Nov. 1, 2015
By John Heisler
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - At the risk of sounding blazé, it seemed to qualify as just another day--er, rather, night--at the office Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Another DeShone Kizer-led late comeback for Notre Dame? Check.
Another Will Fuller last-second touchdown reception? Check.
Another win over a ranked team that stood 7-0 or better? Check. (Full disclosure shows that hadn't happened for Notre Dame in 22 years.)
Irish coach Brian Kelly consistently tells his football team to appreciate the wins because none of them come easily. That certainly was the case in Notre Dame's 24-20 triumph over unbeaten and 21st-rated Temple.
And, even if there are things to clean up after beating the Owls, Kelly loves the way his team shows such aplomb in going about its business.
Deal with a little late-night adversity and a three-point deficit with less than five minutes to play? Check.
Make all the right plays down the stretch when the going gets sticky? Check.
"Listen, you showed great resolve, great resiliency tonight," Kelly told his team after the game.
"When you are the kind of football team that comes back when you're on the road and you're behind late, you know you've got the makings of becoming a champion.
"We know what's in this room. We've got to use this film and see the things that will catapult us over the next four weeks.
"You come to work every single day, and we'll get better as a football team. Because you can't duplicate the resolve you have."
Here's how it happened:
-- The Irish drove 74 yards in 12 plays after the opening kickoff--and after Kizer scurried four yards for the score Notre Dame fans might have thought they were in for a breezy, easy time of it on an comfortable evening in Philadelphia. Not so fast, as ESPN's Lee Corso might have offered from the College GameDay set.
-- Red-zone efficiency--or, rather, inefficiency--nearly came back to haunt the Irish. Leading 7-3, Notre Dame drove to a first down at the Temple 17. On third and seven from the 14 an under-duress Kizer threw an interception at the six. What easily could have been seven points produced zip. "That one was unacceptable," Kelly would say later. "He (Kizer) knows that. He won't do that again."
-- Temple marched 94 yards to take the lead--so Kizer took matters into his own hands with a blazing 79-yard keeper down the Notre Dame sideline in which he sprinted past the entire Owl defense. It marked the longest Irish quarterback run since rookie Blair Kiel scampered for 80 yards on a fake punt against Arizona in 1980.
-- In the final minutes of the opening half, Notre Dame advanced 74 yards to a first down at the Temple 11. On third and 10 Kizer targeted Fuller, only to see a deflection end in the hands of Owl linebacker Tyler Matakevich. What easily could have been seven points produced zip. The half ended with the Irish up 14-10 (and with almost twice as many total yards as the Owls), yet it easily could have been 28-10.
-- Notre Dame's first second-half possession featured 80 yards in offensive gains--but from first and goal at the three the Irish could only negotiate a Justin Yoon field goal (his seventh in a row).
Three red-zone trips. A potential 21 points. Three points on the scoreboard. All of that had to give the unbeaten home team, coaches and noisy fans (the students had been equipped with thunder sticks) the sense they had a chance if they could hang around until the end. "That made it a dogfight in the second half," said Kelly. "You can't go down there like that and come back with no points."
-- The Owls capped a 78-yard scoring drive with a running conversion on fourth and goal from the one to tie it at 17. Then, after a three and out by the Irish, Matt Rhule's crew traveled 42 yards to the Notre Dame 19 and settled for a 36-yard field goal that handed Temple a 20-17 lead with 4:45 remaining.
Now there was sheer pandemonium in the Temple stands. The Owls were this close to defeating a ranked team for the first time in decades on a day in which the Notre Dame-Temple matchup qualified as the lone meeting of ranked squads. A record home crowd, all the ESPN GameDay attention, an amazing start for the American Athletic Conference (Temple, Houston and Memphis all came into the night unbeaten), and now the Owls were this close to pulling it off.
Old enough to remember Alfred E. Neuman from Mad magazine? His signature catchphrase--"What? Me Worry?"--seemed to characterize the Notre Dame approach. "They are not going to give in," is how Kelly phrased it after the game. "That's a special trait they have that they believe they are going to win the football game."
On a night when the Owls opted to stuff the box and attempt to take Irish running back C.J. Prosise out of the game (he rushed 14 times for 25 yards and caught five passes for 43 more), it often was left to Kizer to make a play. And often he did. "We knew he was going to be part of the answer running the football," said Kelly.
Here's how Kizer and his mates negotiated the winning points:
Oh, sure, there were smiles and laughs and no shortage of happy faces in the Irish locker room. Fuller had to love the fact he caught the winning TD pass in his hometown--though you'd never know it from his consistently low-key demeanor ("It felt great, though," he allowed in the locker room.).
Kizer couldn't really recall having much high school experience in navigating close games late, so most of his resume comes from games like Virginia, Clemson, USC and now Temple in 2015.
"We feel comfortable," said the Notre Dame quarterback. "We feel like nothing changes on that last drive. You take some things from what we learned in those games at Virginia and Clemson. At Virginia with just a few seconds left, you're winging it a little. This was different."
"You earned it, you deserved it. You should feel great about it," Kelly told his players. "You just had a great win over a tough football team. And you know what we need to do. We've got to get back to work."
The Irish head coach had an interest in presenting two game balls, noting Russell who made a gargantuan play in the waning moments in the second straight game. Yet Kelly couldn't ignore Kizer:
"He had that 79-yard run and he led a big drive when we needed it," Kelly told his team.
"He's a resilient kid. He doesn't carry it (mistakes) with him," the coach later told the media.
Kizer stood on a stool and led the singing of the Victory March with game ball in hand.
Irish quarterback coach Mike Sanford huddled with his position group in the middle of the room and offered, "You showed the fortitude you need at this position. That's what we need. You don't take anything for granted. You never batted an eye and you beat an undefeated football team."
Kelly suggested to the media that his Irish saw exactly what they thought they'd see:
"We expected it (a tough game) and that's what we got. We made one more play than Temple made."
A week from now the Irish come back to Pennsylvania, this time to the western end of the state to play at 6-2 Pittsburgh in a noon kickoff (a full national telecast on ABC Sports, as was announced minutes after Notre Dame's win in Philadelphia).
If Kelly, Kizer, Fuller and company have their way it'll be just another night--er, rather, day--at the office.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled "Sunday Brunch," along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning "Strong of Heart" series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:
-- Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/102315aae.html
-- Brey's Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner--and Moves On http://www.und.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/101215aaa.html
-- Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers: http://www.und.com/sports/w-volley/spec-rel/090415aaa.html
-- Men's Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation: http://www.und.com/sports/m-soccer/spec-rel/090315aac.html
-- Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices: http://www.und.com/genrel/092215aae.html
-- Bud Schmitt Doesn't Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092315aag.html
-- Sunday Brunch: Holy Smokes, Irish Beat USC! http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/101815aaf.html
-- Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: http://www.und.com/genrel/092115aaa.html