AUSTIN — Analyzing Texas' 50-47 double-overtime victory against No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday night:
THE BIG PICTURE: Well hello there, Texas. It’s nice to see you again. After all those years wandering in the college football wilderness, the Longhorns notched the most significant victory of Charlie Strong’s short tenure (unless you wanted to argue for beating Oklahoma, which is always significant for the Longhorns), coming out on top in a wildly entertaining battle in double overtime.
Maybe more important than the twists and turns was how it was achieved: With a functioning offense led by a true freshman quarterback who looks like an instant star. Shane Buechele is very talented, the perfect guy to run the Baylor offense installed during the offseason by new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Buechele’s passing ability, especially on deep balls, made Texas at times resemble, well, Baylor. He made some mistakes. But he showed plenty of promise, too.
Paired with what at times was very good defense (a staple of Strong’s teams) and with a resilience that showed intangibles that Strong’s first two teams might have lacked, the results Sunday night were something Texas fans had waited to see for a long, long time — and something Texas’ opponents had enjoyed not seeing for the same period. Somewhere in the big old stadium, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had to be smiling. It’s only one game. But if Texas is indeed on its way back, that’s big news for the Big 12.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Texas found a quarterback. Buechele makes a very nice first impression. And the freshman might grow into a monster. Strong played coy over whether Shane Buechele or senior Tyrone Swoopes would start, but it was evident immediately why Buechele was the pick. He gives Texas legitimate hope that the quarterback struggles that date back to the night Colt McCoy suffered that stinger in the BCS national championship game against Alabama might be over.
If so, Charlie Strong’s bid to rebuild the program might have a legitimate shot at succeeding, too. Swoopes has a role, too. He was effective in the “18-Wheeler” run package, including the winning touchdown. But there was no doubt Buechele was the guy, and little doubt that his future, and perhaps Texas’ too, is bright.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT, II: Brian Kelly told us he was going to play both quarterbacks rather than choose one. And that’s just what he did. DeShone Kizer started but traded series with Malik Zaire through most of the first half. The results were mixed, but the experiment might have ended in the second half. When Texas shot out to a 17-point lead, Kizer took over, and it was clear he was the better player.
Zaire is a dynamic dual-threat player, and after torching Texas in the 2015 season opener, he seemed on his way to becoming a very good quarterback before a broken right ankle in the next game. Kizer, who replaced Zaire last year, is a much more polished passer with the bigger NFL upside — but he’s got the bigger college upside, too. He almost brought Notre Dame all the way back in a masterful performance.
KEY PLAY: On third-and-1 from the 16 in the second overtime, Swoopes — in for the “18-wheeler” power run package — kept on the right side. He got the first down and just kept running. Or running over several Irish defenders. Swoopes’ hit on Notre Dame’s Avery Sebastian left the safety lying on the ground for several moments. Two plays later, Swoopes scored from 6 yards out, and the celebration was on.
KEY PLAY II: The game turned late in regulation on a wild two-point conversion. Texas had retaken the lead, 37-35, on D’Onta Foreman’s 19-yard run with 3:29 left. But when Trent Domingue’s extra point was blocked — Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones rose high in the middle of the line to get a hand on it — Shaun Crawford scooped up the wild ricochet in stride and raced the length of the field to give Notre Dame two points and tie the game.
KEY PLAY III: Down at one point by 17, Notre Dame looked like it was about to reclaim the lead when Kizer threaded a pass to Torii Hunter Jr. crossing in the end zone. But the pass fell incomplete when Hunter was the victim of what looked like the textbook definition of the targeting rule — but which somehow went uncalled both on the field and in the replay booth. Replays clearly showed it was a helmet-to-helmet hit by Texas safety DeShon Elliott. Hunter lay motionless on the turf for several minutes and then was helped off the field. By rule, the replay official can call targeting when it is missed. Instead, Notre Dame’s field goal was blocked on the next play, and Texas kept the lead.
Hard hit. Hunter did get up. https://t.co/NafZoe7cC6— Joe Fleming (@ByJoeFleming) September 5, 2016
KEY PLAY IV: On its next possession, Notre Dame finally retook the lead. Kizer led a seven-play, 46-yard drive that ended with a beautiful lob to running back Josh Adams, a pass feathered over a defender on the wheel route. With 10:57 left, Notre Dame led 34-31.
KEY PLAY V: Buechele showed plenty in the first half, including a beautiful touch on deep passes, as Texas took a 21-14 lead. But two plays into the second half, he feathered another perfect long ball into the arms of sophomore receiver John Burt. Burt had dropped a similar pass early in the first half, but he gathered this one in stride, stepped out of one diving attempt at a tackle and finished a 72-yard touchdown pass to give Texas a two-touchdown lead.