Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly made a change on offense for the Music City Bowl against LSU and it paid off.
Kelly started redshirt freshman Malik Zaire at quarterback and his ability to control the clock with a mix of run and pass helped the Fighting Irish pull out a last-second 31-28 win over the Tigers.
Zaire, in his first career start, split snaps with normal starter Everett Golson and threw for 96 yards and a touchdown while running for 96 yards and another score.
Kelly moved the pocket often and gave Zaire quick throws off three-step drops, allowing him to make quick decisions. Kelly also dialed up designed quarterback runs in bunches.
Zaire only averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but those runs allowed the Irish to eat up clock, easily win the battle for time of possession (37:00 to 23:00) and run 25 more offensive plays than the Tigers. Then, when the Irish were in more obvious passing downs, Kelly put Golson (6-of-11, 90 yards) in the game to pick up his freshman teammate. The formula worked well as the Irish racked up 449 total yards.
LSU – especially freshman running back Leonard Fournette – didn’t make things easy for the Irish. After Zaire hit William Fuller for a 12-yard touchdown on the Irish’s first drive of the game, Fournette capped off an eight-play, 76-yard LSU drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.
Golson came in for Notre Dame next drive and drove the Irish into the red zone. Kelly then substituted Zaire back into the ballgame and the freshman scored on a seven-yard touchdown run.
On the ensuing kickoff, Fournette showed why he was considered to be one of the top freshmen coming into this season. The 230-pounder showed off his impressive speed on a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.
The back and forth play continued on Notre Dame’s next drive as running back Tarean Folston scored from six yards out to cap off another lengthy drive.
Down 21-14, LSU’s next drive culminated with a bit of controversy. Methodically, the Tigers worked their way down the field, hoping to tie things up going into the half. Instead, after 14 plays and 73 yards, the Tigers appeared to be settling for a 19-yard field goal on 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line.
But as he is known to do, LSU coach Les Miles called for a fake and holder Brad Kragthorpe was ruled to have been tackled just shy of the goal line. It appeared that the ball crossed the plane before Kragthorpe's knee hit the ground, but the call stood after a review.
The Tigers didn’t allow the controversial call to impact them when the second half began. On the first play of the third quarter, Anthony Jennings hit John Diarse for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the game 21-21.
The game remained tied until Fournette broke off another explosive play – an 89-yard touchdown run – to give LSU a 28-21 lead. That lead didn’t last long. Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise reeled off a 50-yard run a few minutes later and the game was again tied.
Defenses on both sides tightened until the Irish regained possession at their own 15 with 5:41 to go. Kelly again efficiently mixed Zaire runs with Golson passes and the Irish progressed slowly down the field until they reached the LSU 14-yard line. That set up a game-winning Kyle Brindza 32-yard field goal as time expired.
The game could be looked at as a sign of things to come for each team next season. Zaire showed that he has the capabilities to be the starter moving forward, despite Golson having another year of eligibility. For LSU, it showcased Fournette’s incredible potential while showing that the team’s passing game still has a long, long way to go.
Both teams finished with an 8-5 record.
For more Notre Dame news, visit IrishIllustrated.com.
For more LSU news, visit TigerBait.com.
- - - - - - -