Irish force overtime to seal road win in season opener
Jimmy Ward | Monday, September 6, 2021
A season opener away from home typically produces some nerves for fans of Notre Dame football. These away season openers have — for the past few seasons at least — been characterized by shakiness and inconsistency. The opener at Florida State was no different.
Things looked good for the Irish right from the get-go. Graduate student starting quarterback Jack Coan was able to find a wide-open Michael Mayer who flew into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game. It was one of the most complete drives for the Irish on the day. Mayer, the sophomore tight end, was a diamond in the rough for the Irish all day.
The drive ate up just over two minutes of clock. Five plays and 75 yards would not look easier for the Irish for the rest of the evening. The two teams would trade possession the next few drives, but it was FSU who would find the end zone next; rather surprisingly. FSU sophomore JaShaun Corbin found a seam in the Irish defense that let him slip by for an 89-yard touchdown. FSU would also open the scoring in the second quarter and would give themselves a 14-7 lead with 10 minutes left in the quarter.
The Irish would really find a groove in the second half. Fueled by some big chunk plays on offense and a pair of interceptions from junior safety Kyle Hamilton, the Irish looked like a much more cohesive group than they did in the first half of action. As the first quarter dragged on the Irish really began to run it up on the Seminoles. Noles starting quarterback Jordan Travis was forced to deal with a swarming Irish defense all night. He would end the night with three interceptions, which isn’t too shabby considering he was rushed and hit five times and sacked four times throughout the course of the night.
By the end of the third, the Irish held a pretty hearty lead over the Seminoles at 38-20. However, FSU ended the third quarter knocking on Notre Dame’s door and after a score and a two-point conversion they found themselves right back in it, 28-38. The Noles would stall the Irish offense on the very next drive and the pendulum seemed to be swinging back in their favor. Irish junior punter Jay Bramblett was knocked down and spun around on the punt but the referees ruled the penalty a less severe running into the kicker. This did not sit well with Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian or head coach Brian Kelly who argued the call adamantly. The penalty was declined and FSU would take over deep in their own territory. Jordan Travis would get hit hard and after losing his helmet the Noles were forced to send in senior McKenzie Milton. Milton’s first pass would be good for 22 yards and put the Noles in scoring position. A few Milton passes later and a wildcat formation from the goal line that resulted in a touchdown and then the Seminoles were really back in it, 35-38.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around things were simply falling apart for the Irish, the defense seemed lost in the weeds and the offense had lost its mojo. FSU, though still down on the scoreboard, was commanding the game at this point and it would be up to the Irish defense to put the clamps down and put the game on ice.
Milton was beginning to take complete control of the game. The Seminoles were knocking on the door again and the volume of the stadium was increasing steadily. It seemed as if FSU could really pull off an 18 point deficit with their ‘second-string.’ Milton would then let a snap past him on a pivotal third-down attempt. FSU didn’t come away from that drive completely empty-handed though, booting in a 43-yard game-tying field goal. Notre Dame would have 40 seconds to get on the board, and though a valiant effort would get them to around midfield it wasn’t sufficient. Coan would throw his first interception of the night on a Hail Mary attempt and the game would proceed into overtime.
With extra time on the clock, the idea of a Notre Dame victory was suddenly thrust back onto the table. The coin toss went Notre Dame’s way and they would elect to defend first. A shaky possession and a missed field goal from Florida State would really open the door for the Irish. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees wisely decided to keep it on the ground and get some yardage knocked off the impending game-winning field goal attempt. Irish senior kicker Johnathan Doerer split the uprights from 41 yards out to give the Irish the win.
A storybook comeback for Milton was ruined as it was Notre Dame that walked away with a victory. Coan finished his inaugural start with the Irish with 366 yards on 26-of-35 with four touchdowns and one interception. Mayer was targeted 13 times and led the receiving corp with 120 yards. The Seminoles would however finish with more offensive yards than the Irish, most impressively their offensive line led their running back corp to rush for 264 yards compared to Notre Dame’s 65 total rushing yards. The Noles drove home their ground attack strategy to the tune of 48 attempts, 5.5 yards per attempt. Notre Dame was perfectly balanced in their attack with 35 run plays and 35 pass plays. The offensive line struggled to will the run game downfield as it has in years past, but on the flip side; the passing game looked dangerous.
Though it might have taken extra time to do it, the Irish found a definitive win on the road against a good-looking Florida State team in their season opener and as Brian Kelly puts it, “winning is hard.” The game might have been decided by a few close calls and referee decisions but the Irish found a path to victory and made a bit of history in the process: this was the first Notre Dame victory in overtime on the road.
Though it is special to be a part of history, Kelly is already turning his gaze toward the future.
“We know we’ve got work to do. I like this team, we’ll get better and we’ll make a lot of improvements in week two.”