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Coolican: Win over UNC must serve as turning point for Irish offense

Before kick-off Saturday in Chapel Hill, I noted that if Drew Pyne and the Irish offense were unable to get it going against the North Carolina defense, I wasn’t sure they would be able to do so against anybody. The Tar Heels came into the contest allowing opponents an average of 468 yards per game, so it was the perfect opportunity for the Irish to turn things around offensively.

Drew Pyne & Co. did that, and then some. After two unsuccessful drives, the Irish offense was absolutely dominant for the remainder of the game. The Irish rattled off six consecutive scoring drives and only punted once. It was an offensive masterclass in every facet of the game. The Irish rushed for 287 yards and passed for 289. 

North Carolina does have one of the worst defenses in college football, and that was on full display Saturday afternoon. But that shouldn’t take away from what the Irish were able to do offensively. 

“It’s what you hope Notre Dame football is going to be about,” head coach Marcus Freeman said after the game. “That you’re going to have an O-line that can run the ball…to be able to run the ball at will for four or five yards, that’s something that you have to be able to do.”

Notre Dame certainly showed what they are about on Saturday. The talented trio of running backs, junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, each had more than 100 total yards. 

After a shaky first drive, junior quarterback Drew Pyne looked increasingly confident as the game progressed. He played largely mistake-free football and consistently found open receivers downfield. Establishing the run early allowed for the offense to open up a vertical dimension that the Irish hadn’t shown previously. 

The play calling has been much maligned to start the season, and until Saturday, it appeared Notre Dame would be extremely limited offensively with Pyne under center. 

“I try to tell the team all the time. When things go bad, it’s bad play-calling. When things go well, it’s great play-calling. That’s the reality of things,” Freeman said. “I believe in the game Tommy Rees has called from Ohio State to Marshall to Cal to now. We were able to execute better.”

Pyne agreed with this confidence and sang the offensive coordinator’s praises in the post-game press conference.

“I think Coach Rees called an unbelievable game. He puts me in a position to go out there and just succeed and do my job and execute,” Pyne said. “I can’t tell you how many times I ran over to the phone and said, ‘Coach Rees, that was all you.’” 

All of this is well and good, but only if this game serves as a turning point for the Irish offense. Notre Dame must be able to build on this momentum as they approach the midway point of the season, with many of their toughest opponents still to come. 

The game was clearly an inflection point for Notre Dame; either they would drop to 1-3 and begin to cast doubts about whether the team would even be bowl eligible, or they would win their second game in a row heading into a bye week and the upcoming showdown with BYU. 

The Irish went out there and responded to this pressure in a big way. When this season is over, however, the win over UNC won’t be the first game that comes to mind. It will be the battles with BYU, Clemson, USC, and, unfortunately, the upset loss to Marshall. The Irish have to carry this momentum forward into these big showdowns.

Notre Dame is clearly getting better each week, but that will have to continue. What was most impressive about the win Saturday wasn’t the play-calling, the performance of the running backs or the offensive line, or Pyne’s play. It was the consistency. 

North Carolina quickly took a 7-0 lead on their first possession and then forced a three-and-out. Based on the first three weeks of the season, one might have expected the Irish offense to be completely demoralized, but instead, they bounced right back and put themselves in scoring position for every single drive for the rest of the game. 

A missed 44-yard field goal on their second drive of the game preceded six consecutive scoring drives, five of which were touchdowns. The Irish failed to convert on a 4th and 1 from the UNC 25 before another touchdown, and finally a fumble into the endzone. For those keeping track, that is 10 consecutive drives that finished inside the UNC 26 yard line. The Irish were moving the ball at will down the field practically all game. 

Notre Dame will certainly hope this game serves as a turning point for an offense that was at times painful to watch through the first three games of the season. North Carolina didn’t offer much in the way of resistance, but it was undoubtedly the best the Irish have looked all season. However, they’ll still need to prove it against better defensive opponents, and BYU is the perfect place to do so. 

