CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Notre Dame’s shot at the College Football Playoff had wobbled by halftime at Scott Stadium. Less than a quarter later, those chances seemingly collapsed under a pile of Virginia defenders.
That mass of Cavaliers badly injured starting quarterback Malik Zaire’s right ankle, caught below the scrum and bent backward, leaving head coach Brian Kelly with two unproven quarterbacks, a suddenly questionable defense and one wild road win. In the scrum Zaire suffered a broken ankle and will be lost for the season.
Notre Dame’s first trip here may be where its postseason ideal was lost, even in this 34-27 comeback, managed by DeShone Kizer and spectacularly capped off by Will Fuller’ 39-yard touchdown with 12 seconds remaining.
Virginia has now lost 15 straight games to Top 10 teams, a streak dating back to 1999.
So much history seemed to be on Notre Dame’s side, its unbeaten record without committing a turnover under Kelly and its 35-5 mark when out-rushing the opposition. Yet Virginia seemingly made none of that matter until Kizer and Fuller connected on the kind of play Notre Dame will show on its mega video board in a few years.
Yet Kelly’s deepest and most talented team still may no longer be neither.
The Zaire injury forced Kizer into the starting lineup under duress, although Kelly did his backup a favor by going run-first immediately after, which CJ Prosise turned into a 24-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left in the third. Yet the Irish offense put it on Kizer from there, who finished 8-of-12 for 92 yards.
Until his final one, Kizer’s best snap was spent at holder when he hit Durham Smythe for a touchdown on a fake field goal. Kizer offered the Irish little as a passer until the final moments, even in a game when Zaire struggled too. The starter finished 7-of-18 for 115 yards and one score, a 59-yard bomb to Fuller.
When Prosise bolted into the end zone in the final minute of the third quarter it appeared the Irish might survive this. But Virginia mounted two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to pull ahead of the first time in the game when Albert Reid bulled in from the one-yard line.
Kizer led Notre Dame to Virginia’s 40-yard line on the final Irish drive, even picking up a first down with his legs on a fourth down scramble. Then he uncorked a pass that he’ll never forget. Notre Dame won’t either, regardless of how this season turns.