BY LaMOND POPE
For the Sun-Times
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Brian Kelly always planned to play Malik Zaire and Everett Golson at quarterback in the Music City Bowl.
The last drive, however, might not have been what he had in mind.
But the execution paid off.
Notre Dame (8-5) kept switching quarterbacks as it marched down the field in the final minutes against LSU. The pair got the Irish in position for a game-winning kick, and Kyle Brindza made a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give Notre Dame a thrilling 31-28 victory Tuesday against the No. 23 Tigers (8-5).
“I went back to just a feeling of what I believe they could execute in a very crucial situation of the game, and that’s kind of how I called the game in that last series,” Kelly said. “So I really tried to fit it to plays that they felt comfortable with.”
The victory snapped the Irish’s four-game losing streak. And it was the program’s first victory against an SEC school since 2005.
The last play also provided a bit of redemption for Brindza, who missed late field goals against Northwestern and Louisville.
“Going out there,’’ Brindza said, ‘‘my mind is always clear, clear as day. I finally shook off all the cobwebs and was able to trust [Zaire, his holder], and that’s how we got the game done.’’
The quarterbacks set up the winning scenario. Zaire completed 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown in the first start of his career. He also had 22 carries for 96 yards and one touchdown.
“I was kind of nervous,” Zaire said. “But after a while, you’re like, ‘All right, they’re hitting me pretty hard, so you got to stop being nervous.’ ”
Golson, who had started all 12 regular-season games, went 6-for-11 for 90 yards.
Zaire began the last drive with 5:41 to go. He converted on third down but had to leave for a play because his helmet fell off. Golson completed a 14-yard pass to Will Fuller, then Zaire re-entered to run for a first down. Golson came back in later in the drive and completed a 12-yard pass to Ben Koyack to convert another third down. He completed passes to Tarean Folston and Chris Brown to get the Irish to LSU’s 30. Zaire came back in and rushed two times to the Tigers’ 14.
Brindza got the call with four seconds left. And he came through to end Notre Dame’s inconsistent season on a positive note.
“Life is about these opportunities that we get every day and taking advantage of them,” Zaire said. “I’m thankful for that lesson, and I didn’t want to ruin it for this football team coming off the losses we have. It was important that we took advantage and did whatever it took to win. This team came together, and we got the job done.”