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Estime talks brotherhood and ‘keeping the chains moving’ following first win of the season

Notre Dame finally notched a win Saturday against the California Golden Bears — in no small part due to the running back corps. After struggling to get the run game going in the first two games of the season, the Irish notched 147 rushing yards split between three players. One of them was sophomore running back Audric Estime, who led the rushing category with 76 yards (51.7%).

“It was really rewarding just busting our tails off during the week, having a tough week,” he said. “We got the win, so it’s definitely a satisfying feeling, but there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Thanks to the offensive line — which posted a stellar day compared to their earlier performances — the running backs were able to find the lanes through the defense that they had struggled to execute previously. Estime noted that the position group’s goal coming into the game was to “run the ball, be dominant.” For Estime, this came to fruition most notably in a series of rushes that got him and his team a touchdown. 

In this scoring drive, Estime totaled 30 yards, nearly 40% of his total yardage on the day. Quarterback Drew Pyne noted that at the end of the drive, the offense ran the same play four times in a row to get Estime in the end zone. When asked about his thoughts on this fact, Estime said the team should simply keep doing what works.

“Just don’t stop, you keep on doing things that work,” he said. “And that play was working, and we just had the momentum. And the O-line were just pushing guys off the line and were just opening up holes for me, and we just executed and finished that drive.”

Pyne said that if he gives the ball to Estime, the running back falls forward. Estime said that his mentality is to just keep going, no matter how many yards he receives. His goal was just to move forward in whatever way he could.

“I just pride myself that no matter what, I’m always gonna go forward, get as many yards as I can, because that’s what keeps a drive going, keeps the chain moving,” he said. “No matter what, I got to try to get positive yards, no matter what.”

Head coach Marcus Freeman said that sophomore running back Logan Diggs had missed practice on Thursday due to an illness, which put more emphasis on Estime and junior running back Chris Tyree. Estime said this did not change his mindset heading into Saturday.

“I just had to do my job,” he said. “We just knew that we had a bigger load with Logan not playing. That’s something that we’re ready for, and we’re prepared for, and we just handled it.”

Estime said that the running backs had a goal to have a “breakout game” for all of them and get more than 100 combined yards; he and Tyree were able to do so, which he described as a “surreal moment.”

“Just being able to do that, fulfill a goal that you set with your brothers, is a surreal moment,” he said. “And there’s a lot more for this running back group with me, Chris and Logan.”

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Key moments from Notre Dame’s first win in the Freeman era

Slow start for both teams

The game started slowly with seven consecutive three-and-out possessions for the Notre Dame and Cal offenses. For the Irish, this meant 10 total yards in their opening four possessions. For the Golden Bears, it was 14 yards through their first three.

On their fourth possession, Cal was finally able to get something going. They put together an 11-play, 58-yard drive punctuated by a 17-yard throw and catch to convert on third down. However, they stalled at the 27-yard line and sent out the field goal unit. Cal kicker Dario Longhetto promptly doinked the 45-yard attempt off the left upright and the game remained tied at zero.

Pyne fumbles, Cal takes advantage

After escaping unscathed following Cal’s missed field goal, Notre Dame took over at their own 27, still without a first down. Pyne connected with Lorenzo Styles Jr. to open the drive and the first quarter came to an end.

But on the first play of the second quarter, Pyne couldn’t get a handle on Zeke Correll’s snap and fumbled it, with Cal linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo recovering. The turnover gave Cal excellent field position and, four plays later, they scored the game’s opening touchdown and took a 7-0 lead.

Notre Dame replies as Chris Tyree takes over

With 16 total yards, zero first downs and a seven-point deficit to make up, Notre Dame turned to junior running back Chris Tyree, and he answered the bell. Notre Dame put together a 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive where Tyree accounted for 44 of the team’s 60 yards, plus a 16-yard kickoff return before the drive began.

This included the 21-yard touchdown reception where Tyree got open out of the backfield and scored untouched. The score came after Notre Dame was bailed out by an offside penalty on Blake Grupe’s missed 45-yard field goal attempt.

