Brad Kaaya and his Miami Hurricanes found their offense in the second half Saturday against Notre Dame.
But the Fighting Irish had one last answer.
Irish kicker Justin Yoon hit a 23-yard field goal with 30 seconds left to lift Notre Dame to a 30-27 win and hand UM its fourth consecutive loss in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Hurricanes (4-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), whose offense once again was manhandled at the line of scrimmage and looked absolutely lost in the first half, had not lost four in a row since the end of 2014.
Notre Dame (3-5) won a game it desperately needed.
“You can look in a group of guys’ eyes and see if they’re going to pack their bags,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said, “and that wasn’t it. We lost four in a row. … We haven’t lost our fight.”
Down 20-0 late in the second quarter and looking worse than they had all season, the Hurricanes scored 27 unanswered points — capped by a special teams touchdown on a botched play by Notre Dame with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Sanders of Notre Dame attempted to field Justin Vogel’s punt and bobbled it into the end zone, where UM sophomore cornerback Michael Jackson fell on the ball for a Miami touchdown to make it 27-20 for UM’s only lead of the game.
Notre Dame came roaring back 56 seconds later to score on a 41-yard rush by Josh Adams that capped a four-play, 75-yard drive and tied the score at 27.
The Irish got the ball back with 4:43 left after UM failed to go very far, and drove down to the Miami 7-yard line. Then, UM linebacker C.J. Perry forced tight end Durham Smythe to fumble into a group of Hurricanes, but Miami safety Jamal Carter — despite falling on the bouncing ball — couldn’t keep it in his grasp.
“It was a tight end screen,’’ UM linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “He caught the ball, it looks like he’s about to get in the end zone and somebody flies, the ball is out, you see J-Rock hop on the ball and you then you see everybody surround him. As people were coming off, they said it was Notre Dame ball.
“Every loss is a tough loss. The objective is to win. We’ve been taking a couple underneath the chin.’’
After the field goal, UM got the ball back with 30 seconds left. The Canes drove from the UM 25-yard line to the 47, hoping to eventually get the ball to the Irish 40 to give Michael Badgley a shot at a 57-yard field goal.
But Kaaya was sacked for the fifth time to end the game.
“It’s hard to turn it around when it starts like that, really hard to do, especially after you’ve lost three,’’ Richt said. “You’re looking around and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough.’ And that’s not what they did.
“That’s heart above everything.’’
Kaaya completed 26 of 42 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown, with an interception that led to a Notre Dame touchdown.
“Tough one,’’ Kaaya said. “The second half I think everyone just let it cut loose in all positions. The O-line played a little bit better in the second half. I think guys finally woke up.’’
The Hurricanes, who need two victories in the next four games to qualify for a bowl, meet Pittsburgh on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Win or lose, we’re going to stay together,’’ Kaaya said. “Hopefully, this thing turns soon.’’
Miami finished with 306 yards, once again struggling horribly on the ground with a mere 18 yards rushing. That number includes the five sacks on Kaaya, which makes it 18 sacks since the losing streak began and 13 in the past two games.
Notre Dame was led by quarterback DeShone Kizer’s 263 passing yards and two touchdowns, and Josh Adams’ 94 yards rushing, for 411 total yards.
Kizer was sacked once.
Before the game, ESPN “College GameDay” analyst Desmond Howard said he expected a “pillow fight’’ between the Irish and Hurricanes.
Someone forgot to fill Miami’s pillows in the first half.
This is how bad it was early in the game for Miami: At the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame had 143 total yards and averaged 6.2 yards a play, while Miami had 2 yards and averaged 0.2 yards a play.
The Irish had eight first downs. The Hurricanes? None.
In the first half alone, Notre Dame sacked Kaaya three times — half its season total entering the game.
The two teams meet again on Nov. 11, 2017, at Hard Rock Stadium.