No. 9 Notre Dame survived a comeback usually seen in movies about Notre Dame football to beat Florida State 41-38 in overtime on Sunday night at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Fighting Irish blew a 38-20 third-quarter lead late in Tallahassee, Florida, thanks partly to the return of Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton.
Milton, the former UCF QB, was back on the field for the first time in three years after suffering a catastrophic leg injury with the Knights that many thought he’d never be able to return from.
Unfortunately, Milton’s feel-good story wasn’t enough to put the Seminoles over the top.
Florida State got the ball first in overtime but was unable to move it, missing a 40-yard field goal attempt. Notre Dame did not miss its chance, finishing the game and avoiding the loss with a 41-yard field goal of its own.
Wisconsin transfer QB Jack Coan threw for a career-high 366 yards and four touchdowns for the Fighting Irish, which had three players finish the game with at least 80 yards receiving.
Here are four takeaways from what might have been the best game of the opening weekend of college football.
1. Milton won the night
It’s hard to put into words the feeling of seeing Milton back on the field. Jordan Travis started the game for Florida State, and while he made some plays and a few nice throws to keep Florida State in it, he also threw three costly interceptions. Milton’s entrance into the game provided a spark that nearly carried the Seminoles to a comeback win.
It’s one thing to see Milton back on the field in a game like this at all, considering the injury he suffered, but to have him play well was a cherry on top. he completed 5 of 7 passes for 48 yards and was able to help out in the run game as well — even if you felt a need to cover your eyes every time he began to scramble because you didn’t want to see him get hurt. ABC’s cameras kept panning to Milton’s parents in the stands, and we all felt like his mom, who was in tears and could barely watch.
I have no idea how the rest of the season will go for Milton, but even if he never steps foot on the field again, the fact he made it back at all is one of those stories that makes all sports great. Not just college football.
2. Coan had an excellent comeback, too
It may get buried in the Milton story, but Coan lost his starting job to Graham Mertz at Wisconsin last season due to injury. Sunday night was Coan’s first chance to remind everybody that, while he’s not a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, he’s still capable of leading a strong offense. He also showed that sometimes we shouldn’t judge Wisconsin QBs by the offense they play in.
Coan was dynamic, and the Irish offense ran a lot of vertical routes that he was able to hit. That’s a facet of the Notre Dame offense that was non-existent in recent seasons with Ian Book playing. Say what you want about Book — and everybody involved with the Notre Dame program raves about him — he was limited as a QB. He did not have a big arm and was more of a scrambler than a pocket-passer.
Coan doesn’t have a cannon, but he does have an arm strong enough to utilize outside threats such as Kevin Austin (four catches, 91 yards, touchdown) and Braden Lenzy (two receptions, 39 yards). He’s also able to utilize Michael Mayer (nine catches, 120 yards, touchdown) both over the middle of the field and down the seams.
Ironically, the rushing attack that carried the Irish offense last season was virtually non-existent as they ran for only 65 yards on 35 carries. On the other side, the Noles had a tremendous day on the ground with their top two running backs totaling 220 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
It was Coan’s arm that led the way. If Notre Dame ran the ball like this against Florida State with Book at QB, it doesn’t win this game.
3. Kyle Hamilton is spectacular
Hamilton will surely be a top 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and he showed why Saturday night with two interceptions. While both were impressive, it was his second pick that made your eyes pop out of your head in awe. Look at how Hamilton starts the play at the far hash and makes his way across the field to the opposite sideline to intercept the throw. There are not many humans on this planet who are capable of making that play, and I’m sure Notre Dame is thrilled to have one who can.
4. Florida State has plenty to feel good about
I couldn’t help but think that last season’s Florida State team — and most Florida State teams of late — would have quit as soon as they fell behind 38-20 late in the third quarter. There wouldn’t have been any belief in the players or even the coaches on the sideline that they’d be capable of coming back from that large deficit against a top-10 team.
But this FSU team already feels different. Coach Mike Norvell still has a long way to go in Tallahassee, but there are plenty of signs this is heading in the right direction. While Milton was the star, he wasn’t the only transfer who shined tonight. Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson had a monster night, finishing with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. It’s been a while since the Noles have had a disruptive force like him on their defensive line, and he’s a significant reason why the Irish averaged only 2.6 yards per carry when adjusting for sack yardage.
There’s fight in this Florida State team, and there’s a mental toughness that I haven’t seen in years. If I’m a Florida State fan tonight, I’m sad the Seminoles lost the game, but I am buzzing with excitement about what the rest of this season could look like.