Texas’ season-opening battle with the No. 10-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish was nothing short of a instant classic and non-stop thriller; capped by senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ superman-esque dive across the goal line to lift Texas to a 50-47 victory. Considering the circumstances - a new offensive coordinator and a new offense orchestrated by a the first true freshman starting quarterback in Austin since 1944 - it was a game that could have easily swung in favor of either team if it weren’t for some critical plays throughout. For Texas, though there were certainly no shortage of offensive bursts and defensive pushes, here’s a look at the 13 plays that changed the outcome of the game; most for the better, but some worth some coaching going forward.
1 - Texas’ decision to go for it on 4th and 1 in opening drive
Notre Dame shot out of the gates and before you knew it, the Irish were up 7-0 in Austin. For a brief second, there was that “here we go again feeling.” In hopes of responding, a Texas offense led by Buechele quickly pushed the ball down the field, before facing a fourth down in what was likely Trent Domingue’s field goal range. Texas could have easily attempted the field goal to get on the board during Buechele’s first ever series, but rather, there was absolutely zero hesitation from Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert; Texas quickly lined up and attacked on 4th and 1, a move that paid off.
Not only did the decision establish Texas’ offensive assertiveness, but the very next play, this happened:
2 - Shane Buechele’s TD pass to Armanti Foreman
In his first ever drive, Buechele looked about as impressive as one could have asked from the true freshman, but from a sheer confidence standpoint, connecting with a marvelous pitch-and-catch to Armanti Foreman on the next play immediately made the statement that Texas was here to compete.
3 - Jake Oliver extended the drive with a tough run-after-catch effort
After the games two quick scores, both Texas and Notre Dame saw the defenses step up to prevent a similar burst for the remainder of the first quarter and a portion of the second. The Longhorns, carried on the shoulders of a breath of life from the 18-wheeler package, started clicking before converting yet another fourth down attempt. But they play of the drive: On 3rd and 7, a Buechele pitch to Jake Oliver gave us a glimpse of the junior receiver’s toughness after he shed an open field tackle and gashed Notre Dame for 21 yards. Oliver went on to haul in another third down pass to place Texas on Notre Dame’s one-yard-line and the very next play, Buechele snuck in to give Texas a 14-7 lead.
4 - Shane Buechele hits Jerrod Heard in stride for 68-yard bomb
After the Irish answered Texas’ score with one of their own for a 14-14 tie, the new quarterback connected with the former quarterback on a momentum-swinging play, as Tyrone Swoopes would scamper into the end zone to give Texas the 21-14 lead and all the momentum entering halftime only three plays later.
5 - Shane Buechele connects with John Burt for 72-yard touchdown
On what was only the second play of the second half, Buechele once again helped provide the Texas offense with fireworks with a bomb to the John Burt for a 28-14 lead. The duo nearly had a similar connection earlier in the game, though Burt was unable to haul it in.
6 - DeShone Elliott prevents Notre Dame TD with jarring hit
The very definition of targeting a defenseless receiver.— Dan Worthington (@danWorthington) September 5, 2016
After Texas took the 28-14 lead early in the third quarter, Notre Dame starting having its way and fought back for a 28-28 tie with an opportunity to take the lead for the first time since the opening drive. A perfect pitch from DeShone Kizer to Torii Hunter Jr. nearly provided that lead, but thanks to monstrous (and arguably illegal) hit from sophomore safety DeShon Elliott, the ball popped loose and Notre Dame was forced to attempt a field goal; an effort magnified in importance because of the very next play:
7 - Naashon Hughes deflects Notre Dame’s game-tying FG
After Elliott’s jarring hit, it appeared Notre Dame would tie the game after a makable field goal. Elliott’s critical defensive effort was matched by another with Naashon Hughes getting his hands on the field goal to prevent the Notre Dame tie.
8 - D’Onta Foreman’s 19-yard TD run on 3rd and 5
After Notre Dame ultimately regained the lead with a Kizer toss to Josh Adams, a few unproductive offensive series were finally put in the past down the stretch with a tremendous showing of effort and resiliency from D’Onta Foreman on a critical third down. As a result, Texas once again took the lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
9 - Texas extra point blocked and returned by Notre Dame
If it weren’t for the massive Isaac Rochelle getting his hands up on a low extra point attempt, Texas may have been able to escape without the need for overtime. But rather, things got much more interested when the blocked extra point was recovered by Notre Dame’s Shaun Crawford and returned for two points; once again tying the game at 37-37.
10 - Chop block on Patrick Vahe + Zach Shackelford’s errant snap
After a Texas defensive stand, the ‘Horns got the ball back with 1:50 to play and were cruising down the field en route to what looked like an inevitable game-winning field goal attempt. That momentum was derailed when a Patrick Vahe chop block pushed Texas back near midfield, which was followed the very next play by another inaccurate Zach Shackelford snap that essentially declared overtime with Texas sitting at 2nd and 33 with less than 30 seconds to play.
11 - Texas forces overthrown pass on 3rd and 7 in 2OT to limit Notre Dame to FG
After Texas and Notre Dame quickly scored touchdowns in the first overtime, the Irish started the second overtime with the ball. After a Kizer five-yard run and Paul Boyette Jr. stuffing Adams in the backfield, the Texas defense forced an overthrown pass on 3rd and 7, resulting in a field goal; Notre Dame’s final points of the night.
12 - Tyrone Swoopes bulldozes defenders on critical 3rd down run in 2OT
Swoopes, there it is— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) September 5, 2016
After a pair of runs by Foreman and Buechele put Texas in a 3rd and 1 situation, the 18-wheeler package again proved valuable as Swoopes took no mercy on the Irish defenders on a powerful converting run that placed Texas in scoring position on the six-yard-line.
13 - Tyrone Swoopes eludes tackles, dives into end zone for Texas’ win
And then there was this. Charlie Strong said he told Swoopes before the game that he’d be the one to win it for Texas and with some elusive moves and a refusal not be stopped, Swoopes dove into the end zone for the game-winning score two plays after his huge third down conversion.