Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Wins Ugly for Beautiful End to 2017 Season

Saving the best for last could serve as the mantra for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s dramatic 21-17 comeback victory over the LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl. Without the late heroics of wideout Miles Boykin, Notre Dame very likely was headed to their third defeat in the last four games after a rousing 8-1 start.

Instead, they close out the season on a high note and a 10-3 mark, matching their 2015 record, a season that ended with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. The win against LSU also gives head coach Brian Kelly his third double-digit season in the win column. It also temporarily chases away the portion of the fan base that wanted him gone after last season’s 4-8 debacle.

Below are some of the reasons that Irish luck took hold in the new year:

Quarterback Controversy?

With the exception of the North Carolina win in October, sophomore Brandon Wimbush has been at the helm of the Notre Dame offense. The combination of his mobility and potential as a passer were enough to get the Irish back to a prominent bowl, with Ian Book serving as an effective insurance policy.

With the Notre Dame offense stagnant and with no points on the scoreboard, Book replaced Wimbush behind center and drove down to get a field goal before the first half ended. Another three-pointer in the third was just the precursor to a pair of touchdown passes in the final 12 minutes, with Book and Boykin connecting for the game-winning toss with just 1:28 left in the game.

How Wimbush reacts to this change in circumstances could lay the groundwork for a fascinating duel during the Spring. Without a clear winner at that time, the possibility of countless speculation when training camp comes is inevitable.

Fourth Quarter Fireworks

Entering the final quarter, the crowd of 57,726 and a national television audience might have been excused for looking at other options with LSU holding just a 7-6 lead. Those that left missed the two teams combining for 25 points, including the game-winning grab by Boykin that will serve as a solid building block for any collection of great grabs that’s compiled in the years ahead.

Book managed to wipe out a 14-6 deficit by hitting Michael Young for a six-yard score and then finding Josh Adams on a conversion pass that tied things up. What made Boykin’s grab even more impressive was not only the one-handed snag, but the run after the catch.

Dodging Bullets

The Irish might have been staring at a much bigger hole had fate not intervened on their behalf on multiple occasions. During the first quarter, LSU got down to the Irish one, but couldn’t punch it in after the decision to go for it on fourth down got wiped out by a false start. The 22-yard field goal try then missed.

Another missed field goal, this one from 37 yards, came at the end of a 10-play drive that gave the Irish the ball back with two minutes left in the first half. That second miss led to the first score of the game on Justin Yoon’s field goal.

Turning Statistics on Their Head

The debate over the value of a statistic like time of possession is one that will likely surge after the Irish managed to win the game despite having the ball for 15 minutes less than the Tigers. On four separate occasions, Notre Dame had the ball for just three plays on a drive, but that last time turned out to be the game-winner.

Ordinarily, committing turnovers is one of the key ingredients in any defeat. However, even though the Irish fumbled the ball away on a wet afternoon and then threw an interception, they emerged victorious. A fumble on an LSU punt led to the Tigers’ first touchdown, while the interception came on the 11th play of the subsequent drive. In the latter case, no further damage was inflicted.

Running Back by Committee

The Irish managed to collect 154 rushing yards on 33 carries against LSU, yet the numbers point out another disappointing aspect that’s been evident in the team’s last five contests. Instead of Josh Adams delivering another strong performance, highlighted by a breakaway run, he ended the day with just 44 yards on 15 carries.

That yardage was only slightly more yardage than Wimbush, Book and Dexter Williams were each able to deliver. What’s more, Adams could only muster a 11-yard run as his longest carry, as opposed to Wimbush and Williams scampering for 31-yard gains. Even Book, who’s hardly known for his running skills, managed to break off a 21-yard dash.

Next Up

The Notre Dame recruiting season heads into the home stretch, with Brian Kelly’s staff attempting to nail down all of their prime candidates for the seasons ahead. That will be followed by action during the spring and training camp in August. By the time the 2018 opener for the Irish takes place at home against Michigan on September 1, some of the question marks that are currently in place will be removed.

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  1. BGC, I could write a short story on Huarte/Snow. Huartes High School Coach ( Dick Coury and ND Grad) predicted to the press that Huarte would win the Heisman. Huarte was interviewed later and said when He got to South Bend He took a job hauling garbage bags on the campus. Snow came from lil St. Anthony’s in Long Beach. When that combination came to the Coliseum 9-0 the Irish refrained from Bowl games. We were one play from being 10-0. Tony Carey was one on one with Rod Sherman, the rest is history.
    Southside, I singled out that Stanford game cause Book hails from that region.

  2. For those of us who are senior citizens…do you remember Huarte to Snow… Hanratty to Seymour… Theismann to Gatewood?

    how about Book to Boykin? Has a nice ring to it. Don’t laugh…it could happen! Perhaps it already has.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. I think the defense has been overlooked in this game; they made the stops when needed and kept the game close. Also, a tip of the hat to Justin Yoon who stroke a 46 and 49 yard field goal in less than ideal conditions. The fact that Elko brought the heat on the last series was impressive and very effective.
    The Irish didn’t quit and played all the way and it paid off.

    1. Lou and Benedict: The defense certainly did their job all day long. Didn’t mean to slight them. But for an inexplicable special teams blunder, we might have won the game with defense alone via a shut out. Surely Dan Devine, Joe Yonto, George Kelly and Coach Johnson were happy with it!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  4. There are areas of concern for the Irish, they need to regenerate the offense and special teams still needs a lot of work. But with that being said, there’s no denying ending the season with a bowl win over an SEC team. True, LSU is hardly a juggernaut at the moment, but what’s important is most of the world outside ND land saw this as an impressive win, and having a headlining grab by Boykin doesn’t hurt. It keeps ND in the headlines for a time, which in turn can help recruiting down the line.

    ND won their first NY Day bowl since 1994 I believe it was. Most of the pundits feel BK did an impressive job going from 4-8 to 10-3 and feel ND is on the up and up. Now while I and some others may disagree with the rosy view of BK at this point, still, ND being painted in a positive light also helps recruiting and maybe convinces some eligible players to return for another year.

    Every little bit helps.

    Go Irish!

  5. The momentum has started. This game was a good lesson to all 2nd, 3rd and 4th stingers that they will get their chance, including Wimbush.

    1. Indeed GK , momentum after this ending season Bowl win can carry through to next spring and into the 2018 opener versus Michigan. What a game that will be –two coaches Kelly and Harbough trying to bring their teams back to elite status. How important this game win/lose will be on determining out come of 2018 season ? It all starts in the very first game of the season—not the 3rd or 4th game in September –but the very first game. With a brutal schedule ahead for Irish—a “turning point” in season might well be their first game. Go Irish ! I predict ND goes 11-0 into last game versus a dangerous USC at the Colliseum.

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