Kyle Brindza’s Redemption Saves Notre Dame

Kyle Brindza - Notre Dame K vs. LSU
Notre Dame Fighting Irish kicker Kyle Brindza (27) celebrates with teammates after kicking the game winning field goal against the LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl at LP Field. Notre Dame won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Senior kick Kyle Brindza had a rough season in 2014.  His field goal percentage plummeted to just 56.5 percent, nearly 20 points below his career average, while missing several crucial kicks throughout the year that cost the Irish dearly.  On Tuesday night though, with the Music City Bowl on the line, Brian Kelly called his number and the all-time field goals made record holder at Notre Dame came through with a game winner from 32 yards out as time expired.

Before the 2014 season Kyle Brindza had developed a reputation for being a clutch kicker in the fourth quarter.  While he had some accuracy problems early in games throughout his career, Brindza was money in the fourth quarter – until this season.

Against Navy back on November 1, Brindza missed two field goals in the 4th quarter – a blocked 44 yarder and a missed 46 yarder.  Luckily for the Irish those misses didn’t cost them as they held on for the too close for comfort victory.

The same couldn’t be said two weeks later.  In Notre Dame’s season defining loss to Northwestern, Brindza missed a chip shot 38 yarder in the 2nd quarter and then missed from 42 yards out in overtime as the Wildcats stunned Notre Dame and continued their November slide.

The following week Brindza missed another 32 yard field against Louisville that would have tied the game in the final minute.  Notre Dame went on to lose their third game in a row and their first Senior Day under Brian Kelly – the Senior Day loss stinging especially hard for Brindza beings as it was the last kick he’ll ever attempt in Notre Dame Stadium.

The game of musical holders Notre Dame played in 2014 didn’t help Brindza much.  After a couple of botched holds against Stanford and another against Arizona State, Notre Dame swapped Hunter Smith with Malik Zaire as the place holder.  Ever since that change Brindza’s confidence seemed shaken and any field goal had become an adventure.

With the game on the line on Tuesday though, Brindza was his old, clutch self.  Les Miles used two timeouts to ice him, but once he finally got to make his attempt, he connected on the 32 yarder to end Notre Dame’s season on a high note after the November to do anything but remember.

The game winner as time expired was actually the first such kick of Brindza’s career.  He had game winning kicks late in games before but never as time expired.  According to the game notes released by Notre Dame, the Irish haven’t had such a kick from anyone in over a decade.  The last such kick came in 2003 off the foot of DJ Fitzpatrick from 40 yards to give Notre Dame a 27-24 win over Navy.

The kick capped off a roller coaster season for Brindza and allowed him to finish off his career on a high note after his struggles in the latter part of the season.  For anyone who has followed the Irish program closely it was hard not to be pulling hard for Brindza to redeem himself after the way he has handled himself through those struggles.  After all of the big kicks Brindza made for the Irish over the years including during Notre Dame’s perfect regular season in 2012 – remember those kicks against Oklahoma with the game in doubt or the game winner against Purdue – it was also just great seeing him have a chance to come up big one more time and cap off a brilliant career on a positive note.

Winning a bowl game over a SEC opponent like LSU was in many ways a fitting end to the season.  No one gave the Irish much of a chance to hang with LSU let alone beat the Tigers, but there Notre Dame was in a position to win after racking up 263 yards on the ground on the SEC’s top ranked defense.  After the struggles of the ground game in 2014, it was only fitting that one of the other areas in which Notre Dame struggled so much this season propelled the Irish to victory.

With Brindza’s eligibility all used up Notre Dame will be ushering in a new kicker and punter in 2015 and while Brindza had his struggles this season, whoever takes over will have some big shoes to fill.  Over the last three seasons the Michigan native has connected on 57 fields – more than anyone in school history – and collected 288 points which is the 2nd most among kickers in Notre Dame history behind only Craig Hentrich.  For one final time on Tuesday Brindza was able to play the role of hero – a role he nailed just as he nailed that 33 yarder.

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4 Comments

  1. for today’s quiz, please the other college kickers who handled these three tasks:

    punting
    kickoffs
    placekicking

    Bueller? Bueller?

  2. There was still a little bit of time left on the clock against Purdue in 2012. That game actually ended on an interception on their first play following Brindza’s kick.

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