at 31-20.
Coach Mike Norvell took an ill-advised gamble on the next series by going for it on fourth down from his own territory. Clarence Lewis intercepted a tipped pass and Notre Dame was set up in prime position once again. Chris Tyree finished the drive and the visitors now led by 38-20 with 4:37 left in the period.
Things did not look good for Florida State, but Travis and Corbin were undaunted. At the same time, the Irish defense sagged in the heat and began to miss numerous tackles. Travis capped a gritty drive with a wild scramble and short touchdown toss to Andrew Parchment. He then threw for a two point conversion to cut the margin to 38-28 with 13:47 left in the game.
Notre Dame’s offense was subsequently stuffed by the revitalized Noles, and Travis went back to work with a 25-yard scramble. He lost his helmet on the next play (incomplete pass) and was sidelined by rule. Milton entered the fray and finished the drive with clutch passes and a scoring run by Treshaun Ward. Notre Dame’s lead was now 38-35 with a long 5:36 remaining.
Once again, Florida State’s defense rose to the occasion and got the ball back. Milton stayed in the game and engineered another drive with a shovel pass, a scramble and runs by Corbin. The Irish finally dug in and forced a field goal attempt, which Fitzgerald made from 43 yards to tie the game.
Forty seconds still remained, and Coan tried to get his team into position for Doerer. Mayer caught a pass to get to midfield, but dropped a critical throw that would have given Doerer a chance to end things in regulation.
Neither team could earn a first down in overtime. The Seminoles went first and Fitzgerald yanked his kick to the left despite a questionable replay ruling that moved him 13 yards closer. Doerer was unfazed by an FSU timeout and calmly split the uprights with the game-winner.
The Irish made numerous mistakes and looked horrible at times. The offensive line was brutal most of the night, and the tackling by the linebackers was equally shoddy. To wit, Notre Dame had 65 yards rushing and gave up 264. Despite a 3-0 turnover margin (I’m not counting the meaningless Hail Mary at the end of regulation), the visitors nearly suffered a humiliating upset.
As Brian Kelly said postgame, his team has a lot of work to do. My view is the coaching staff has plenty of room for improvement as well. The second half defensive schemes were shredded by Norvell and the Noles. The offensive play calling was absurd at times, including an ill-timed flea flicker that killed an early drive. The running plays were slow-developing and the linemen could not hold their blocks. Or they whiffed entirely.
Let’s look at the answers to the pregame questions:
Can Williams and Tyree break free for runs of 15 yards or more? None. Zero. Nada.
Who will win the battle between the unheralded FSU receivers and the youthful Irish corners? The Irish held their own in the early going, but gave up a few costly plays in the second half.
Can the young Seminole offensive linemen handle Notre Dame’s swarm of defenders in the trenches? The Noles got better as the game went on. The Irish linebackers were disappointing and did not fill their gaps very well.
Will Lenzy and Austin bring an intermediate and deep dimension to the Irish passing game? Yes, both played hard and contributed with clutch receptions.
Can the multi-talented Travis escape Notre Dame’s pressure and make plays with his arm and legs? Definitely. Travis struggled early but found his confidence and took off from there.
Which defense will be able to force negative plays and turnovers? Notre Dame forced three turnovers and numerous negative plays, but they were almost not enough. FSU stuffed the Irish ground game and had four sacks of their own. It was not a good night for offensive linemen.
Can the Notre Dame offensive line give Coan adequate time to throw? Coan felt heat most of the night. The guards allowed pressure up the middle all too often, and Jermaine Johnson lived in the Irish backfield all night. Coan did his best despite the fact that he’s not Ian Book back there.
Has Kelly finally learned how to prepare a team for a night game on the road? Good Lord, no.
Of concern to Irish fans is a knee injury to left tackle Blake Fisher. Latest word from the team is that it’s not serious. Notre Dame has plenty of room for improvement, but the schedule is such that it will be three weeks before we can tell if the team has truly addressed its many obvious weaknesses.
This was a disappointing performance on many levels. Aside from the offensive line and linebacker play, Mayer had three drops and Marcus Freeman’s defense was repeatedly gashed. I found myself missing the calm sanity of Clark Lea’s schemes.
The bright spots were Coan, Austin, Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey, the Ademilola brothers, Kurt Hinish and of course Doerer, who mercifully put an end to this near-fiasco.