A 17-point Notre Dame rally went for naught Sunday night, its defense picking up where it left off last winter in a 50-47 double overtime defeat at the hands of unranked Texas.
Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes played the role of hero late, picking up where freshman Shane Buechele left off as the duo combined to riddle defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s crew for six of Texas’ seven touchdowns including a six-yard overtime keeper by Swoopes to conclude the contest.
The Irish trailed 31-14 midway through the third quarter but rallied behind junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, taking a 35-31 lead with 10:57 to play. Kizer threw for five touchdowns on the evening, tacking on a sixth score on a 29-yard run midway through the third quarter to begin his squad’s march back.
Trailing 35-31 with less than five minutes remaining, Texas scored the go-ahead touchdown on its penultimate possession of the second stanza. Thereafter occurred one of the most improbable plays in college football – a blocked PAT returned for a two-point score as cornerback Shaun Crawford picked up the rejected kick off one hop and subsequently sprinted nearly 85 yards for a tying score.
Tied at 37 with possession at his 29-yard line and 3:23 remaining, Irish head coach Brian Kelly chose to protect his reeling defense rather than attacking downfield, running on both first down and third down, the latter a 3rd-and-12 draw play for Tarean Folston.
Folston was stuffed for a gain of two and the Irish were forced to punt.
“We wanted a little bit more out of our punter in that situation,” said Kelly of Tyler Newsome’s ensuing 38-yard punt. “We thought we could flip the field. Maybe back them up; we still had two timeouts remaining (after the failed 3rd-and-12.
“It was an inside trap play that we thought we could bust. We hit it for a first down earlier. It had a margin of clock management as well we felt it was a good play we could surprise them and hit them.”
After stalling on its final try in regulation, the Longhorns scored touchdowns on both of their overtime possessions, holding the Irish to a field goal on the visitor’s second set of downs, a rare second half defensive stop that later provided the difference as Swoopes soared for the winning score.
It was a stop Notre Dame failed to muster in overtime as the front line wilted under Texas’ power running game. The Longhorns finished with 237 rushing yards, 131 courtesy D’onta Foreman and another 53 for Swoopes.
The Irish produced 444 yards of total offense but Texas dented VanGorder’s defense for a whopping 517 – 354 more yards than it produced in a 38-3 loss last September in South Bend.
While Texas’ two-quarterback system greatly aided its cause, Notre Dame’s system proved inefficient as co-starter Malik Zaire’s three full possessions behind center each resulted in punts. Conversely, Kizer’s produced five touchdowns in regulation along with four punts, and a blocked field goal.
Kizer connected on 15 of 24 pass attempts for 215 yards on the evening. Senior running back Tarean Folston churned out 88 yards including a 54-yard burst on his first carry since tearing his ACL against Texas in last year’s season opener.
Sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown led the Irish with two touchdown catches among his five grabs, one after 30 yards in which he flipped into the end zone.
Kelly did not name a starting quarterback for next week’s contest against Nevada, the team’s home opener in South Bend.
“DeShone played a lot more than Malik so we’ll have to go back and watch the film and evaluate it as such. We’ll have to sit back and evaluate whether it’s a one-quarterback system or a two.”