Analysis: Five plays that defined Notre Dame's 41-38 overtime victory at Florida State

Tyler James
ND Insider
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) passes to a teammate. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeat the Florida State Seminoles 41-38 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021.

TALLAHASSE, Fla. — Kyle Hamilton made arguably the most incredible play in No. 9 Notre Dame’s 41-38 overtime win at Florida State on Sunday night. Don’t trust the person who wants to argue with that either.  

Notre Dame’s All-American safety started on the right hash marks facing the offense and ended up all the way on the left sideline to intercept Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis for the second time in the game. He made the diving catch at Notre Dame’s 46-yard line, roughly 17 yards deeper and 33 1/3 yards across the field from where he started the play.  

Hamilton covered the last 20 yards from the near hash marks to the sideline while the pass was in the air. Without Hamilton’s heroics, the pass should be completed to running back Jashaun Corbin, who was wide open after running by defensive end Justin Ademilola and cornerback Cam Hart, for a big gain and quite possibly a touchdown. 

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But this new feature in the South Bend Tribune isn’t meant to identify the most incredible plays. The goal is to underline the game’s five defining plays.  

Which plays best encapsulated what happened on Bobby Bowden Field in Doak Campbell Stadium? In a season opener that had plenty of good and bad for the Irish, there’s a mix of both in this breakdown. 

Kevin Austin Jr.’s 37-yard touchdown catch 

The Kevin Austin Jr. who repeatedly made plays in Notre Dame practices finally showed up in a game after a two-year absence from suspension and injuries. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (4) scores a touchdown as Florida State Seminoles defensive back Travis Jay (18) tackles him in the end zone. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Florida State Seminoles 41-38 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021.

Three plays after the senior wide receiver started the drive with a 29-yard reception from quarterback Jack Coan, Austin beat cornerback Travis Jay deep for a 37-yard touchdown on third-and-1. Coan looked Austin’s way immediately at the snap and lofted a perfectly placed ball deep enough for Austin to run underneath it and outside enough for Jay to be stuck in a defenseless position. 

The score put Notre Dame back in front, 24-20, with 11:52 left in the third quarter. It was a reminder that the Irish offense was capable of explosive plays in the passing game from its quarterback and wide receivers. Coan underthrew a few deep passes early in the game, but something clicked on that drive for the Wisconsin graduate transfer in his first start for Notre Dame. 

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“He basically had a one-on-one opportunity,” Coan said of Austin. “I always trust Kevin to get over the top on that. I trusted him and he made a great play.” 

The passing game carried the night for Notre Dame’s offense. Coan finished 26-of-35 passing (74.3%) for 366 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Austin caught four of those passes for 91 yards and the touchdown that sparked a third-quarter surge of 21 points. 

Jordan Travis’ 8-yard touchdown pass 

Notre Dame’s defensive front put pressure on Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis all night. He was sacked four times, but even more often he was able to scramble away from pressure to extend the play. 

That’s exactly what he did early in the fourth quarter to complete an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andrew Parchment. On third-and-goal, Travis sprinted to his left looking to make a quick throw, but he decided against letting it rip. 

Notre Dame safety DJ Brown came flying in from the secondary on a blitz and ran right past Travis as he stopped suddenly, backed up to avoid nose guard Howard Cross III and scrambled back to his right. That’s where vyper end Isaiah Foskey was waiting for Travis, but he extended the play long enough for Parchment to create separation from cornerback Cam Hart and give Travis an emergency target. 

Travis put enough heat on the pass to prevent Hart from making a play on the ball through Parchment. 

Florida State's Jordan Travis (13) gets tripped up in traffic during the Notre Dame-Florida State NCAA football game on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Tallahassee, Florida.

“He’s probably one of the shiftier players we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Hamilton said of Travis, who finished 9-of-19 passing (47.4%) for 130 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Travis also rushed for nine net yards (40 gained and 31 lost) with a two-yard rushing touchdown. 

The touchdown pass and ensuing two-point conversion cut Notre Dame’s lead to 38-28 with 13:42 left in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles weren’t going to go down quietly into the night. 

McKenzie Milton's third-down magic 

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell stuck with backup quarterback McKenzie Milton after Travis had to leave the game for at least one play in the fourth quarter due to his helmet being knocked off by Irish safety Houston Griffith. 

