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Irish fall to Longhorns in double-overtime

| Monday, September 5, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas — Despite trailing 31-14 early in the third quarter, the win was right there for No. 10 Notre Dame.

One more score, one more stop, one more big play. That’s all the Irish needed to avoid an upset loss on the opening night of their season.

But instead of the Irish getting that stop, or getting that score, it was the host Longhorns who executed down the stretch, winning a 50-47 double-overtime thriller Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium.

Longhorns senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes dives into the end zone to secure Texas a 50-47 victory over Notre Dame at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sunday. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime period before Texas held the Irish to a field goal and scored the winning touchdown in the game’s second overtime.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Longhorns senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes dives into the end zone to secure Texas a 50-47 victory over Notre Dame at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sunday. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime period before Texas held the Irish to a field goal and scored the winning touchdown in the game’s second overtime.

On the strength of junior quarterback DeShone Kizer and a re-emergence from the Irish defense, Notre Dame (0-1) held a 35-31 lead as Texas (1-0) took over on its own 32-yard line after a shanked, 24-yard punt by Irish junior Tyler Newsome. Not even two minutes later, the Longhorns had taken the lead back, 37-35, when junior running D’Onta Foreman back scored from 19 yards out after an eight-play, 68-yard drive.

There was, of course, another twist on hand, when Irish graduate student defensive lineman Jarron Jones blocked Longhorns senior kicker Trent Domingue’s extra-point attempt. Irish sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford scooped up the loose ball and ran it back for two points, knotting the game at 37-37 with 3:29 to go.

“I was kind of hesitant at first, but just great preparation — [coach Scott Booker] does a great job with special teams, talking about scoring on special teams, and I just saw the opportunity and it was a great one,” Crawford said of the score.

Kizer and Notre Dame had a chance to have the final word on the game, but the Irish settled for a three-and-out. Thanks in part to a chop block penalty against the Longhorns on the ensuing drive, overtime beckoned in Austin.

Neither team took long to score in that first overtime period. Senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who pounded the Irish defense for three rushing touchdowns in a limited role, scored from three yards out on the Longhorns’ fourth play of the overtime period, while a Kizer-to-sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders screen pass developed into a touchdown on Notre Dame’s first overtime play from scrimmage.

The Irish didn’t find it so easy in the second overtime, though. On third-and-7, Kizer threw high when aiming for freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson, forcing Notre Dame to settle for a 39-yard field goal from sophomore Justin Yoon.

Five plays later, the 102,315-strong record crowd erupted as Swoopes broke through from six yards out to give the host Longhorns the upset victory.

Keeping the ball on the ground with Swoopes in the Longhorns’ “18-wheeler” formation was a key part of Texas head coach Charlie Strong’s strategy for a win Sunday.

“At the end with the last session with Swoopes, I said, ‘Listen, we’re not throwing the ball. We’re going to line up and we’re going to let 18-wheeler just run over people,’” Strong said.

While it ended as poorly as it could have for the Irish, the game started about as well as Notre Dame could have hoped, with Kizer leading a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive inside the game’s first three minutes. The drive was highlighted by a 54-yard rush by senior running back Tarean Folston and capped by a 13-yard score on a fade route for sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown, who notched the first of two career touchdown grabs Sunday night.

It was a breakout game for St. Brown, one Kizer wasn’t surprised to see.

“He’s a stud. We expected a lot of him,” Kizer said. “We treated him as if he was a veteran because, quite frankly, with all the reps that he got last year, as well as the things he did this year, he is a veteran. So we’re going to rely on him to make big plays just like he did [Sunday].”

But the Longhorns had an instant answer with their up-tempo offense — which gave the Irish fits all day — when freshman starter Shane Buechele hit junior receiver Armanti Foreman for a score just 2:58 later.

