TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Notre Dame survived Florida State backup quarterback McKenzie Milton’s unlikely comeback on an emotional night when the Seminoles honored Bobby Bowden.
Jonathan Doerer made a 41-yard field goal in overtime and No. 9 Notre Dame escaped with a 41-38 victory after Florida State overcame an 18-point deficit Sunday.
Florida State kicker Ryan Fitzgerald’s 37-yard attempt sailed wide left on the first overtime possession, allowing Notre Dame to run a few plays and set up Doerer’s kick.
“What’s most important is going on the road, winning the opener against a team that presented a lot of challenges,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We know we got work to do, but I like this team. We’ll get better and we’ll make a lot of improvement in week 2.”
Bowden, the coaching great who won two national titles with the Seminoles, died at 91 of pancreatic cancer Aug. 8.
A logo of Bowden’s trademark hat and the script “Bobby” was on the 25-yard line, and Florida State coaches also wore logos on their polo shirts. Florida State’s Marching Chiefs spelled out “Bobby” on the field at halftime and played “Amazing Grace.”
Milton, the UCF grad transfer quarterback who hadn't played in a game since suffering a gruesome leg injury in November 2018, fired a 22-yard strike to Ja’Khi Douglas on his first pass.
Treshaun Ward completed that drive by scoring on a 2-yard run, and Fitzgerald tied it with a 43-yard field goal with 40 seconds left. Milton was 5 of 7 for 48 yards with three rushes for 6 yards.
“It was time to roll,” Milton said. “I didn’t have time to process any emotions. A job had to be done. God is real. That’s the one thing I can say. Nobody’s ever come back from an injury like this. Thousands of people praying for me from the moment I got hurt. Coaches believing in me. I’m not here without all the support, all the prayers.”
Florida State started the comeback with Jordan Travis connecting with Andrew Parchment on an 8-yard touchdown strike. Milton entered the game when Travis’ helmet popped off, and he then found Douglas to keep things going.
Jack Coan completed 26 of 35 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns in his Notre Dame debut. Coan threw touchdown passes to Michael Mayer, Kyren Williams, Kevin Austin and Joe Wilkins. Notre Dame led 38-20 with 4:37 to go in the third quarter.
Florida State has lost five straight season openers and, while the Seminoles rallied, they can also point to three turnovers as well as nine penalties.
Travis threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score. But he also threw three interceptions — two to Notre Dame star safety Kyle Hamilton. The Fighting Irish capitalized all three times by scoring touchdowns.
Jashaun Corbin had an 89-yard touchdown run for Florida State. Corbin finished with 15 carries for 144 yards, pacing the Seminoles’ 264 yards on the ground.
Notre Dame was largely ineffective on the ground, rushing for just 65 yards a year after they accumulated 353 rushing yards in a 42-26 win over Florida State.
“We got to run the ball better,” Kelly said. “Clearly that will be an emphasis here this week. We’re not here to throw the ball all over the yard and not have a solid running game.”
Notre Dame was stunningly one dimensional on offense, rushing 35 times for 65 yards through four quarters. The Fighting Irish instead leaned on an opportunistic defense as well as Coan’s efficiency.
Florida State suffered from three costly turnovers but Milton’s timely passes and running sparked a comeback to tie the game. The Seminoles ran for 264 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
In a week full of upsets, Notre Dame was not one of them and the Fighting Irish will likely retain their spot in the top 10.
Notre Dame: Hosts Toledo on Saturday.
Florida State: Hosts Jacksonville State on Saturday.