Notre Dame infiltrated SEC country in the 2014 Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee to face off against #22 LSU. Coming into the game an 8-point underdog, very few thought they’d outlast the speed and talent of Les Miles’ team. Notre Dame had just come off a disastrous backstretch of the season which ended in an embarrassing 14-49 loss against USC in Los Angeles. The on field trend of the regular season didn’t stop Notre Dame from marching to victory, outlasting the LSU Tigers 31-28.
What this victory signified was a sweet end to a bitter season. The 2014 Fighting Irish started out the year looking like a national contender. Racing to a 6-0 start after impressive wins against Georgia Tech and Stanford, this team appeared to be destined for glory. They even found themselves ranked as high as 5th in the Coaches and AP Polls. A flurry of team injuries including the defensive leader, Joe Schmidt contributed to the total collapse that was the next six games, of which the Irish lost five.
But a new Notre Dame took the field the morning of December 30th, 2014 and it was in the form of the Everett Golson/Malik Zaire duo. Golson had started each game of the regular season through an incredibly tumultuous twelve game stint. Brian Kelly decided to go a different direction for the bowl game for a much needed breath of fresh air.
Malik Zaire received the first start of his Notre Dame career in this bowl matchup. A long awaited event, Zaire was emotional about receiving the nod for Coach Kelly and was seen in tears following the victory. He took the Irish offense by storm which was exemplified in the first drive of the game, leading the team down the field culminating in a TD pass to Will Fuller.
This game was very back and forth and full of explosive offensive plays and stout defensive performance. Even the Notre Dame special teams unit had multiple shining moments through the bowl victory.
Both teams battled throughout the first half with Golson and Zaire splitting series’ on offense which garnered three touchdowns. LSU had answers on both offense and special teams, finding the end zone through both. Notre Dame took a 21-14 lead into halftime after a very impressive goal line stop to an LSU fake field goal attempt on the last play of the first half.
The second half also featured big plays on offense, especially in the running game. Leonard Fournette posted an 89-yard touchdown run, adding to his 100-yard kickoff return in the first half. For Notre Dame, CJ Prosise answered Fournette’s dazzling runs with a 50-yard touchdown run of his own.
The fourth quarter was mostly defense and featured an important field goal block by Notre Dame to maintain a tie game. After a well executed two minute drill to drive down the field in the closing minutes, it was ultimately Kicker, Kyle Brindza who knocked through a 32 yard field goal as time expired to seal the postseason win for the Irish.
This victory propelled Notre Dame into the offseason with renewed optimism. The bowl win was significant not only for team morale, but it gave a sense of an elite level of competitiveness which would contribute to a successful recruiting class and subsequent football season.