That’s when Irish head coach Brian Kelly made the call to go to senior Malik Zaire. It didn’t pay off, as Notre Dame went three-and-out on Zaire’s first possession. Kizer took the reins back for the next possession, but didn’t fare much better — gaining just one first down — before Zaire led his best drive of the day. The Irish were facing fourth-and-5 from the Texas 41 when junior center Sam Mustipher was hit with a snap infraction penalty, forcing a punt.

By and large, though, Zaire was ineffective in his three drives, going three-and-out twice while gaining just 23 net yards on 17 plays.

Texas felt Zaire’s snaps made the Irish offense more one-dimensional.

Senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. attempts to haul in a touchdown pass Sunday in Notre Dame’s 50-47 loss.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. attempts to haul in a touchdown pass Sunday in Notre Dame’s 50-47 loss.

“When Zaire was in the game, we felt like we could load the box and take away his run game,” Strong said.

Strong’s quarterback call worked out a little better. He introduced Swoopes for the first time on Texas’ first second-quarter drive and it paid off, as Swoopes and Buechele combined for a 16-play, 88-yard drive to put Texas ahead, 14-7.

“The 16-play drive, it was big because I just kept saying, I said to [Longhorns offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert], ‘Just pound them, pound them, pound them,’” Strong said. “And I just wanted to see if we could wear them down.”

Turning back to Kizer, the Irish had a quick response on St. Brown’s second score of the day, this one a 30-yarder that saw the sophomore cartwheel into the end zone for the score. But the tie game wouldn’t last to the half, as Swoopes pounded it in from a yard out with 1:12 to cement the halftime score, 21-14.

Coming out of the break, it took just two plays for the Longhorns to double their lead when Buechele, who threw for 280 yards in the win, hit sophomore receiver John Burt, a deep threat all game, for a 72-yard touchdown pass. After another Zaire three-and-out, the Longhorns extended their lead to 31-14 when Domingue hit from 25 yards.

Kelly attested a lot of his defense’s struggles to its inability to play Cover 3.

“If we can’t line up and play Cover 3 better, we’re not coaching very well,” Kelly said. “I thought we put ourselves in a tough position when we let the ball get thrown over our head. That’s really where the game changed a little bit.”

After a solid Sanders kickoff return, Kizer took the field and presumably won the starting quarterback gig, keeping it on a read option and gaining the edge for a 29-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 10. The Irish defense stepped up, with Crawford making an interception deep in Texas territory, and Kizer was able to find senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. for a score to cut it to 31-28, just 3:54 after the hosts had gone up by 17.

Once the Irish defense secured another three-and-out, the offense looked set to take the lead when Kizer threw one right on the money for Hunter on third down. But in a controversial play that easily could have been ruled targeting, Hunter couldn’t hang onto the ball when hit in the head by a Texas defender, and the Irish had to try a 36-yard field goal.

Yoon’s kick was blocked, keeping the Irish behind with 15 minutes to play.

Kelly wasn’t pleased with the officials’ decision to not throw a flag — or to even review the play — on the hit that knocked Hunter out of the game with a concussion.

“Very disappointed that we lost Torii Hunter to a blow to the head,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t even reviewed, which doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve been in this game a long time, and I know when somebody gets hit in the head, and he certainly was hit in the head on that play in the end zone. Just unfortunate that it wasn’t officiated or reviewed in a manner I thought it should have been.”

A third consecutive three-and-out followed, giving the Irish the ball back, allowing Kizer to put the Irish back ahead, 35-31, lofting a 17-yard touchdown pass for sophomore running back Josh Adams with 10:57 to play. Following two short drives, one from each offense, the scene was set for the wild ending.

As for Notre Dame’s quarterback situation? Kizer ended the game with six touchdowns — five passing and one rushing — while accounting for 292 yards. Zaire played three drives.

But Kelly isn’t making a call yet on what it’ll look like against Nevada on Saturday.

“Well I mean, DeShone played a lot more than Malik, so we’ll have to go back and watch the film and evaluate it as such. There are a lot of plays out there I think DeShone would like to have back, too. So I think we just have to sit back and find out whether it’s a one-quarterback situation or two.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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