Coaches always speak of starting and finishing a game strong, Notre Dame certainly did that. The Irish had the ball first, and last, in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, and beat LSU 31-28 as senior kicker Kyle Brindza hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired. The two drives totaled 29 plays for 137 yards, totaling 13:37, 5:41 on the 14-play finishing drive.
“They were the best drives we’ve had this season in terms of inserting our will on our opposition against a very good football (team) in LSU controlling the clock,” Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said.
Malik Zaire got his first start at quarterback, and from the very beginning Notre Dame’s offense was different from anything LSU had seen on film. LSU appeared to be off-guard, and Notre Dame found their legs.
“Well I think they ran a couple of speed sweeps, they hit pretty well, and I think they had a nice little sprint out call and tried to get loose. I don’t know if they surprised us so much. I think they executed their offense very well,” said LSU Coach Les Miles.
The opening drive went 66 yards in 15 plays, Zaire found Will Fuller for a 12-yard touchdown and Notre Dame led 7-0. After a three-and-out, ND continued, gaining 53 yards in two plays before bogging down. On fourth-and-one, Kelly eschewed the mid-range field goal, and Zaire was stopped for a four-yard loss. This changed the momentum of the game.
LSU drove 76 yards in eight plays, all yardage on the ground, freshman Leonard Fournette scoring from eight yards out to tie the game. But still appearing off-balance, the Tigers defense could not slow down the Irish attack. Regular starter Everett Golson made his first appearance and little changed. Another 75-yard march in 11 plays, Zaire carrying it the final 15, his 7-yard run making it 14-7, then lightning struck.
Fournette returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards, amazing strength and speed, tying the game again. But Notre Dame answered once more, 59 yards in 10 plays, Tarean Folston running it in from the 6 to make it 21-14. In the first four drives of the game for Notre Dame, three touchdowns and a stopped fourth down, 42 plays for 273 yards.
Controversy ensued at the end of the first half as LSU ran a fake field goal facing fourth-and-goal at the two. Holder Brad Kragthorpe appeared by replay to have broken the plane of the goal line, but officials called him down inches short and somehow, after a long review, the call stood. But where Notre Dame was succeeding with long drives, LSU was getting it done with big plays.
The Tigers had three scoring ‘drives’ that took a combined 38 seconds which included the longest kickoff return in Music City Bowl history by Fournette, the longest touchdown reception by John Diarse of 75 yards on the first play from scrimmage of the second half which tied the game at 21—and later the longest touchdown run as Fournette burst through for 89 to give LSU a 28-21 lead.
C.J. Prosise caught the big-play bug for the Irish, on a 50-yard run on an end-around to tie the game again. After an exchange of punts, LSU put a nice drive together. That took 6:06 off the clock, but Trent Domingue’s 40-yard FG was blocked. Another exchange of punts led to ND’s final 71-yard march to glory. Zaire was named MVP as he rushed for 96 yards, and passed for 96.