Just enough: Irish top Temple in comeback, 24-20
Mary Green | Monday, November 2, 2015
PHILADELPHIA — For a minute there — actually, two minutes and 36 seconds — it looked grim for No. 9 Notre Dame at Lincoln Financial Field.
It looked grim for Notre Dame’s playoff résumé, for Will Fuller and Mike McGlinchey’s Philadelphia homecoming, for the large and loud collection of Irish fans gathered among Saturday’s sellout crowd.
But then again, it was a scene somewhat strangely familiar for the Irish (7-1).
Notre Dame had just lost its late-game lead to a team that should have been put away long before then, and it needed to find a way to get back ahead and keep its playoff hopes as strong as it could.
This time, the team trailed No. 21 Temple, 20-17, with 4:45 left on the clock.
Enter Fuller and sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer — a duo most reliable for the Irish and most formidable for opponents in late-game situations.
On second-and-10, Kizer found Fuller in the front right corner of the end zone from 17 yards out to give the Irish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 24-20 victory over the Owls (7-1, 4-0 AAC).
“At this point in the season, it’s part of the 2015 Irish season,” Kizer said. “We’re gonna be in those situations. We learned quite a bit from our experiences in the Virginia and Clemson games to be able to have the confidence to come out and know we’re gonna score points.”
For Fuller, it was his just his fifth catch of the game and 17 of his 46 total yards, his second-lowest yardage output of the season. No matter, his hands closed in on the ball just when Notre Dame needed them to do so most.
But even then, the game wasn’t quite over.
That didn’t happen until senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell jumped in front of redshirt senior receiver John Christopher and picked off Temple junior quarterback P.J. Walker with 1:08 left at the Irish 35-yard line, a grab that sealed the victory for Notre Dame.
“I think there’s no question there are individual playmakers on this team, but collectively, there’s a demeanor on this football team of they’re not going to give in,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “They just keep playing, and they play hard for four quarters.”
Until that point, the Irish and Owls fought in a game that looked like it could have gone either way, with neither team building a lead of more than seven points.
Notre Dame wasn’t able to capitalize on all its trips to the red zone, with Kizer throwing two interceptions inside Temple’s 20-yard line, both in the second quarter.
“I thought the first one was just an unacceptable mistake on DeShone’s mistake,” Kelly said. “He knows that. He can’t throw the ball into traffic like that. He had a hot receiver on the boundary. It’s one of those mistakes he’ll look back on, and he won’t make it again.
“The second one, he was trying to fit in a skinny post in there, and we felt like Will [Fuller] needed to come back to the football and make a play. We felt like he let it come into his body.”
However, the quarterback played a role in all three Irish touchdowns, with four- and 79-yard runs to the end zone and the game-winning pass to Fuller. Kizer also led all rushers with 143 yards on the ground, the second-highest total by an Irish quarterback in program history. He was also the second Notre Dame quarterback to rush for 100 yards and pass for 200 yards (299) in the same game.
“He got the game ball,” Kelly said of Kizer. “Leading the drive on the road as a freshman and then the throw in the corner of the end zone in Cover-2 was just outstanding. Great poise, great leadership, deserving of the game ball.”
Kizer’s run game made up for the large absence of senior running back C.J. Prosise, who was swarmed by the Temple defense each time he touched the ball. Prosise put up 25 rushing yards on 14 carries with a long of 12 yards.
After Notre Dame’s first score, the four-yard run by Kizer, Temple took the lead with a 41-yard field goal followed by a 12-yard pass from Walker to senior receiver Brandon Shippen. The touchdown came on a 94-yard drive that started with Kizer’s first red-zone pick.
The Irish responded on their next drive, when Kizer found a hole in the right side of the line and sprinted untouched 79 yards down the field to put Notre Dame ahead at the half, 14-10.
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After a 23-yard field goal from Irish freshman kicker Justin Yoon, Temple put up 10 points to open the fourth quarter. The scores came on a one-yard rush by junior running back Jahad Thomas and a 36-yard field goal.
Thomas’ touchdown came a few plays after senior safety Elijah Shumate put a hit on redshirt junior receiver Romond Deloatch in the end zone that earned him a targeting penalty from the referees. Shumate was ejected from the game and will have to sit the first half of Notre Dame’s matchup next Saturday against Pittsburgh.
“They said it was targeting which I just — targeting to me is when you’re trying to take somebody out,” Kelly said. “I thought he led with his shoulder. But I’d have to watch it.”
The Irish marched 75 yards down the field on the their next drive, which was capped with the pass from Kizer to Fuller that gave them the game-winning, four-point lead. The score was set up by a 45-yard connection from Kizer to freshman tight end Alizé Jones that brought the team inside the Temple red zone.
“Alizé’s one of the fastest, most athletic tight ends in the country, and I knew once the ball’s in his hands, he was going to make something big with it,” Kizer said.
Notre Dame’s defense was able to contain the Owl offense, with tackles from Shumate and junior cornerback Cole Luke, among others, preventing would-be touchdowns.
Junior linebacker Jaylon Smith paced the Irish with 10 tackles, while defensive linemen Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochell totaled six each. Okwara and Day also added a sack apiece and combined for 5.5 tackles for loss. Day completed his performance with a forced fumble and a pass breakup from the line.
“He played as well as I think I’ve seen him play,” Kelly said of Day. “He was active, he was in coverage, if you saw him playing. We did a lot of things with him.
“He’s right now playing the best football of his career, and when your captains are playing their best, that’s a good sign for your defense.”
The Irish return to Pennsylvania next weekend for a noon game against Pittsburgh on Saturday at Heinz Field.