GLENDALE, Ariz. – A lot can change in a year. It was January 2021. Jack Coan, then quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers, was in Madison, Wisconsin, recovering from a broken foot injury and hunkering down in the cold northern winter. Just days into the 2021, Coan would announce his transfer to Notre Dame.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. Coan, having just led the Fighting Irish to an 11-1 regular season record, was suiting up for the 2022 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-2). This would be the first ever meeting of these two schools.
Coan and the Fighting Irish offense immediately went to work. On the first play of the game, Coan completed an easy first pass to wide receiver Chris Tyree for an immediate gain of 25 yards. On the very next play, he connected with wide receiver Kevin Austin for a gain of 15. Coan then went 29-yards deep to wide receiver Lorenzo Styles who secured the rock for the games first score. 7-0 Notre Dame after the extra point by kicker Jonathan Doerer. The drive, lasting all of 1 minute-39 seconds, included 5 plays totaling 75 yards. Not a bad way for Coan and the Fighting Irish to set the tone of the game.
The Notre Dame defense, allowing fewer than 20 points on average over the past four years, entered the game and took care of business early preventing the Cowboys from striking early, forcing three-and-outs on OSU’s first two possessions of the fight. Everything was firing on all cylinders for the Irish.
After minimal success with the run game, Coan went back to what worked and connected again with wide receiver Chris Tyree for a gain of 10. A few plays later and they did it again, this time a 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyree who ran it straight into the end zone completely untouched. Another beautiful drive for Coan and the Irish – 4 plays, 66 yards, and a score of 14-zip with 7:05 still remaining in the first quarter.
It was starting to look like Chutti, the rhino at the Phoenix Zoo who had predicted Notre Dame to win, was spot on.
With Notre Dame rolling early, the Oklahoma State offense had seen enough and quickly answered. Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders worked the hurry-up offense to perfection. First, connecting with wide receiver Jaylen Warren for a 13-yard gain. Running back LD Brown got in the mix, carrying the rock 22-yards and placing the Cowboys into Notre Dame territory for the first time. Spencer would eventually connect with wide receiver Jaden Bray on a 9-yard touchdown pass and OSU would cut the lead 14-7.
The offensive success for Oklahoma State ignited the Cowboys defense. After a few critical adjustments, OSU found a way to shut down Coan and the hot Irish offense causing them to go 3 and out after a sack for loss on their next drive. This would be the start of something for Oklahoma State. 14-7 Notre Dame at the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Coan went right back to what had been working – full on aerial attack. He paired up with wide receivers Braden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles marching the Fighting Irish offense down the field. And then it was back to Chris Tyree for large yardage pick-ups. Tyree would finish the day with 115 yards and 1 touchdown. With negative 3 yards rushing, it was back to the air raid with a 16-yard pass to tight end Michael Mayer, who reached for the pylon and added another 6 to the board for Notre Dame. Jonathan Doerer completed the point-after, his third of the game. 21-7 Notre Dame with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
The Cowboys found themselves faced with a fourth and 12 situation at the Notre Dame 38 in the middle of the second. The 48-yard field goal attempt by Tanner Brown was wide right.
Just prior to the break, Coan went back to the passing game, this time connecting with Styles and Mayer again and setting Notre Dame up for a 41-yard field goal attempt. However, like OSU, Notre Dame would miss the field goal wide right. While insignificant at the moment, this field goal would come back to haunt the Irish late in the game.
On the final drive of the half, it was Coan leading the way and tripling down on the passing game. With 1:16 left before the break, Coan connected on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Mayer, his second touchdown of the day. The scoring drive included 11 plays, 84-yards. Jonathan Doerer with the extra point.
The best part of college football is big players make big plays and that is exactly what Spencer Sanders did. With little time left in the half, Sanders immediately connected with wide-out Presley for gains of 13 and 41 yards, before scrambling himself to move the ball down field. Tay Martin then caught his first touchdown of the game, a 7-yard throw from Spencer. The drive took all of 39 seconds and included 4 plays over 75 yards. Tanner Brown added the extra point. 28-14 Notre Dame at the half.
The Fighting Irish finished the first half with an incredible 358 total yards, all but 16 yards were passing. Oklahoma State finished with 232 total yards at the half, an almost even mix of passing and rushing. While impressive passing results for Notre Dame, it’s tough to win college football games when you are one dimensional. It’s even more difficult when the one dimension you rely on suddenly disappears.
