Notre Dame TE Durham Smythe earns red zone redemption

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Durham Smythe lost 10 years in 45 seconds.

But first, he lost the football.

The sun had just gone down in South Bend on Oct. 29, and Notre Dame — losers of four of its last five games — stood at the Miami 7-yard line, facing a third-and-3 with 2:11 remaining and the score tied, 27-27. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer took a shotgun snap, backpedaled a few steps and dumped the ball off on a screen pass to Smythe, who turned and sped towards the end zone. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound senior leapt at the 2-yard-line, stretching the football perilously towards the goal line.

It never got there.

That’s because, before Smythe could score, Miami linebacker Charles Perry arrived on the scene, driving his helmet into the football and dislodging it from the tight end’s desperate grip. A mess of humanity descended on the fumble, a dog pile of shoulder pads and sharp elbows sandwiched between the football and the turf.

For 45 seconds, referees sifted through scratching arms and kicking legs. Miami’s players pointed one way, and Notre Dame’s pointed the other. At one point, Hurricane defensive lineman Chad Thomas skipped giddily towards the sideline, prematurely pumping his first, sure his team had secured the football.

Meanwhile, a helpless Smythe just watched and waited.

“It probably did take 10 years off my life, honestly,” he said on Wednesday.

Eventually, Smythe’s excruciating wait was rewarded. Kizer recovered the fumble, Justin Yoon connected on a chip shot field goal and Notre Dame hung on for a 30-27 win.

Smythe’s gratitude towards his quarterback, however, is ongoing.

“I gave him probably one of the longer hugs I’ve given anyone after the game, just to calm me down more than anything,” Smythe said. “Somewhere down the line, I’ll probably send him an edible arrangement or something like that.”

Kizer’s trust in his tight end remains steadfast, even if the gift gets lost in the mail. Last weekend, in a deliberate case of déjà vu, Kizer again found Smythe on a short pass near the goal line. And again, Smythe leapt towards the end zone.

Only this time, he kept the football pinned to his chest.

Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe (80) gets tackled by Navy’s Alohi Gilman (1) as he crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the Notre Dame vs. Navy NCAA college football game at EverBank field in Jacksonville, Florida Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA
Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe (80) has the ball knocked loose by Miami’s Charles Perry (34) as he nears the end zone during the Miami at Notre Dame NCAA college football game Saturday Oct. 29, 2016, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

“It was definitely something that was going through my head,” Smythe said. “If I can control it, I don’t think you’ll ever see a tight end at the University of Notre Dame in the history of our program ever extend the ball again on the 1-yard line.”

Smythe’s 8-yard touchdown in the loss to Navy was his second of the season, two more than Notre Dame’s leading tight end from last season — Alizé Jones — was able to secure. With seven catches for 71 yards in nine games, Smythe’s role as a receiver has still been somewhat limited.

That’s nothing a few more reps — and maybe an edible arrangement — can’t fix.

“Last year we didn't target the tight ends much in red zone, and this year we put an emphasis on getting it to our veteran guys when we're down there,” Kizer said. “Durham is a guy that when I throw the ball his way, in my mind, every time it's a catch. So if the defense is going to give us an opportunity to put a linebacker on a guy who has been here for as many years as he has and has the experience that he has, it's my job to make sure that the ball gets to him.

“There's some designed plays to the tight end that we were able to get to, just like that little leak-out against Navy. There's going to be some opportunities again this week to take advantage of some matchup problems that might come with the linebacker being on a tight end like Durham.

“That rapport is definitely growing and my trust in him is through the roof. So anytime we're down there, and if there's an opportunity to put the ball near him, with his size and his experience, I'm going to definitely throw the ball his way.”

Yes, but once he catches it, will Smythe hold on? On Saturday, he’ll have plenty of incentive to. The Belton, Texas, native will play against Army in San Antonio in front of his family and friends. The Alamodome, in fact, is where Smythe played in his first varsity high school football game in 2010.

Time really flies — unless you just fumbled at the goal line.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre DameÕs Durham Smythe (80) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame vs. Navy NCAA college football game at EverBank field in Jacksonville, Florida Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA via FTP