The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 12, 2021 1:00 am

Notre Dame 32, Toledo 29

Late TD helps Irish avoid upset

Mayer catch keeps Rockets from pulling off stunner

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Jack Coan told Notre Dame trainer Mike Bean to pull his finger.

The Irish quarterback dislocated his finger as the Irish were driving for the lead in the final minute against upstart Toledo on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. On the sidelines, Bean popped the finger into place and Coan sprinted back into the game.

On the next play, the Wisconsin transfer threw an 18-yard game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Michael Mayer up the seam and No. 8 Notre Dame staved off the upset bid, winning 32-29 in its 2021 home-opener in front of an announced crowd of 62,009.

“It was crazy, he came running to the sideline pointing to his finger,” Irish running back Chris Tyree said of Coan. “That just shows his grit, his intensity and his mentality.”

In many ways, it was a difficult day for Coan, who faced constant pressure from the Toledo front and was sacked six times. He threw two touchdown passes to Mayer – the first from four yards out to complete a 75-yard drive on the game's first possession – but also tossed a pick-six when he looked for Mayer late in the first half. The miscue sent Toledo (1-1) into the locker room ahead, 16-14. 

Coan's performance was part of a day for the Irish (2-0) that ended in victory but left more questions about how good this team can ultimately be.

“We're happy about the win, but I can't even begin with the work we have to do,” said coach Brian Kelly, who moved within one win of Knute Rockne for the all-time program record with his 104th triumph. “We lacked intensity coming out. This game requires, minimally, for the price of admission, you have to play this game with intensity.

“I did not like the way we came out. ... That's obviously on me and my preparation.”

After a stalemate in the third quarter that left the Irish still down two, Notre Dame finally took the lead on a 48-yard field goal from Jonathan Doerer early in the final quarter.

The Irish seemed to be on the road to putting the game away minutes later when true freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner, who saw his first collegiate action Saturday, threw a short pass to the left to a wide-open Tyree that the running back turned into a 55-yard touchdown.

The play worked because the Irish had been using Buchner as a running threat all day and on that play, the Rockets bit on a run fake, leaving Tyree alone. Buchner ran seven times for 68 yards, went 3 for 3 through the air for 78 yards and led a 96-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that Kyren Williams capped with a 43-yard touchdown scamper to put Notre Dame up 14-6.

“We were trying to find ourselves offensively in the running game,” Kelly said of putting Buchner in for a few series. “I felt like going to Tyler, he would give us the versatility in the run game that we needed. ... Turned out that it worked out pretty good and it gave us the shot in the arm that we needed.”

After the Irish went in front 24-16 on Tyree's burst, the Rockets scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. In between, Williams fumbled in Toledo territory. The visitors went in front on a 26-yard DeQuan Finn touchdown run around the left side with 1:51 left.

That created the need for Coan's heroics and he led Notre Dame down the field in three plays that covered 26 seconds. He hit Kevin Austin along the sideline for 34 yards to get the drive going.

“Jack was poised the entire game,” Mayer said. “That's what I saw from him all of (fall) camp, that's what I saw from him the entire summer. He's going to be doing that the rest of the year.”

The Irish won for the 25th time in a row at home, and they've won 34 in a row against unranked opponents.

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