Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Shakes Off Stumbles to Stay Alive in Playoff Hunt

Jack Coan Comes Back to Lead Notre Dame to Clutch Win Over Virginia Tech

Late drama best describes the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s 32-29 road victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday night. That’s because, with just under four minutes left and an injured quarterback who needed to be replaced, Jack Coan reversed the usual 2021 equation and became the hero in relief.

Coan had started the game, then came in again after replacement Tyler Buchner went down with an injury. Trailing 29-21, Coan needed just 89 seconds to tie the game back up. After then getting the ball back, Coan’s seven-play drive culminated with Jonathan Doerer’s 48-yard game-winning field goal with 17 seconds remaining. The win keeps the Irish at least in the conversation of a possible berth in the college football playoffs.

Below are some of the key facets of the clutch victory:

Getting a Jolt

Early on, the need to make a quick statement fell on deaf ears after Notre Dame’s first three drives picked up a combined 17 net yards. A pair of sacks and penalties helped to serve as the key roadblocks to those efforts. Meanwhile, after a quick three-and-out on the opening drive, Virginia Tech then tallied a total of 10 points in their next two drives.

That inability to get the Irish offense going resulted in a quick change behind center with Coan being replaced by Buchner, who immediately marched 75 yards to slice the Notre Dame deficit to three points. Coupled with the Notre Dame defense then shutting down the Hokies on their next two drives, Buchner closed out the first half with a scoring toss to Kyren Williams, with Avery Davis’ 37-yard catch delivered some needed momentum.

Costly Mistakes

Both schools saw key mistakes come back to haunt them, though Notre Dame’s errors nearly ended up costing them the game. The first of these errors was actually in the Irish’s favor. They picked off a pass in Tech territory and needed just four plays to take back the lead at 21-16 in the third quarter.

However, on their next series, Buchner’s third-down pass attempt became a disaster when Jermaine Waller delivered a pick-six that gave back the lead to the Hokies at 22-21. Midway through the final quarter, Buchner then led the Irish close to midfield before his second interception killed the drive. In addition, he suffered a non-contact injury that brought back Coan to start his heroics.

Defending When It Counts

The Notre Dame defense allowed 321 yards on the night, their second-fewest this season. There were some impressive moments during the game, including three stops at the Irish one that forced Tech to settle for a field goal, In addition, Notre Dame was generally delivering good pressure, once again led by Isaiah Foskey.

Still, the Irish had to dodge some bullets along the way. The first of those came with the nearly perfect goal-line stand, while another arrived when the Holies had a touchdown called back and had to settle for another three-pointer. Also, what looked to be Tech’s clinching score came on a third-and-15 play in which Hokies quarterback Brandon Burmeister appeared to be under siege. Instead, he managed to elude a furiously pursuing Foskey and scamper 19 yards for the score.

Return of the Run

While it can’t really be classified as a resurgence, the Note Dame running game showed signs of life by gaining 173 yards on the ground for an average of four yards per carry. In their previous two outings combined, the Irish had gained a net total of just 87 yards. Williams led all rushers with 74 yards, while Buchner contributed 67 before his game-ending injury.

Williams’ one score on the night gave a hint of his effectiveness and what he can do as he broke multiple tackles to reach the end zone. He’s still looking to deliver a huge game in 2021 after having six games with more than 100 yards on the ground last season. His 74 is only his third-best this year, but it nearly matched his output over the previous two contests.

Next Up

The Irish get to rest up during their bye week, with the next contest not taking place until Oct. 23 at home against the Southern Cal Trojans. Last season’s pandemic-plagued schedule marked the first time since World War II that the longstanding rivalry didn’t take place. The Irish have won the last three meetings between the schools and have notched four consecutive victories at home against the Trojans. Southern Cal will also be coming off a bye, though they’re currently struggling with a 3-3 record under interim head coach Donte Williams. Interestingly, both of their road games this season have ended in victory.

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  1. Irish need to find their quarterback. At least give Drew Pine a decent chance. Also Freeman needs to figure out how to make halftime defense adjustments in a hurry. I would still have a shot at the playoffs though very remote.

  2. Playoff hunt? You have to be living in Cuckooland if you think this team is staying alive for the playoffs.

    1. At tis point, I’d like to see Cincinnati get a shot….even if it is to get absolutely drilled, a la ND in the two times it got there.
      But of course, the only path for that to even *possibly* happen also requires ND to not lose another game.

  3. Probably the best day of college football in recent memory. Every game seemingly was a classic and came down to the wire.
    Way to go Brandon!

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