You just knew that this second meeting between the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas would be one for the ages. As Notre Dame fans, we expect such moments to go our way. As it is, at the end of two overtimes, the Irish fell just short and their season’s trajectory is less than apparent. From the quarterback position, to the defense, to the meaning of “targeting,” nothing is clear about what comes next.
Head football coach Brian Kelly, now in his seventh season, stuck to his scripted indecision regarding the quarterback program and played both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer into the second half. This, despite Kizer being far-and-away the better performer. Kizer finished the day with a QB rating of 206.5, a 62.5 percent completion percentage, 215 passing yards, 77 rushing yards, and five touchdown throws. Zaire was largely ineffective and, in a game that came down to double overtime and three points, any one of his wasted series could have decided the game for Notre Dame.
But “wasted” is far too harsh a word. As of late evening on Monday, Brian Kelly, at least publicly, had not made any decisions as to who, if either, had earned the position to himself. I’d like to think that Kelly is refusing to let anything play out in the press before he communicates directly with his players, but there’s a part of me that fears the premature consignment of Malik to permanent QB2-status could cause a revolt among the team.
At Monday’s telephone conference, Coach Kelly urged everyone to “tap the breaks and relax,” a phrase which may become his epitaph. How the phrase is ultimately read will depend in large part upon how DC Brian Van Gorder’s defense responds to its dismal performance yesterday. It wasn’t just that the corners and safeties got burned and gave up the big plays. It was that no one tackled and the line was porous as cheesecloth. The Irish surrendered 517 total yards. And yet, there they were, so close to winning it in the fourth quarter, much less in one of the overtimes.
Somehow, Van Gorder’s charges found a way to stone Texas after they kicked a field goal with 9:14 left in the third quarter. On Texas’s next series, Shaun Crawford picked off Shane Buechele and returned it 22 yards to the Texas six, which set up an Irish touchdown. Then, two Texas punts.
The Irish were denied if not a decisive touchdown, then at least a shot at one. With thirty seconds left in the third quarter, DeShone Kizer hit Torii Hunter Jr. in the end zone, where he was separated from the ball and control of his bodily functions by a Texas player’s helmet and/or shoulder. It was clearly targeting and it was neither called nor reviewed.
The ACC has already declared it a missed penalty. Somehow the Big12 has not. They must be too busy counting their ESPN blood money. 11.1 million people watched the ABC broadcast/ESPN live-stream, making the game the most-watched opening game ever.
So much more needs to be written about last night’s game. Hopefully, with time, will come clarity.