Irish topple Tigers to close out 10-win season
Marek Mazurek | Monday, January 1, 2018
ORLANDO, Fla. — Leading up to No. 14 Notre Dame’s matchup with No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl, there were comparisons to the 2014 Music City Bowl.
Notre Dame (10-3) was playing the same team — LSU (9-4, 6-2 SEC) — on the heels of a disappointing end to a promising season.
And just like the 2014 contest where both Malik Zaire and Everett Golson saw playing time at quarterback, Irish head coach Brian Kelly even made sure both junior starter Brandon Wimbush and sophomore backup Ian Book made appearances under center for the Irish.
But the most important similarity between the 2014 Music City Bowl and the 2018 Citrus Bowl for Notre Dame was the final score.
On Monday, that score was Notre Dame 21, LSU 17.
Down eight points in the fourth quarter, the Irish needed a spark offensively and found one in the form of sophomore running back Dexter Williams. Williams rushed twice for 36 yards, including a 31-yard sprint that propelled the Irish on their way to the red zone.
There, Book found freshman wide receiver Michael Young on a six-yard pass for a touchdown. A shovel pass to junior running back Josh Adams gave Notre Dame a two-point conversion and brought the game to a 14-14 tie.
But LSU drove right back down the field and knocked on the goal line before settling for a field goal to give the Tigers a 17-14 lead.
Enter Miles Boykin.
Before the 1:28 mark in the fourth quarter, the junior from Tinley Park, Illinois, had two catches for 47 yards.
But on one play, Boykin doubled his yardage total and gave Notre Dame the lead, as he leapt up over his defender to make a one-handed snag. When he came down, he stiff-armed one defender and juked another on his way to a 55-yard touchdown reception.
“That was something else,” junior wide receiver Chris Finke said of Boykin’s catch and run. “I saw him go up and get it with the one hand. I saw him throw the one guy on the ground and thought maybe he’ll get a few more yards, but all of a sudden he broke free. It was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in person.”
The scoring drive took just three plays but went 73 yards in 35 seconds to give the Irish a 21-17 lead and Boykin the game’s MVP award.
Though LSU senior quarterback Danny Etling was effective all game, throwing for 229 yards and two touchdowns, he couldn’t muster a comeback drive, and the Irish won their first January bowl game since the 1993 Cotton Bowl.
“Every year, our mission is to play for a National Championship, but we’ve built this to continue that process and work towards being one of those four teams that are part of the Playoff,” Kelly said after the game. “But as I was reminded yesterday, we hadn’t won a New Year’s game in like 752 years, so we’ve done that. We won a close game, so we’ve done that. So there’s strides that you make as you’re building yourself toward being a playoff team, and today was a nice stride toward that.”
Though the ending of the game provided excitement, the drama began before the game even started. Less than two hours before the game, Notre Dame announced that senior linebacker Nyles Morgan was stripped of his captaincy for an “internal matter” that Kelly declined to expand on after the game.
And then the drama made its way onto the field during Notre Dame’s second drive of the game. Facing a third-and-10 at LSU’s 46-yard line, Kelly subbed in Ian Book. Book missed the pass high, but Kelly stuck with Book for the majority of the game after that point.
Book went 14-of-19 for 164 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Well, Ian is extremely accurate as a passer,” Kelly said. “He’s got a really fine ability to locate the football. He throws strikes. And that’s the strength that he has. If you do not play him in the option game, he is extremely capable of pulling it and being effective in the run game. He’s a quarterback at Notre Dame, and so there’s high expectations. But we knew what he could give our football team. It’s like anything else. He just needs experience. And he got it today.”
Though Book came up big in the fourth quarter, the Irish scored just one field goal in the first half on a 46-yard kick from junior Justin Yoon.
But LSU had its own drama in the first half, as the Tigers missed two field goals from inside 40 yards en route to a scoreless first two periods.
In the middle of second quarter, LSU had a first-and-goal from the Irish 1-yard line, but Notre Dame’s defense held and Tigers redshirt-freshman kicker Connor Culp missed a 22-yard field-goal try to keep the game scoreless. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron sent out sophomore Jack Gonsoulin for a 37-yard attempt on LSU’s next drive, but he also missed the mark, making it a 3-0 game at halftime.
The Tigers seized momentum after the break when an LSU punt bounced off the leg of freshman safety Isaiah Robertson, and the Tigers recovered.
Five plays later, star Tigers junior running back Derrius Guice took a check-down pass 20 yards into the endzone to make it 7-3 in favor of the Tigers.
Kelly stuck with Book on Notre Dame’s first drive of the half, and the Irish moved down the field until Book threw an interception in the redzone to end the Notre Dame drive.
“We talked about it before the game, and we talk about it every week. There’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows,” Book said. “And part of playing the quarterback position is being able to move on to the next play. So I messed up and made a mistake, and immediately sat down with [quarterbacks coach Tom] Rees, Coach Kelly and had to move on to the next play, and we still had a bunch of football left to play.”
A 49-yard Yoon field goal on the next Notre Dame possession brought the Irish to within 7-6, but another Guice touchdown reception put the Tigers back up 14-6 before Book and Boykin’s late-game heroics.
Though Notre Dame’s quarterback swapping and Boykin’s game-winning catch will attract most of the attention, the Irish defense quietly had a solid game. Notre Dame did let up 399 total yards, but it held the All-SEC back Guice to under 100 yards on the ground.
More importantly, however, was Notre Dame’s ability to stop the Tigers on the goal line. Twice LSU had first-and-goals, and twice Notre Dame held the Tigers to field-goal attempts despite LSU runners coming within inches of scoring.
“Yeah, we fought for every inch,” Kelly said. “Guice is a heck of a back. Their offensive line is outstanding. But we fought for every inch. And, quite frankly, it became a game of inches down there where we were able to hold them to the field goals. And that was the difference in the game.”
The Irish fly home to South Bend with 10 wins — the third time Kelly has reach the 10-win plateau at Notre Dame — and much-needed momentum after losing two out of their last three games and a slew of suspensions leading up to the bowl game.
“It’s pretty close [to the perfect ending],” McGlinchey said. “Beating a really, really good LSU team — well-coached, lot of talented players all over the field — it’s a big win for us, and it certainly feels good to go out with 10 wins and winning in the way that we did. Certainly, to end my career on a win is certainly something that I’ll cherish for a very long time.”