Tyrone Swoopes ran over multiple Notre Dame defenders for a 10-yard run on third and one. One play later, he again ran through Irish defenders for a six-yard touchdown that capped a dramatic 50-47 double-overtime victory for Texas.
Even after handing Oklahoma its only regular season loss in 2015, this would have to be the “signature” win most Horns fans were waiting for from third year coach Charlie Strong. Strong’s team kept in tact a record dating back to 2004, in which the Longhorns still have not lost after leading by 17, which they did with 9:14 to go in the third quarter. UT also broke a record they had created under Strong on Sunday night. For the first time in his tenure in Austin, the Horns won a game after allowing an opponent to score first.
This game seemingly had everything, including the mismanagement of the quarterbacks, by both teams. Texas finally figured out how to use both Swoopes and true freshman Shane Beuchele. New Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert not only energized the offense and gave the unit an identity and purpose but but did a much better job of utilizing his quarterbacks than did Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly whose misuse of QB’s DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire cost the Irish the game.
More on Kelly in a moment, but to the victor goes the spoils. After being thoroughly manhandled by the Irish in a 38-3 loss in South Bend to start the ’15 season, Texas looks completely transformed. The offense was efficient, gaining 517 yards (or 354 more yards than they gained in last year’s game), scored on eight of 14 drives, and thanks to Beuchele finally found a productive passing game.
The freshman completed 16-26 for 280-yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 33-yards and a score. Swoopes finished with three rushing touchdowns on 13 carries. And unlike Notre Dame, with one exception – up 17 in the third Texas let Swoopes start a drive at their own 10-yard line, and after two plays and three yards brought in Beuchele who threw an interception that turned the momentum in ND’s favor – the Longhorns were brilliant in their management of the contrasting quarterbacks.
Which brings us to Kelly’s mismanagement on the Notre Dame sideline. Sticking to his decision to interchange the QB’s every drive, Kelly either was too stubborn to care, or didn’t notice that Kizer was running the offense with precision moving the Irish up and down the field for scores, while Zaire was leading drives that ended in punts. As if he was coaching a five-year old’s t-ball team, Kelly continued to kill momentum by switching until Notre Dame found itself in a 17-point hole. (Oh, so down 17 is the best time to decide one quarterback is CLEARLY outplaying the other. Huh, I would’ve guessed it would be earlier in the game so that you don’t find yourself in such a hole. You’re the genius coach.)
Zaire ultimately led the Irish to a 35-31 fourth quarter lead. Then Beuchele drove the Longhorns down the field on an eight play 63-yard drive to give Texas a 37-35 lead with 3:29 remaining. Then ND defensive tackle Jarron Jones blocked the point after attempt and Shaun Crawford raced the other way to give the Irish the two points they needed to tie the game.
Neither team could mount much offense in the final minutes of regulation, though it didn’t help the Irish that Kelly wasted a timeout challenging an easy-to-see incompletion that he – and his defensive back pretended was an interception.
After both teams scored easily on their first possession of overtime, the Longhorn defense stiffened forcing the Irish to settle for a field goal in the second OT. That set up Swoopes heroics.
There were times last season – like after beating Oklahoma – that Texas looked like a good football team, but somehow Sunday night made the ’16 outlook seem significantly better. There’s legitimate reason to anticipate Texas competing for a Big 12 title this year.