Longhorns battle back to knock off 10th-ranked Fighting Irish before record crowd of 102,315
Posted September 5th, 2016
The coach knew he had to show progress. The players truly believed things were different. But when it came crunch time Sunday against 10th-ranked Notre Dame, a confident bunch of Texas Longhorns buckled.
The record crowd of 102,315 fans inside Royal-Memorial Stadium had seen this before. Notre Dame scored 21 straight points and retook the lead. Penalties and assorted freshmen mistakes made it feel like a loss was inevitable.
Even when D’Onta Foreman appeared to save the day, a late blocked extra point went the other way for two Irish points that forced overtime. If we’re being honest, the 2015 Longhorns would have lost this one. “Correct,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
Instead, Texas senior Tyrone Swoopes put the hammer down. The 18-Wheeler barreled through Notre Dame’s defense for a 3-yard touchdown run and another from 6 yards out to win an electric 50-47 double-overtime thriller that kick-started the 2016 season.
“I’m so happy for our fans, because they needed it,” said coach Charlie Strong, who got lifted up by his players and carried around the field afterward. That was after players dog-piled Swoopes in the north end zone after he scored the game-winner. It was the most points Notre Dame has allowed to an unranked opponent in school history.
It was the first double-overtime game in UT history and the first that needed extra periods ever at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Texas athletic director Mike Perrin was ecstatic. Players stopped to receive congratulations from Gov. Greg Abbott. The raucous crowd didn’t really want to leave and belted out “The Eyes of Texas” with gusto.
“When we see the 18-Wheeler, we already know the ball’s moving forward,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “I’ve never seen him get knocked back.”
The Longhorns managed only 163 yards against the Irish in a 38-3 blowout last season. This time around, armed a new offensive coordinator, they piled up 517 yards. Had John Burt reeled in a deep ball for a sure-fire 85-yard touchdown catch, the final tally would have been truly eye-popping.
Sticking to his word, Strong played both Swoopes and freshman Shane Buechele, although the youngster got the start. Buechele completed 16 of 26 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, a scintillating 19-yard catch by Armanti Foreman and a 72-yard make-good to Burt.
Swoopes, though, won the game and the crowd. He rushed 13 times for 53 yards and scored three touchdowns, all coming in the short-yardage package that revitalized his football career last season.
“It’s a package we have confidence in and we’ll just keep building on it,” Swoopes said.
Is the 18-Wheeler unstoppable?
“I wouldn’t go that far. But are we that confident in it? Yes,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “Is Tyrone Swoopes confident in himself and his abilities as a big, strong football player? Yes. We were excited to be able to put that package on the field.”
Strong’s confidence in Swoopes is remarkable. He sent Buechele onto the field for the first two plays of double overtime, and the freshman reached the Notre Dame 16. On third down, in came Swoopes.
Strong wanted to end it. Swoopes bulldozed his way for 10 yards and then went six more for the score.
“He came in and played his role and he played it hard,” Jefferson said.
The Longhorns promised they were a different team, and they certainly looked the part during the first half. Texas took a 21-14 lead into the break as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly oddly alternated his quarterbacks, even though DeShone Kizer was clearly having more success than Malik Zaire.
The Horns raced out to a 31-14 lead early in the third quarter off Burt’s long score and Trent Domingue’s 25-yard field goal. But Kizer raced 29 yards for a touchdown. Then, Buechele got pressured and threw a ball high for his first interception. Kizer quickly found Torii Hunter Jr. for another touchdown.
Kizer gave the Irish a 35-31 lead when Josh Adams scored on a fourth-quarter wheel route. Had UT linebacker Anthony Wheeler turned around, he may have batted it down.
Along the way, Texas appeared to start breaking down. Freshman Kyle Porter got flagged for an unnecessary personal foul on a kick return. Armanti Foreman had a false start. Another freshman, Zach Shackelford, suddenly had some odd-ball shotgun snaps.
“This team right here didn’t say, ‘Oh, here we go again,’” Burt said. “Hey, shake it off. We’ve still got time, and we know we can do it.”
Buechele calmly led a go-ahead scoring drive capped by D’Onta Foreman’s 19-yard touchdown run. But Domingue’s extra point was blocked, and Shaun Crawford went the other way for a score that tied things up 37-37 at the end of regulation.
At that point, it was time for the 18-Wheeler and a breakthrough win. Swoopes, like the Longhorns, may just be just getting rolling.
“You’ve got a bad play, you put it on your back and you go on to the next play,” UT guard Kent Perkins said. “No matter what, we’re not going to give up. We’ve worked too hard in the offseason and we know what it takes to win.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email [email protected].