Irish overcome blunders to topple Hurricanes, 30-27
Alex Bender | Monday, October 31, 2016
On an unseasonably warm day at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish were able to come away with the 30-27 win over Miami after late game heroics from sophomores running back Josh Adams and kicker Justin Yoon.
Miami (4-4, 1-3 ACC) controlled the middle of the game, scoring 27 unanswered points, but Notre Dame (3-5) came up big at the start and finish, and it proved to be enough for the Irish to pick up the win.
After Miami deferred to the second half off the coin toss, the Irish got things going early with a drive that saw effective play on the ground and in the air. The Irish eventually capped off the drive and made their way into the end zone off a five-yard shovel pass by junior quarterback DeShone Kizer to senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr., giving Notre Dame the early 7-0 advantage.
On defense, the Irish smothered the Hurricanes early on, getting three first half sacks as well as an interception, which often led to good field position for Kizer and company. Between a field goal by junior kicker Justin Yoon and another touchdown — this time from Kizer to sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown for a 14-yard score — the Irish found themselves on top 17-0 with almost four and half minutes left in the first quarter. Miami was frustrated offensively early on as the Hurricanes concluded the first quarter with just two rushing yards and zero passing yards on three drives.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Notre Dame’s defensive front seven, especially graduate student defensive lineman Jarron Jones, helped put Miami on its heels early on.
“Jarron was outstanding,” Kelly said “He was awarded the game ball, and what I think stands out to me more than anything else is when your senior is playing his best ball, that says a lot about how he feels about coming to work every day, getting better, regardless of the record. That’s a real positive for our program and for him individually, and he was a beast out there today.”
Miami would be forced to punt during their first drive of the second quarter with Notre Dame starting back at their own 38 yard-line, but thanks to a big play on a 53-yard grab by freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson, the Irish were knocking on the door step before coming up short. Yoon notched his second field goal of the day, this one from 26 yards out, and the Irish were up 20-0.
The following Hurricane drive appeared to be coming to a close with a punt from their own end of the field, but due to a special teams blunder in which freshman Troy Pride Jr. inadvertently touched the ball while blocking, the Hurricanes pounced on it and kept their drive alive. The Hurricanes were able to generate some offense this time around and capitalized on the mistake when junior quarterback Brad Kaaya hit junior tight end David Njoku in the end zone for the two-yard score.
On the following kickoff, Miami caught the Irish off guard with an onside kick attempt, giving themselves great field position and a chance to ride the momentum of the previous drive. Notre Dame’s defense stood strong, however. Nothing would come of it as the teams headed to the locker room with a score of 20-7 Notre Dame.
As the second half got underway, the Miami offense seemed to be getting into their first real rhythm on the day, nosing their way into the end zone off a one-yard rush by Mark Walton, and Miami had cut the deficit to six for the time being. After the hot start to the game, Notre Dame was unable to do anything with early second-half opportunities, and Miami seized the comeback opportunity. With 12:30 remaining in regulation, Miami put its second field goal of the quarter through the uprights, eliminating the 20-point advantage Notre Dame had once held.
Among the problems for Notre Dame that allowed Miami back into the game, Kelly noted the team’s lack of decisiveness as perhaps one of the biggest problems throughout the day.
“Our whole football had been battling at times with being indecisive in certain areas, whether at the quarterback position, whether we were indecisive as a play caller, whether we were indecisive at the cornerback position, and indecisiveness put us where we are today,” Kelly said.
With the game tied at 20, Notre Dame got its first offensive possession of the fourth quarter, but the Irish were unable to get anything going and were forced to give the ball back to the Hurricanes. Miami found itself unable to move the ball either, and the drive appeared to be over. However, sophomore C.J. Sanders muffed the punt inside the 5-yard line and allowed Miami to jump on the ball in the end zone to take a 27-20 lead.
Notre Dame responded and put an end to the unanswered scoring run by Miami when Adams bounced outside the box and scored from 41 yards out, tying the game at 27 in the process.
With under two minutes remaining in regulation and down inside the Miami 10-yard line, Kizer hit senior tight end Durham Smythe for what seemed like a potential touchdown, until Smythe fumbled near the goal line. In the chaos that ensued to find the ball, it was Kizer who somehow came up from the pile and kept possession for the Irish. Kizer noted the craziness of the play after the game.
“Yeah it’s a lot down there, and I felt like it was only white jerseys around me. That’s probably my favorite play of the season so far in being down there and doing whatever it takes to win for my team,” said Kizer. “Those are big guys down in there, but for a quarterback to be down there, it’s awesome to come up big for us.”
With 30 seconds to play, Yoon knocked through his third field goal of the evening and gave Notre Dame the 30-27 lead.
Miami’s efforts to drive down the field came up short with junior linebacker Nyles Morgan coming up huge on the last play of the game, sacking Kaaya for the Notre Dame defense’s fifth on the night as the clock ran out.
Notre Dame walked away with their first win in nearly a month and a boost of confidence after closing out the game late, Kelly said.
“It was a dominant effort against a Power 5 football team that was nationally ranked a few weeks ago, and I think that’s about as good a performance as we’ve had in a while here,” Kelly said.