The Golden Bears offense were able to move the ball well again before stalling on third and goal, where an excellent open-field tackle from DJ Brown kept Cal out of the end zone. Regardless, a 34-yard field goal made it 10-7 before the half.

Estime scores, Plummer matches him

Notre Dame’s defense forced a quick three and out to start the third quarter, and Pyne and the offense got back to work.

This time, it was Audric Estime who handled the ball often and a 14-yard carry quickly got the offense into Cal territory. They stalled at the 28, though, where a Drew Pyne incompletion seemed to force a field goal attempt. However, the flags came flying, and Cal linebacker Blake Antzoulatos was called for targeting and ejected from the game. The call gave the Irish 15 yards and a first down.

From there, Estime carried the ball four straight times until he dove over the goal line to give Notre Dame a 14-10 lead.

Cal replied with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead. The Irish seemed to have got the stop on third and goal but with the ball inches short, Cal went for it, and Jack Plummer was able to score on the QB sneak and make it 17-14.

Notre Dame ties it then takes the lead in fourth quarter

On the following drive, the Notre Dame offense got going again. It included a big 19-yard completion from Pyne to Styles for a first down. However, after a few touches for Tyree and an incompletion, the drive stalled. Grupe came out and nailed a 47-yard field goal to tie the game.

The defense then came up huge with Jacob Lacey sacking Plummer for the second time in the game. That play led to another three-and-out for the Golden Bears who punted it back to Notre Dame.

Back on the field, the Notre Dame offense kept their momentum and scored for a third consecutive drive. This time it was set up by a 36-yard completion to Estime, who got inside the 10 on the play. From there, Pyne found Michael Mayer on the slant route to give Notre Dame the 24-17 lead.

 Defense steps up late

With a one-score lead, the onus now fell on the Irish defense to step up late in the game. Fourth quarter execution had been an issue for the Notre Dame defense in the first two games, but you wouldn’t know it watching them on Saturday.

With the ball back in Plummer’s hands, Notre Dame needed a stop to take control in the contest, and that’s exactly what they got. After giving up a conversion on fourth and eight that made Irish fans think “here we go again,” the defense were able to force a turnover on downs. After three consecutive incompletions, Isaiah Foskey got home and sacked Plummer for a loss of eight yards and a turnover on downs. 

After a short Irish possession, a Jon Sot punt pinned the Golden Bears inside the 10 and it was the same story as the previous drive: two Plummer incompletions before he was sacked. This time it was Jayson Ademilola and Foskey who combined to force the punt from Cal. 

After a little clock management from the offense and a Sot touchback, it was all on the defense once again. This time, it seemed it might only take one play. Plummer dropped back to pass and threw the ball straight at Clarence Lewis, who intercepted to seemingly seal the win. However, under further review, the interception was overturned, and Notre Dame captain linebacker JD Bertrand was ejected for targeting. The penalty means that Bertrand will miss the next game against North Carolina. 

It also meant that Cal’s drive was alive. After some progress down the field, it seemed once again that the Irish might’ve sealed it with a turnover. This time, Justin Ademilola got some pressure on Plummer, who fumbled the ball. Ta’riq Bracy recovered and scored on the play, sending Notre Dame Stadium into delirium. 

Once again, the turnover was negated upon further review. This time, the referees ruled that Plummer was down by contact, meaning the play resulted in a six-yard sack for Justin Ademilola instead. With one final play, Plummer threw a hail mary to the goal line, which was juggled between several players until it hit the turf. Finally, the Irish could celebrate. 

FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 24, California 17

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Notre Dame’s keys to victory against Cal

Marcus Freeman is still searching for his first win as a head coach, after starting his career off 0-3. Prior to the season, many predicted that this weekend’s matchup would be a walk in the park for the Irish. But the season has not gone as planned for anyone in South Bend.

Oddsmakers, however, still believe in the Irish, as they are currently listed as 11-point favorites heading into the contest. Notre Dame will certainly have to make some adjustments if they hope to get the victory Saturday afternoon. Here are three keys to victory.

