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Second half collapse costs ND bowl victory

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, December 29, 2011

ORLANDO – Thanks to 18 unanswered Florida State points, Notre Dame’s season ended with an 18-14 loss in the Champ Sports Bowl on Thursday night.

The Irish controlled the first half defensively and headed into the locker room with a 7-0 lead after sophomore safety Zeke Motta’s fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Junior linebacker Manti Te’o forced the fumble which Motta scooped up at the 29-yard line to run untouched into the end zone. The Irish defense held Florida State to three third-down conversions and notched five sacks.

“Defensively we did pretty good,” said Te’o, who finished the game with 13 tackles. “Still the opposing offense put points on the board and that’s not something we wanted to do.”

The Notre Dame lead grew in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees connected with senior receiver Michael Floyd for a five-yard touchdown pass. Floyd ended the game with five catches for 41 yards, becoming the first receiver in school history to snag 100 catches in a season. The score came on a juggling, acrobatic catch and came with a high price. The senior suffered “an upper body injury” on the play, and did not play much in the fourth quarter, including on the final snaps.

“He got hurt on the touchdown catch, just couldn’t go,” Kelly said. “He tried, and went back in there.”

Florida State used two Dustin Hopkins field goals and two E.J. Manuel touchdown passes to surpass the Irish. Three Notre Dame interceptions — two by Rees and one by sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix – gave the Seminoles short fields to work with.

“The turnovers were, again, a large reason for us not being able to win this game,” Kelly said. “It’s been the case all year. It started with South Florida, and it continued to show itself the entire year.”

Rees and Hendrix split time throughout the evening, though Rees ended the game attempting more than three times as many passes as Hendrix did.

“We just wanted to get them both in the game,” Kelly said of the dual quarterback set-up. “I think that without setting a series here or there, we were just trying to get them in a flow as best we could. It’s never easy when you play two quarterbacks. I think what we were committed to not doing was putting [Hendrix] in a package. We wanted him to run the offense.”

Rees completed 16-of-27 attempts for 163 yards, while Hendrix went 3-for-8 for 24 yards, adding four runs for 26 yards as well.