DeShone Kizer connects with Will Fuller to rescue Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — As Notre Dame’s Halloween nightmare finally faded into something a little less menacing, the future didn’t look any more distinct for the ninth-ranked Irish.

Philly native Will Fuller’s 17-yard TD pass by a tiptoe with 2:09 left and KeiVarae Russell’s diving interception 61 seconds later in a 24-20 scary survival of 21st-ranked Temple Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field leaves open the door to a positive evolution.

But it doesn’t necessarily foreshadow it.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer packaged the very best and most humbling of who he is as a still-fledgling starter and the Irish defense was gashed enough intermittently by the nation’s 108th-ranked offense to put the game back on his shoulders after Temple (7-1) had taken a late 20-17 lead.

That came with 4:45 left on a 36-yard field goal by Austin Jones as the largest crowd ever came to see a Temple home game (69,280) — more than 65,000 more than what the Owls averaged per game 20 seasons ago.

Had the Owls prevailed, it would have been only their second win in 43 tries over a top 10 team in their history. They drop to 5-101-1 all-time against ranked teams, but certainly kept the new-found respect alive and can still chase an American Athletic Conference title.

"I'm really proud of the way our team played in the fourth quarter, making a play when we needed to both on offense and defense,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, who appeared to get into a dust-up with assistant strength coach David Grimes on the sideline during the game.

“We made one more play then Temple made. A couple mistakes in the red zone obviously were costly, but we were able to overcome them today against a really good football team."

Kelly after the game did address the incident with Grimes.

"David was going to get us a 15-yard penalty,” he said. “I had to control the sideline. I wasn't going to let that happen. He got a little too close, and I backed him up out of the way to make sure we didn't get a 15-yard penalty."

The Irish did draw plenty of penalties, including three 15-yarders on center Nick Martin. One of them, an unlikely offensive pass interference infraction, was declined, but all three smothered promising drives.

The story of who Temple had been in a largely ugly past became an overworked narrative by the time ND (7-1) and the Owls finally met for the second time ever. Expelled from the Big East more than a decade ago with all kinds of sordid numbers to go along with it, Temple continually matched Notre Dame’s pluck to the very end.

And maybe that Kizer was able to bring his team from behind, just as he did when pressed into high-leverage action seven weeks ago against Virginia, may be where this team’s identity will cluster as it tries to convince itself and the College Football Playoff selection committee over the next four weeks that it is indeed a playoff team.

The redshirt freshman’s 143 yards rushing — on 17 carries — were three yards short of Bill Etter’s school record for rushing yards by a QB, set in 1969 against Navy.

Kizer had two TD runs, including a 79-yarder, which now stands as both the second-longest run and second-longest TD run by a Notre Dame quarterback since Blair Kiel ran 80 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt 35 years ago.

But his 131.7 pass-efficiency rating is the lowest of his six starts. Kizer completed 23 of 36 passes for 299 yards and the late TD to Fuller. But he threw two picks in the red zone, and the toss to Fuller was just Kizer’s second completion in the red zone all night.

It was deep into the third quarter when he got his first, after starting the night 0-for-7 with two interceptions inside the Temple 20.

The go-ahead drive included a seven-yard pass to Fuller on third-and-four, and the biggest catch of freshman tight end Alizé Jones’ young career, a 45-yard play, right after the third-down conversion that put ND in business at the Temple 17.

"He got the game ball,” Kelly said of Kizer. “Leading a drive on the road again as a (redshirt) freshman and then the throw in the corner in the end zone in cover two was just outstanding. Great poise. Great leadership. Deserving of the game ball."

The Owls tried to answer by moving the ball from their own 24 to near midfield in three plays, but Temple was flagged for a hand-to-the-face penalty, which pushed them back to their own 32, facing a third-and-17 with 1:14 left.

On the very next play, Temple quarterback P.J. Walker launched a deep pass for wideout John Christopher, which Russell plucked for his second interception in as many games.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Irish lost Elijah Shumate for the rest of the game and the first half of next weekend’s game at Pitt to a targeting penalty. The call came on an incomplete pass in the end zone on third down.

The Owls got a fresh set of downs from the Irish 4. And on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Shumate’s replacement, seldom-used Nicky Baratti, whiffed on a chance to stop Temple running back Jahad Thomas for a loss.

Temple pulled even at 17-17 with that TD run at the 10:51 mark of the fourth quarter.

Things started promising enough for the Irish, Kizer moved ND 74 yards on 12 plays, finishing the drive with a four-yard scoring run. It was only the fourth rushing TD the Temple defense had yielded all season and the first time an opponent had put up point on an opening drive against the Owls in more than a year.

“We felt like it was going to be difficult,” Kelly said of running the ball. “The box was crowded obviously, and very difficult in there (with) a lot of movement. But we felt like (Kizer) was going to have to be part of the answer in terms of running the football."

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer (14) runs of the field after a Fighting Irish win against Temple, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