Get Tyree the ball

One of Notre Dame’s most dynamic offensive threats has been largely absent from their game plan thus far. Star junior running back Chris Tyree has gotten just 12 touches for 65 total yards through the team’s first two games. In the defeat against Marshall, he carried the ball just three times.

By comparison, sophomore running Audric Estime has 10 carries, while sophomore Logan Diggs has seven. Estime and Diggs are certainly talented, but they are averaging just 2.8 and 1.5 yards per carry on the year, respectively. While Tyree only has nine carries on the season, he is averaging an impressive five yards per attempt. 

Tyree is also known to be a threat in the passing game. However, he has caught just three passes so far. Getting Tyree touches will be especially important in this game as the offense will still be adjusting to a new quarterback under center. Establishing the running game will be important. But neither Diggs nor Estime have been overly impressive.

Tyree has certainly done enough to have earned the feature back role. If Freeman hopes to get his first win Saturday, he should make sure the ball is in Tyree’s hands early and often.

Limit the Bears’ Passing Attack

Irish fans might be familiar with Golden Bears’ quarterback Jack Plummer, who transferred from Purdue this offseason. Notre Dame handled the Boilermakers 27-13 at home last year. But Plummer played well. Although he didn’t put up spectacular numbers, Plummer completed a solid 25 of 36 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.

Plummer has looked solid so far in his new uniform. He threw for 278 yards in Cal’s victory over UNLV last week, and 268 yards and three touchdowns the week prior against UC Davis. As a team, the Bears have rushed for just 119.5 yards per game against mediocre competition. So the Irish would do well to limit Plummer and force the Bears to beat them on the ground.

This might be a favorable matchup for Notre Dame, as the Irish secondary has been a bright spot so far this year. Against Ohio State, they held star quarterback C.J. Stroud, who many predicted to be a Heisman contender, to 223 yards through the air. For reference, Stroud averaged nearly 370 yards per game in 2021. Meanwhile, the Irish held the Thundering Herd to under 150 yards passing last week. If they can continue this trend on Saturday, Notre Dame will put themselves in a good position to walk away with the victory. 

Win the turnover battle 

This one’s pretty simple. One of the main reasons why Notre Dame was competitive against Ohio State was because they took care of the football. Against Marshall, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner tossed two interceptions, including a late pick-six which seemed to kill any energy that was left in Notre Dame Stadium. To make matters worse, junior quarterback Drew Pyne came in and immediately threw an interception of his own.

Notre Dame hasn’t been getting any extra possessions on the defensive side, either. According to Pete Sampson of The Athletic, Notre Dame is one of just eight teams that has yet to force a turnover. A year ago, the Irish finished top-20 in the nation with a turnover margin of plus-9.

It’s not a promising trend, and it’s one the Irish will likely have to reverse if they hope to get their first win of the year. The Golden Bears have turned the ball over three times this year but have also forced three turnovers on defense. Notre Dame must be able to take care of the football on offense and force Plummer into mistakes. 

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Moller: Freeman Era teetering on brink of disaster

It’s hard to believe that just last week, there were many Notre Dame fans across the country expecting the Irish to finish the season 11-1 after a hard-fought loss to Ohio State in the opening week of the season. Fast forward a week and the narrative is completely different following a stunning Irish defeat to the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Being a lifelong Notre Dame football fan, I have faced plenty of lows. USC’s reign of terror over the Irish during the Charlie Weis era. A 3-9 season in 2007. The national championship blowout loss to Alabama in 2013. A 4-8 season in 2016. And of course, the pair of recent CFP losses.

Despite all of those painful memories, this might be an all-time low for me. That Marshall game will forever be burned into my head as I sat in the student section in utter disbelief. Notre Dame usually finds a way to win games like that one. But that just wasn’t the case last Saturday. I had never left a Notre Dame football game early. But I did on Saturday after the Drew Pyne interception because I didn’t want to waste more time on a team that had looked lackluster and effortless all day.

Last December, when Marcus Freeman was announced as head coach, I had full faith in Freeman. I truly believed that he would be the coach to finally get the Irish to a national title. After a stunning 0-3 start to the Freeman Era, I am now beyond skeptical.

