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Bauer locked in for 2020 success

| Friday, October 30, 2020

Bo Bauer back pedaled at full speed, creeping left, eyes glued to the quarterback. As the ball left Pittsburgh quarterback Joey Yellen’s hands, Bauer was airborne, fully extending his body to snag the pigskin as it flew directly towards his outstretched arms. Returning to the ground with the ball in his hands, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker took off, sprinting down a right-sideline for 16 yards until sliding to a stop. Bauer leapt back up, hands in the air, literally jumping for joy as he and his teammates celebrated, making their way to the sideline. He had just recorded the first interception of his college career.

The resulting Irish possession converted for a touchdown, opening the Notre Dame lead to 21-3 over the Panthers. Though the play was a critical read from Bauer, the linebacker was quick to downplay his own role, spreading the credit for the interception across the entire defensive unit.

“I just ended up being the right position,” he said. “But we had a lot of guys on the field doing the right jobs: they were covering up people, covering up the quarterbacks first looks. The D-lineman put him in a stressful situation to make that choice, and I just happened to be on the receiving end of the interception.”

But Bauer’s teammates seemed to understand how important the play was for the junior, celebrating with almost as much gusto on the sidelines.

“It made me really happy to see my teammates be that happy for me, and they support me through my ups and downs,” Bauer said. “And throughout my time here, it hasn’t been a very straight path. There’s been some ups and downs. But to get to the point where I had a little success like that and to see them celebrate it for me? It really meant the world to me.”

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Junior linebacker Bo Bauer celebrates with teammates after his interception against Pitt.

The interception wasn’t Bauer’s only key moment of the day. He also recorded an early-game quarterback hurry on third down that lead to a Pitt punt, in addition to an assist on a tackle.

Through the 2020 season, Bauer has recorded 14 total tackles, a sack and an interception, the first of his career in the latter two categories. He has appeared in all five of Notre Dame’s games. However, against intuition, it’s been a decrease in intensity that has allowed him to reach his peak.

“I sat down with Coach Lea and we talked about intensity level, and people perform at their maximum performance at different levels,” Bauer said. “I always strive to be 11 on the 10 scale, and I’ve since backed that down to three or four which has allowed me to really breathe and focus on the things I need to and not be so all over the place all the time.”

The transition was against Bauer’s instinct too, but his trust in the coaching staff allowed him to finally find his stride.

“It was a long, hard-fought battle,” he said. “At first, I tried to fight Coach Lea on it. I didn’t like it. I always liked to be the highest sprung, wound guy, but just over probably about a year and a half … [I’ve moved] into this role and found myself naturally performing at my best there. And I never looked back. I just feel like it’s more natural — it’s never any fake. So, I just found success there. And it wasn’t a smooth path.”

Bauer went on to say that the defense as a whole unit has become more natural too, as Lea has increased emphasis on a simplified scheme.

“Coach Lea has done a great job of stepping back and realizing that he wants us to play with instinct,” Bauer said. “He always tells us instead of trying to get the perfect defense, the perfect call every single snap, he wants to get us in the call that he knows we can have success in and then just go play football. He’s really just changing the willingness to have fun all the time. He’s promoting us to play fast, physical and free — to our best. It really is a big difference, allowing us to go play instead of having to think about everything all the time.”

Brian Kelly doubled down on Lea’s call to play freely, encouraging his guys to prepare for championship-caliber play in the coming weeks. Bauer, cognizant of the importance of both the micro and macro perspectives, echoed Kelly’s sentiments.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back, and remember where you’re headed, because if you’re always under a microscope, you can’t really see the big picture,” he said. “So together it’s just really helped us focus on our long-term goals, while not forgetting that being in the moment is key in our success.”

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