NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Notre Dame and senior kicker Kyle Brindza got the finish they had missed too often the last half of the season. Beating a Southeastern Conference team in southern territory only made it that much sweeter.
Brindza hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired, and Notre Dame upset No. 22 LSU 31-28 in a Music City Bowl shootout Tuesday.
“This was a matchup that we had wanted at Notre Dame, and I know LSU felt the same way,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We wanted to be challenged. We were disappointed in the way we played obviously at the end of the year, and our guys wanted the opportunity to finish the season the right way.”
The Tigers were unsuccessful on a fake field goal at the end of the first half, a call that stood on review even though replays appeared to show the ball crossing the goal line. The Fighting Irish (8-5) also blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Trent Domingue early in the fourth quarter.
Kelly watched the fake field goal on the video board and thought the Irish stopped holder Brad Kragthorpe short. LSU coach Les Miles thought Kragthorpe scored and wasn’t happy the play wasn’t overturned for a touchdown. Miles also wasn’t pleased at the lack of better replays that might have shown Kragthorpe got the ball over the line before his knee went down.
“The guy that carried the ball, forcing it, said he absolutely scored,” Miles said. “Kids will be kids, but this guy’s going to tell the truth.”
Notre Dame got the ball with 5:41 left and never gave it back, driving 71 yards in 14 plays before Brindza finished off the win.
“We dictated the outcome by controlling the football,” Kelly said. “Obviously, if LSU has the football with No. 7 (Leonard Fournette), he’s a game changer. We certainly couldn’t give them the football back.”
Kelly went with sophomore Malik Zaire for his first career start, but he also played senior Everett Golson, using both quarterbacks on the winning drive.
Notre Dame held the ball for 37 minutes but finished with a 449-436 edge in total offense against the SEC’s toughest defense thanks only to that final drive. Golson was 4 of 5 for 50 yards passing on it, including a 12-yard completion to Ben Koyack on third-and-10. Zaire finished off the drive with a couple of rushes to set up Brindza.
Brindza had missed 6 of 9 field goals in the last five games of the regular season, including a 32-yarder late in a loss to Louisville.
“To leave a program so historic like this in this kind of fashion is great,” Brindza said. “It’s a blessing for me, but also to be able to help win a game for all my teammates is a bigger blessing.”
The Fighting Irish were ranked as high as fifth before dropping four straight and five of their final six, struggling in the fourth quarter against Florida State, Northwestern, Arizona State and Louisville. Kelly set a target of controlling the ball for 9 minutes each quarter, and they beat that by a minute for the game.
Zaire rushed 22 times for 96 yards and was 12 of 15 for 96 yards passing. He threw for a TD and ran for another. Golson was 6 of 11 for 90 yards passing, and Kelly said the senior needed a painkilling shot after taking a hit to his ribs earlier in the game.
LSU (8-5) lost for the first time this season to a team not from the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. Fournette ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and the freshman also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.
Miles said after the game he heard media reports that defensive coordinator John Chavis is leaving for Texas A&M but planned to make another pitch to keep the coach nicknamed Chief.
The Tigers’ final three touchdowns took all of 38 seconds. Fournette had his kick return, and his 89-yard TD run later gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 28-21 with 6:14 left in the third quarter. In between, Anthony Jennings connected with John Diarse on a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
But LSU didn’t score again after Fournette’s TD run, the longest play from scrimmage in this bowl’s history. Isaac Rochell blocked Domingue’s field goal attempt with 11:56 left.
Late in the first half, Notre Dame stopped LSU at the Irish 1 on a third-down pass, so the Tigers lined up for a field goal attempt. But Kragthorpe took off on a fake, bumping into teammate Terrence McGee on his way to the end zone. Officials ruled Kragthorpe short, and the call wasn’t reversed.
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