In each of Freeman’s three losses, the Irish have led in the second half and have looked like the better team in parts of each game. And just like clockwork in all three of the games, the team utterly collapses, forgets how to play defense in the fourth quarter and fails to execute late in the game. It’s one thing to have less talent than the other team and be outplayed. But that hasn’t really been the case in any of the three losses. In each of those games (yes, even Ohio State), the Irish proved they had the talent to go toe-to-toe with their opponent and win the game.

Ultimately, those close losses come down to one thing: coaching. The Irish have been out-coached in each of the three losses, and ultimately, that has been the difference. I could point fingers at offensive coordinator Tommy Rees as well, but I think the problem has been bigger than him so far. This is, after all, the Freeman Era. This is Coach Freeman’s football team. There has to be some sense of urgency in this football program, and I don’t get the sense there is right now. A loss to Marshall should be a big deal. But it seems like the fanbase and media are waving if off like everything is going to be alright.

Freeman said after the loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game that the “honeymoon phase is over.” After the atrocious beginning to this season, the relationship is even more than post-honeymoon strained now. Freeman must do everything in his power to right the sinking ship that is Notre Dame this season. Even though the Irish will be playing mostly for pride here on out, Freeman has to energize his team and get them back to playing Notre Dame football.

I haven’t given up on Freeman this yet. But I am angry, confused and anxious. The recruiting has been great under Freeman, and I still believe Freeman can be a great head coach at Notre Dame. But I need to see something from him this year that proves that to me.

For that reason, this weekend at Cal is a must-win game for Coach Freeman. Another loss at home to a sub-par opponent will raise even more doubts about Freeman and could send this season into free-fall — if it isn’t already.

So, what do the Irish need to do to get into the win column? Losing sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner to a season ending injury certainly isn’t going to help, but hopefully the team can rally around Drew Pyne. If Pyne is going to be successful, though, the offensive line has to improve drastically. The Irish have failed to establish a run game in both games this season. And that, in turn, has made it difficult to find consistency in the passing game. The Irish should have three solid backs in junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Now is the time to get those three going offensively.

Aside from the offensive line, the Irish need to take care of the football. They didn’t do that at the end of the Marshall game, and it arguably made the difference. The Irish might find themselves in a lot of low scoring games and handing the opposing team good field position will cost the Irish greatly.

The defense has not been the issue this season. But they have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, recording only three sacks this season. Senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey has been relatively quiet for the Irish this season. He needs to energize the Irish front seven going forward and generate some turnovers to help out a struggling Irish offense.

Let’s take a quick detour and look back to 2011, the last time the Irish started 0-2. Last week was not the first time the Irish suffered a horrible loss in the home opener. In fact, in Brian Kelly’s second season as head coach, the Irish lost the home opener to South Florida — a game I was actually at as an excited ten-year old Notre Dame fanatic. Despite the loss, the Irish managed to finish a respectable 8-5 and beat some quality opponents. The following season, the Irish completed a perfect 12-0 regular season.

I see plenty of parallels between last week’s Marshall game and the South Florida game. And if the Irish can clean up a couple of the things I mentioned, there’s no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame can get some wins this year and build confidence into next season.

These next few weeks are crucial, though. The Freeman Era is currently teetering on the brink of disaster and how this football team finishes out this year will be pivotal in Marcus Freeman developing himself as a legitimate head football coach. Marcus Freeman, I am rooting for you. But it’s time to win some football games. If these losses keep cascading into more defeats, the Freeman Era might burn out as quickly as it took over.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu

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DeFazio: The unsung hero of Columbus

“There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

As head coach Marcus Freeman himself said, Saturday night was no moral victory for Notre Dame. No matter how long the Irish kept the Buckeyes at bay, according to the scoreboard, the Irish lost. Plain and simple. Those three points that edged the team ahead until the end of the third do not matter when that final score reads 10-21.

“We didn’t win.”