Having won the coin toss, Oklahoma State elected to receive the ball to commence the second half. Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys offense wasted no time stringing together a 12-play, 87-yard drive, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tay Martin. After the Tanner Brown extra point, 28-21 Notre Dame, but the momentum was starting to shift.
It was time for the Cowboys defense to make a statement and Head Coach Mike Gundy could not have asked for a better response. Stopping Jack Coan and the aerial attack would be key to victory. Not certain what was said at halftime, but the OSU defense brought it in the second half, holding Notre Dame to half as many passing yards (167) as the first half and only 26 rushing yards.
Spencer Sanders continued to take full control of the game piecing together a 10-play, 89-yard drive and finishing it off with an 8-yard pass to Tay Martin, his third touchdown of the game. Tie ballgame with minutes left in the third. With three touchdown receptions, Martin tied a Fiesta Bowl record for touchdown receptions.
The OSU defense would continue to stop Coan and the Notre Dame offense, forcing them to go three-and-out again, including another sack, Coan’s second of the game. With the score tied, would the comeback story be about Jack Coan leaving Wisconsin and a year later winning the Fiesta Bowl for the Fighting Irish or could Oklahoma State find a way to crawl back from a first quarter deficit and win it in the final two quarters?
With minutes to go in the third, Sanders led the OSU offense into Notre Dame territory and Tanner Brown kicked a 38-yard field goal. Oklahoma State now leading for the first time, 31-28. The Cowboys would finish the third with 200 yards of offense while Notre Dame was held to just 52 yards. This would prove to be a pivotal game-changing quarter for the game.
Early in the fourth, the Fighting Irish tried hard to recapture their first quarter magic, but the solid OSU defense was having none of it. After several incomplete passes, Coan connected with RB Logan Diggs, who ran 3-yards, but then fumbled the ball giving possession back to OSU.
Sanders and the OSU offense continued to make plays and the Cowboy defense contained Notre Dame. Square in Irish territory, Sanders completed a pass to Brennan Presley for a 21-yard pickup. Presley would later run 5-yards for what seemed like a sure touchdown, but fumbled himself at the 1-yard line, thanks to a great defensive play by Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser.
With State Farm Stadium starting to sound like a Saturday afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, the OSU offense clearly feeding off the energy. Kicker Tanner Brown expanded the lead with another field goal of his own. Brown would kick a third FG later in the 4th to expand the OSU lead 37-28.
With the running game essentially dead, Coan continued to throw and completed passes of 16 and 10 yard pickups, but just as things were moving in the right direction, OSU linebacker Malcom Rodriquez spoiled the party intercepting Coan at the OSU 29-yard line. The Irish would score no points in the third and struggle until late in the fourth to put points on the board. Coan connected with WR Austin for 25-yard touchdown with 1:11 left in the contest, but it was too little – too late.
In the end, OSU was relentless in their attack on both sides of the ball. And while Notre Dame came out strong early, credit Head Coach Mike Gundy and his staff for making the adjustments at half and limiting Notre Dame’s ability to score the entire second half. Offensively, Spencer Sanders could just simply not be stopped finishing the game with 371 total yards, 125 of which were rushing yards, and leading Oklahoma State to their third Fiesta Bowl championship.
In the post-game press conference, Gundy commented, “This is clearly the biggest win in the history of the school. You’re in a New Year’s Day bowl. You’re playing Notre Dame. Biggest comeback in the school history…The biggest win in the history of the school.”
Oklahoma State Stat Round-Up:
- Net total yards of offense: 605
- QB Spencer Sanders: 34 for 51, 371 total yards, 125 yards rushing, 4 touchdown passes
- WR Tay Martin: 3 touchdowns and 104 total receiving yards
- WR Brennan Presley: 137 receiving yards
- Kicker Tanner Brown was 3 for 4 on field goals
- LB Malcolm Rodriquez with 1 interception
Notre Dame Stat Round-Up
- QB Jack Coan: 38 for 68, 509 total yards, 5 touchdown passes
- WR Chris Tyree: 115 receiving yards, 1 touchdown
- WR Styles, 136 yards, 1 touchdown
- TE Michael Mayer: 72 yards, 2 touchdowns