Milton, who needed nearly three years to recover from a gruesome knee injury at UCF in late 2018, showed little rust in his return to game action. The graduate transfer completed a 22-yard pass on his first play, but the most important throw came later in the drive.  

Sep 5, 2021; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) looks to throw during the fourth quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Facing third-and-11 at Notre Dame’s 20-yard line, Milton delivered a 15-yard completion to wide receiver Keyshawn Helton. Defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola brought pressure in Milton’s face, but he stood in the pocket, let the pass go before Ademilola could hit him and put the ball high enough to float over leaping linebacker Bo Bauer. 

Helton caught the pass in front of cornerback TaRiq Bracy to set up a two-yard touchdown run for running back Treshaun Ward. The Seminoles cut Notre Dame’s lead to 38-35 with 5:36 left and seemed to be aligning a storybook ending for Milton. 

“Everybody knows his story and what’s gone into it,” Norvell said. “He’s someone that you cheer for. Just a special young man. To see him rise up in that moment, just really proud of him.” 

Florida State's sack of Jack Coan for critical three-and-out 

Notre Dame had a chance to ice the game away with a three-point lead, possession with 5:36 remaining and a five-yard gift when defensive tackle Robert Cooper was flagged for being offside. 

But a first-and-5 ended with a fourth-and-11 when Coan was sacked by defensive end Keir Thomas on third-and-4. Notre Dame abandoned the run following a one-yard gain for running back Kyren Williams on first down. Tight end Michael Mayer dropped a pass from Coan on second down. Then Coan was overwhelmed on third down. 

Notre Dame QB Jack Coan (17) looks to throw downfield during the Notre Dame's 41-38 overtime win at-Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Coan dropped back with the pocket collapsing around him. Hoping to escape, he tried to scramble left just as Thomas broke free from left tackle Michael Carmody, who replaced an injured Blake Fisher. Thomas engulfed Coan for the sack and forced the Irish to punt with a little more than four minutes remaining in regulation. 

Florida State sacked Coan four times Sunday and pressured him frequently. Last season, the Irish were able to close out games eating time with a dominant offensive line and reliable running game. But Notre Dame couldn’t execute its time-evaporating offense. 

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“We were first-and 5. They get an offside. We have to convert that,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “We had two opportunities. Now, our eyes were in the wrong place. We were running double slants on the back side, and Jack misread the coverage and there's some growing pains there. We just didn't execute the way we needed to late in the game.  

“We'll take that and have to build off some of those things. We were still committed to the run. We just need to be better at it. We just weren't as good at running the football tonight that we need to be. You're not going to get by running for 65 yards. That's not good enough." 

Jonathan Doerer's game-winning field goal in overtime 

A game littered with big plays came down to the kickers. 

Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer won the battle by drilling a 41-yard field goal to end the first overtime and give the Irish a 41-38 victory. 

Notre DameÕs Jonathan Doerer (39) kicks the game-winning field goal during Notre DameÕs 41-38 overtime win over Florida State in an NCAA football game on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Tallahassee, Florida.

“He’s our guy,” Coan said, “and I knew he was going to knock it through, and he did. Unbelievable job by him.” 

Doerer didn’t let a Florida State timeout prior to the attempt to change the outcome. The same couldn’t be said for Florida State kicker Ryan Fitzgerald. The Seminoles ended their overtime possession with Fitzgerald missing a 37-yard attempt wide left.  

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Florida State essentially iced Fitzgerald by calling timeout to challenge the ruling of a Milton fumble on third down. But the timeout came so close to the start of the play, the snap was made and Fitzgerald hit a 50-yard attempt that didn’t count. 

Milton’s play was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass to move Fitzgerald 13 yards closer, but it didn’t help. 

Both Doerer and Fitzgerald made their only field goal attempts in regulation: Doerer hit a 48-yarder in the second quarter and Fitzgerald tied the game at 38 with a 43-yard make with 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. 

“@JDoerer_11 stepped up in a big moment tonight and made the game winner,” ND special teams coordinator Brian Polian tweeted after the game. “I am so proud of him for preserving through some hard times. He prepared himself for this moment.” 

Doerer struggled at the end of the 2020 season. He missed five of his final nine field goal attempts in the last five games.