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No. 9 Notre Dame holds off comeback by McKenzie Milton and Florida State to win in OT

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Notre Dame held off Florida State's frenzied comeback to beat the Seminoles 41-38 in overtime on Sunday night.

The Fighting Irish led 38-20 after three quarters before Florida State scored 18 consecutive points in the fourth to send the game to overtime. FSU's final points came on Ryan Fitzgerald’s 43-yard field goal with 40 seconds to go.

That kick was set up by a 46-yard drive engineered by McKenzie Milton. The former UCF QB came on in the fourth quarter and led Florida State to its final 10 points of regulation.

Milton entered the game after starting QB Jordan Travis had his helmet ripped off in the fourth quarter. Players who lose their helmets in college football have to sit out for at least one play. And Milton never left the field after coming on for Travis.

He led the Seminoles to 10 unanswered points to force overtime and he looked great doing it. Sunday night was his first game action since November of 2018 when he suffered an awful right knee injury against South Florida while playing for UCF.

Milton rehabbed the past two seasons and transferred to Florida State in the offseason with Dillon Gabriel entrenched as the starter at UCF. While Travis got the nod to start Week 1, it’s hard to see how Milton won’t be the starter for Week 2 and beyond after he engineered FSU's comeback. But that comeback ultimately fell short. 

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How Notre Dame won

The Irish scored 38 points over the first 40 minutes of the game and then didn’t score again for the final 19:23 of regulation. But Fitzgerald missed a 37-yard kick to start OT after making a longer one minutes earlier. The longer one didn’t count because a Milton fumble was ruled an incomplete pass after an FSU challenge. And that FSU challenge came only after Fitzgerald had attempted what he thought would be a go-ahead field goal.

The Irish got the ball back on their OT possession needing to score to win the game and gained just two yards on three plays. But Jonathan Doerer made a 41-yard field goal to push Notre Dame's record to 1-0 to start the season. 

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 05: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (4) catches a pass for a touchdown while defended by Florida State Seminoles defensive back Travis Jay (18) during the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Florida State Seminoles on September 5, 2021 at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Notre Dame wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (4) catches a pass for a touchdown while defended by Florida State's Travis Jay on Sunday night. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jack Coan shines, even if the rest of the team doesn't

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was, uh, not thrilled after the game. Kelly tried to channel a callback to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay in his postgame interview with ESPN.

“I’m in favor of execution and maybe our entire team needs to be executed after tonight," Kelly said.

We're not going to talk about which Notre Dame players need to be executed — none of them do, of course. And QB Jack Coan was pretty good anyway.

The Wisconsin transfer finished 26-of-35 passing for 366 yards and four TDs. His only interception of the game came on a Hail Mary at the end of regulation.

His most frequent target was tight end Michael Mayer. He had nine catches for 120 yards and a TD. But he also had a few drops, including a costly one that set up that Hail Mary. Mayer dropped a pass with five seconds left in the fourth quarter that would have set up a Doerer field-goal attempt to win the game in regulation.

Optimism for FSU

There’s reason for optimism at Florida State after the struggles of the past few years. While the Seminoles were down three possessions in the fourth quarter, FSU never looked like it was completely overmatched against the Fighting Irish.

The team’s rushing attack was a big bright spot along with the pass rush. FSU pressured Coan on a regular basis and rushed 48 times for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Eighty-nine of those yards came on a TD run by Texas A&M transfer RB Jashaun Corbin. Treshaun Ward also finished the game with 11 carries for 76 yards.

If Milton or Travis can provide a solid passing game to go along with a competent run game, FSU should contend for a bowl game for the first time since 2019.