SOUTH BEND – And, exhale.
No. 8 Notre Dame was pushed to the absolute limit against upstart Toledo at Notre Dame Stadium this afternoon, but the Irish offense, beleagured for large chunks of the afternoon, drove 75 yards down the field in just 26 seconds in the final minutes and quarterback Jack Coan completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Michael Mayer for a winning touchdown that allowed the Irish to escape by the skin of their teeth with a 32-29 victory.
The Irish converted the two-point conversion after the touchdown on an attempted Philly Special that turned into wide receiver Avery Davis throwing a completion to running back Kyren Williams when quarterback Jack Coan was covered.
The Rockets took the lead with 1:35 to go on a 26-yard touchdown run from quarterback DeQuan Finn, set up by a Williams fumble near the Toledo red zone as the Irish were going in for what might have been a clinching touchdown.
On the final Toledo possession, the Rockets picked up one first down, but with 25 seconds left, quarterback Carter Bradley had the ball batted out of his hand by Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and the Irish pounced on it to clinch the victory.
Here are some highlights and thoughts from this game:
- Notre Dame has won 25 home games in a row, the second-longest stretch in program history. The Irish have not lost at Notre Dame Stadium since Sept. 9, 2017. They have also won 34 straight games against unranked opponents dating back to 2016.
- The Notre Dame defense gave up a 66-yard pass play on a broken coverage on the first play of the game. In the fourth quarter, a run netted the Rockets 67 yards. Both of those plays set up scores. The Irish did sack Toledo quarterbacks five times. JD Bertrand had three TFLs, 11 tackles and the game-winning fumble recovery in the final seconds and Kyle Hamilton had two TFLs. Notre Dame gave up four 60-yard plays in three years under defensive coordinator Clark Lea, but has surrendered four in the first two weeks of Marcus Freeman's tenure. On Finn's go-ahead touchdown run, the Irish were completely fooled and Finn was able to essentially walk into the end zone.
- The Irish gained only 3.5 yards per carry after picking 1.9 per rush in Week 1 against Florida State. Notre Dame had 134 rushing yards, but 69 of those came on two carries within a few plays in the second quarter. The offensive line, with backup left tackle Michael Carmody starting in place of true freshman Blake Fisher, out with a meniscus injury, consistently failed to open holes against the Toledo front. The Irish struggled so much up front that they passed several times on third-and-short, which almost never happened in 2020.
- Notre Dame struggled to protect Coan, as well. After an extremely easy 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game, on which Coan hit Mayer three times, including on a 4-yard scoring pass, the Wisconsin transfer was running for his life most of the rest of the game. He was sacked six times, including a strip sack and had four passes batted down at the line because of pressure in his face. He eventually went 21 for 33 for 239 yards after throwing for 366 yards and four scores in his first Notre Dame game last week. He made the biggest throw of the day, however, completing a 34-yard deep strike to Kevin Austin that got the Irish moving on the final drive.
- True freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner had seven carries for 68 yards in his first collegiate action. He was mostly a running threat and he made the most of his touches, never sliding and absorbing some big hits. He also went 3 for 3 for 78 yards through the air, including his first career touchdown toss, which made it a 24-16 Irish lead early in the fourth quarter. The 55-yard pass to running back Chris Tyree (only thrown about 12 yards downfield) was wide open because Toledo had overplayed Buchner to run.
- The Irish return to action Sept. 18, when they play host to Purdue (2-0) at Notre Dame Stadium. The Boilermakers handily defeated Connecticut today behind six catches for 121 yards and three scores from wide receiver David Bell. Notre Dame and Purdue played every year from 1946 to 2014, but have not played since. The Irish have won seven meetings in a row.