Notre Dame hit a 32-yard game-winning field goal as time expired Tuesday to get a 31-28 victory against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
The Irish mounted a 14-play, 71-yard drive milking the final five minutes, 41 seconds of the game to hand LSU its fifth loss of the season. The Tigers match their worst record under Les Miles and lost three of the final four games to end the year.
It was LSU’s second bowl loss in the last three years.
“I felt like we would defend them better than we did,” Miles said. “And we felt like we could score and move the football…We did the things offensively that we should have done, but we did not stop Notre Dame.”
Notre Dame took over with 5:41 remaining after LSU’s final possession resulted in a punt. The Irish converted three third downs to prolong that game-winning drive. That proved to be a theme all day as Notre Dame converted 11 of its 17 third down attempts and totaled 449 yards against a defense that finished No. 1 in the SEC.
On a 3rd-and-10 near midfield, Everett Golson, who did not start Tuesday but alternated with Malik Zaire, completed a 12-yard pass to Ben Koyack to move the sticks. He completed two more passes for a combined 24 yards. Zaire scrambled for eight more to get to the LSU 14-yard line, which set up Kyle Brindza’s game-winner.
“It was amazing to me,” Miles said of Notre Dame’s success on third down. “We pass rushed, and we’d go by a guy, and he’d simply roll out to the right and hit a guy on the curl…Even when we got to the quarterback, he’d let it go.”
LSU took a 21-14 deficit into halftime but evened the score with just one play. Anthony Jennings faked a quarterback run then threw deep to a wide-open John Diarse for a 75-yard touchdown to tie it.
That one play accounted for about half of Jennings’ production through the air. He finished 7-for-14 for 151 yards and that one score to Diarse.
LSU took the lead later in the third quarter with another one-play touchdown drive. Leonard Fournette took a run 89 yards to put the Tigers ahead 28-21, one of several highlights for the freshman. He led the team with 143 yards rushing on only 11 attempts with two scores. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the first half.
But that LSU lead wouldn’t last long as Notre Dame answered on the following possession. The Irish hit a big play of their own, with C.J. Prosise going 50 yards to even it 28-28 entering the final quarter.
LSU failed on its best chance to regain the lead late in the game. A 58-yard drive early in the fourth quarter stalled near the red zone. The Tigers settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt, but Trent Domingue’s effort was short and blocked at the line.
Both teams punted with their next possessions before Notre Dame took advantage with its final opportunity.
“We anticipated that he would be that guy,” Miles said of Domingue, who won a battle with Colby Delahoussaye during bowl prep. “He had great weeks of preparation, so we felt very confident that he’d make it.”
Notre Dame hit the LSU defense in the mouth early with its new quarterback. The Irish scored touchdowns in three of their first four possessions, racking up 258 yards in the process.
Zaire hit William Fuller for a 12-yard touchdown on Notre Dame’s opening possession. Zaire found the end zone himself two offensive series later with a 7-yard touchdown run. It was quite the debut for Zaire, who went 12-for-15 and 96 yards in the air with one score and added 96 more on the ground and another touchdown.
Tarean Folston had a six-yard touchdown run that gave the Irish a 21-14 lead before halftime.
LSU managed to keep pace with Notre Dame despite the defense’s struggles, largely thanks to Fournette.
His eight-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter evened it 7-7. After the Irish jumped back ahead by a score, Fournette housed a kickoff 100 yards to tie it and provided LSU with its first kickoff return touchdown since 2011.
His 89-yard score in the third quarter gave him the school record for rushing yards by a freshman with 1,034.
“Leonard Fournette distinguished himself in this game today,” Miles said.
LSU can look back at one of the final plays of the first half though and wonder what could’ve been. The Tigers opted to fake a field goal near the goalline after a drive stalled at the Notre Dame 2. Holder Brad Kragthorpe carried it around the left side and attempted a lunge for the endzone but was called down.
A replay review found no conclusive evidence that Kragthorpe made it in, and the Tigers were left scoreless and facing a seven-point deficit at halftime.
“They tell me with all the reviews I could get from the field, that that ball crossed the goalline,” Miles said of the fake field goal. “And if that’s the case, then we need a better way to communicate that to us.”
Between that call and the blocked field goal in the second half, LSU left some points on the board that would’ve proved valuable. Instead the Tigers head into the offseason with another loss and questions mounting at the quarterback position and with the coaching staff.
“As much as I hate to admit it,” Miles said, “certainly this is a loss. But it’s been a great year, and I have enjoyed my time with these guys.”
LSU ends season in 31-28 loss to Notre Dame
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