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Book It! (2018 Citrus Bowl; Notre Dame vs. LSU)

Chris Tello/ALOST

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

ORLANDO, Fla. — Along with now undoubtedly joining the ranks of some of the great head coaches in his school’s storied football history, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly also showed off his talents at being a clairvoyant in leading the Irish to a long-awaited win on New Year’s Day.

Reserve quarterback Ian Book came on in the second half to ignite the offense while throwing a game-winning 55-yard touchdown pass to receiver Miles Boykin with 88 seconds remaining as No. 14 Notre Dame defeated No. 17 LSU 21-17 in the 2018 Citrus Bowl to win its 10th game of the season, Kelly’s third 10-win season in South Bend.

Kelly now joins Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz as the Notre Dame head coaches who have won 10 games in at least three different seasons while coaching the Irish.

The big news surrounding Notre Dame coming into today’s game was the players who were not making the trip to Florida, as three of the Irish’s four top pass-catchers on the season, including wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and tight end Alize Mack, were missing due to either suspension or injury. In stepped Boykin, who made the biggest play of the game by making a one-handed stab of a Book pass down the right sideline before breaking a couple of tackles to run in for the winning score, completing Notre Dame’s comeback victory.

Boykin was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, something Kelly envisioned well before Monday afternoon.

“We were in practice and we knew that we were going to have to get a couple of one on one match-ups on the outside and I told Miles, I said, “Miles, you’re going to win the MVP trophy,” said Kelly in the postgame press conference. “And he looked at me like I had two heads. But I felt like he had a chance. He’s got the ability, if we could get him the football. And Ian got him the football and Miles made a great individual play and, lo and behold, I’ve got the MVP sitting next to me.”

Boykin, who finished the game with three catches for 102 yards, more than likely would not have been in the position to win the trophy if it wasn’t for the play of Book, whom Kelly put in to replace an ineffective Brandon Wimbush late in the second quarter. On the five offensive drives with Book at quarterback outside of their game-ending kneel down, the Fighting Irish marched inside of LSU’s 30-yard line on each of those drives, with the final two forays into Tigers’ territory ending in touchdown passes, both coming while Notre Dame was trailing to give the Irish the lead. Notre Dame scored the only points of the first half after Book first came into the game to engineer a two-minute-drill drive, which ended with Justin Yoon’s 46-yard field goal with four seconds left in the second quarter to give Notre Dame a 3-0 lead.

Book ended the game 14-for-19 passing for 164 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while also rushing for 36 yards on 11 attempts.

“Well, we have great confidence in Ian,” Kelly said. “You know, he hasn’t played a lot of football, but we threw him right into the fire and, you know, he leads a winning drive with the game on the line. But he’s got that ability. And it doesn’t surprise us that he’s able to do that.”

The first half was a relatively uneventful display as rain steadily fell throughout the game and both teams were riddled with sloppy plays. It was Notre Dame’s fumble of an LSU punt to start the third quarter that led to the first touchdown of the game, as running back Derrius Guice caught a short pass and turned it up the field for a 20-yard touchdown reception to give LSU its first lead of the game.

Another error, Book’s only costly mistake of the game, highlighted Notre Dame’s next offensive drive, as Book led the Irish to the LSU 30 before throwing an interception to defensive back Andraez Williams inside of the 15-yard line. Notre Dame’s defense stiffened and was able to force a Tigers’ punt afterward, and, on their next drive, the Irish scored on a 49-yard field goal by Yoon to cut their deficit to 7-6 late in the third quarter. The big play on that scoring drive was a 15-yard run by Book to get Notre Dame in field goal range.

“There’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows,” Book said about his interception. “And part of playing the quarterback position is being able to move on to the next play. So I messed up and made a mistake, and immediately sat down with Coach (Tommy) Rees, Coach Kelly and had to move on to the next play, and we still had a bunch of football left to play.”

LSU answered Notre Dame’s field goal with its most impressive drive of the game, a 12-play, 75-yard march that ended with Guice’s second touchdown catch of the game, from two yards out, to give the Tigers a 14-6 lead at the 11:13 mark of the fourth.

The Irish responded with a 10-play drive that tied up the score, with the key play coming after Book was called for an intentional grounding that eventually led to a 3rd-and-19 situation for Notre Dame. On the play, Book found Boykin for a 29-yard gain to keep the drive alive to the LSU 19, and, five plays later, Book threw a 6-yard touchdown to Michael Young to bring the Irish within two. Book then found Josh Adams in the end zone on the two-point conversion to tie the game midway through the fourth.

The Tigers drove back down the field on the next possession and reached the 1-yard line, but, when facing a 4th-and-goal with 36 inches separating the Tigers from a seven-point lead, LSU decided to kick a field goal. Jack Gonsoulin’s 17-yard kick gave the Tigers a 17-14 lead with 2:03 remaining.

That left just enough time for Book and Boykin to once again work their magic, and the connection worked once more when Book’s pass down the right sideline, which was looking like it was overthrown, was stabbed out of the air by Boykin with the right hand, and he completed the play by running it in to give Notre Dame the improbable victory.

“It was really almost just a blur,” Boykin said about his game-winning score. “We talk about situations like this all the time and it’s not often that you get to be in one like this. And so it was just an extremely humbling moment for me just to be able to go out there and help make a play to help my team win. I mean, we talk about how as a receiver, we’re play makers and winning the 50/50 ball. We talk about that every day. During that moment, I had to make the play.”

Book’s play during the game will give a lot of optimism to the Irish going into 2018, as well as some depth in the quarterback position between him and Wimbush.

“It was an awesome opportunity, such a surreal moment, that last play with Miles,” Book said. “Ten wins, it feels great. It’s a great way to start off the new year and I’m excited to start off this new year with a team that I love.”

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