Game story: Notre Dame defenseless in 50-47 overtime loss to Texas

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

AUSTIN,Texas — In the acrid aftermath, it wasn’t as much that Texas did the quarterback two-step better than 10th-ranked Notre Dame Sunday night as it was the recurring theme of an underwhelming defensive counterpunch from the Irish that burped itself up again.

Perhaps if Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly had abandoned his version of tag-team QBs early enough, junior DeShone Kizer could have catalyzed a semi-convincing victory out of a 31-14 Irish deficit instead of playing the Irish into one of those cartoonish, point-aploozas that are fairly commonplace in Texas’ conference, the Big 12.

The lingering bottom line from Notre Dame’s 50-47 double-overtime loss in front of the largest crowd ever to see a game in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Stadium (102,315) is that three years into Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s regime, too often it’s still more about rhetoric than results.

Texas in regulation, with 467 yards, nearly tripled its offensive output from last September’s 38-3 Irish domination in South Bend. And the Longhorns did it with a combination of a power running game and deep passes over the top of the Irish secondary.

“They just know that they gotta continue to do their job,” Kelly said when asked where the Irish (0-1) go from here. “We gotta coach better. We gotta be better as coaches. It starts with me and our staff coaching better. And then our players have got to do their job.”

The Irish did juggle defensive personnel in the second half for one sustained stretch of resistance. The insertion of freshmen Julian Love and Devin Studstill, at cornerback and safety, respectively, were the key changes.

And paired with cornerback Shaun Crawford’s special teams spectacle — a returned blocked extra point for a defensive two-point conversion — were enough to back Kizer’s brilliance and get the game to overtime tied at 37-37.

But in OT periods, the lesser piece of Texas’ QB duo, at least in terms of playing time and panache, senior Tyrone Swoopes powered through the Irish defense for a pair of TD runs.

On his six-yarder, the game-winning haymaker after the Irish settled for a 39-yard Justin Yoon field goal, Swoopes was barely touched on his way to handing ND its first loss in Austin in five matchups and only the third Texas victory in any venue in the 12 games of the series.

"Swoopes is obviously very difficult to tackle,” Kelly said. “He's a big, physical player. Clearly, we were not in some positions to make some tackles. Then when we were, they ran through some tackles as well.”

While Swoopes finished and misfired on his only pass attempt, freshman Shane Buechele got the start for the Longhorns (1-0) and looked like a veteran early against the reeling Irish defense. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 260 yards with two TDs and one interception, by Crawford, for the game’s only turnover.

That ended a streak of 19 wins without a loss for Kelly at ND when his teams played turnover-free and dropped him to 132-13 in his career and 29-2 in his seven-year run with the Irish when winning the turnover battle.

It was also Kelly’s first loss to an unranked team while coaching a top 10 team in 21 such games.

At least he shouldn’t have to answer questions about who his No. 1 quarterback should be anymore. Kizer’s pass-efficiency rating was a gaudy 206.5 compared to Zaire’s 78.6. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and five touchdowns, and was without top receiving target Torii Hunter for the last quarter and a half and both overtimes.

He also outrushed Zaire —77 yards on 13 carries and a TD to a net zero yards on three carries. Zaire was 2-for-5 passing for 23 yards and didn’t lead the Irish to a score on any of his chances when the two were alternating series.

"It's never easy playing two quarterbacks,” said Kelly, who stopped well short of saying the days of the QB cocktail were over. “It was more about getting into the game situation before I could really make a decision.

“I thought DeShone did some really good things. I think he'd like to have some others back. But look, it was an opener. He's going to get sharper and hopefully better, but he made some good plays for us."

Hunter left the game after Texas safety DeShon Elliott made a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Texas native and the only Irish wide receiver who came into the game with more than one career catch.

A new rule in college football gives replay officials the power to independently review targeting and interject a targeting penalty if that replay official believes the call was missed on the field. Sunday’s replay official, Richard Jordan, did not overrule the non-call on the field.

Replay officials have the power to call targeting from the booth if they feel the officials on the field have missed it.

The Irish nearly had a TD on the previous play, on second-and-12 from the 19 when Hunter and Kizer flipped roles, but Hunter’s pass to a wide open Kizer had a little too much air for the Irish QB to run under.

Yoon’s field goal attempt from 36 yards was blocked by Naashon Hughes, leaving the Irish trailing 31-28. Notre Dame did surge ahead, on a 17-yard scoring pass from Kizer to running back Josh Adams with10:57 left in regulation, but ND’s defense buckled again and again.

“There's no moral victories,” Kelly said. “Losing's losing. We work too hard. We sacrifice too much to feel good in any way about losing a football game. Having said that, I'm proud of the resiliency they showed on the road down 17 points in the second half. That's something that we really can build on.''

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame players react in the field following Notre Dame 50-47 loss to Texas in an NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN