Sophomore placekicker Justin Yoon’s 23-yard field goal with 34 seconds remaining won it for the Irish after the hosts blew a 20-point first half lead. Clicking early, the Irish offense failed to produce a point from the 10:34 mark of the second quarter to the 5:53 mark of the fourth, falling behind 27-20 in the process.
The Hurricanes took their improbable lead when Irish sophomore punt returner C.J. Sanders muffed a bouncing punt inside his own five-yard line. The football touched Sanders’ fingers before continuing into the end zone where it was recovered by Miami cornerback Michael Jackson.
"Our whole football team had been indecisive at certain times in certain areas," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly, citing multiple positions including the head coach and staff guilty in that regard. "Indecisiveness kind of put us where we are today. There's still some indecisiveness that is lingering."
Notre Dame’s Josh Adams tied the score less than a minute later, finishing a four-play, 75-yard drive with a 41-yard touchdown sprint on third-and-short. The Irish defense held Miami on three plays thereafter and backup punt returner Chris Finke – a walk-on when training camp began – provided a spark, returning a Hurricanes punt 23 yards to the Miami 40-yard line.
Yoon finished the drill 10 snaps later – but not until DeShone Kizer recovered a teammate's fumble at the Miami one-yard line with under two minutes remaining. Kizer had completed a shuffle pass to tight end Durham Smythe on the play but Smythe had the ball jarred lose by a helmet-to-football hit at the goal line.
The Hurricanes defense failed to recover the bouncing pigskin and Kizer won a scrum amid at least a dozen combatants in a pile just outside the Miami goal. Three penalties, two timeouts, and two short rushes later, Yoon connected on the winning kick.
The Irish defense limited Miami to just two first-half rushing yards and only 18 yards on 35 carries in the contest.
"Anytime you can hold anybody to an ineffective running game and then (have) pass breakups (you'll have success)," said Kelly. "I thought the run defense was solid, we got our hands on balls, and then we pressured the quarterback."
With the win, Notre Dame avoided a fourth home defeat on the season, snapping a two-game losing streak in the process. Miami dropped its fourth straight after a 4-0 start.
"It just meant that we were going to have to go through (hearing about losing) again," said Kelly of the team's resolve. "(Again hear) A bunch of baloney about the locker room falling apart. They were going to have to figure out how to win a football game late. That meant they had to execute better, to play all phases better at the end, and they did. "They scored the last 10 points. They stopped Miami, and our special teams group executed with a field goal."
Pivotal to the Hurricanes rally was a fumbled punt by the Irish, one that glanced off the leg of unwitting blocker Troy Pride before being recovered by Miami’s Travis Homer at the Irish 38-yard line. Four snaps later, the Hurricanes were on the board and the 20-0 lead the Irish earned early began to slowly dissipate. Notre Dame's special teams was also victimized by a surprise onside kick, one executed so well the Hurricanes had to wait for it to roll the requisite 10 yards to recover.
Kizer finished 25 for 38 on the afternoon for 263 yards, hitting Torii Hunter for a five-yard shuffle pass touchdown on the game’s opening drive, then finding Equanimeous St. Brown from 14 yards out later in the quarter.
"The thing that stands out for me was the mental toughness that he showed," said Kelly of Kizer. "I was looking for that in this game and he showed that to me. I was really proud of him."
Notre Dame had rushed for just 69 yards on 20 carries before Adams’ 41-yard burst for the game-tying score. They finished with 148 yards on 29 carries, 94 courtesy of Adams.
Fifth-year senior nose tackle Jarron Jones was dominant throughout the contest, registering seven tackles including a remarkable six for loss. Nyles Morgan added two sacks including a game-ender at the Miami 47-yard line.
"He was a beast. A beast," said Kelly of Jones.