However, this sentiment does not mean that the season opener was meaningless. Yes, Freeman and his team learned that they needed to execute late in the game. Just like the 2022 Fiesta Bowl, the Irish fell apart in the third quarter, rendering them unable to turn the game back around in the end. Notre Dame learned this, but I learned something else watching them on that field Saturday night: the Irish have an unsung hero in their ranks. And that hero is sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s passing game.

Buchner is known for being a runner. In his debut season, he recorded 336 rushing yards without playing every game in full. Yet in Columbus, it was his arm that pushed the Irish cause forward. His 18 rushing yards pale in comparison to the 177 he gained from passing.

He started the match with a bullet of a 54-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles, Jr., initiating a drive that would make Notre Dame first on the board. But even then, every successive play of that sequence was a rush, ending with the need to call in the field goal unit as opposed to racing for the end zone. Despite the strong opening play and the three points that eventually came from it, it is this scoring drive that is the true testament to what this offense could be should Buchner be allowed to utilize his passing game in a greater capacity.

The momentum for the offense came when Buchner connected with graduate student wide receiver Matt Salerno for a highlight reel catch. This play was quickly followed by a 22-yard pass to junior tight end Kevin Bauman, which was paired with a rush by Chris Tyree–a new role for the running back, and perhaps one with untapped potential–and another pass to Michael Mayer to put the Irish at the one. From there, sophomore running back Audric Estime rose over the throng to plow ahead that final yard into the end zone, putting Notre Dame in the lead they would maintain until the end of the third quarter. Based solely on the number of yards for each play of that drive, it was not the rushing game that put the Irish in a scoring position, but big passes from Buchner that enabled the touchdown.

Buchner may be a runner, but his showing at OSU demonstrated he should not be limited to that facet of his game. Sometimes, it just makes sense to plant your feet and throw as opposed to scrambling around the defenders; and clearly, Buchner has the talent to not put those passes to waste.

That is not to say that Buchner should completely neglect his run game. On the contrary, his speed is useful in the quarterback position and can be employed when need be. Instead, the Irish should not be afraid to experiment. 

Attempting to plow through the defensive line only got the team so far. Rushing yards only accounted for 30% of the total yardage on the night, and yet run plays were the ones most consistently called. And as a third down efficiency of 23.1% can speak to, the Irish need to tweak the offensive game plan.

The Irish should focus on developing a choreography of passes and runs. They need to use every tool they have in their arsenal as opposed to consistently rushing the field. Doing so would keep the defense on their toes and would maximize every asset of the Irish offense.

Use Buchner’s pass game. Use Tyree and his speed at receiver instead of running back. Try it out, and see what happens. There may be no moral victories for the Irish, but these changes could lead to plenty of true ones in the future.

Emily DeFazio

Contact Emily at edefazio@nd.edu

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Irish fail to execute late, fall to Buckeyes in season opener

The fifth-ranked Irish battled hard in the season opener against the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, but Notre Dame failed to score in the second half and Ohio State battled back to secure a 21-10 victory on Saturday night in Columbus.

The Irish started off the night in a big way with a 54-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles down the sideline. An Ohio State penalty set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 16-yard line, but the Irish drive faltered after three straight running plays. The Irish managed to get on the board, though, with graduate student kicker Blake Grupe nailing a 33-yard field goal to give the Irish an early lead.

After stopping the Buckeyes at midfield on their opening drive, the Irish got the ball back at their own five-yard line. They got backed up even more, though, after a two-yard loss from sophomore running back Audric Estime and a false start penalty. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner managed to give the Irish some breathing room on second down, but the Irish failed to convert on the third and were forced to punt.

On the ensuing drive, a pass interference penalty for senior cornerback Cam Hart set the Buckeyes up at the Irish 35-yard line. A few plays later, Buckeyes’ quarterback C.J. Stroud found wide receiver Emeka Egbuka on a pass to the flat, who eluded the Irish defense to score the game’s first touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 7-3 lead with just over five minutes to play in the first quarter.

A few possessions later, the Irish put together their most impressive drive of the game. A circus catch from graduate student wide receiver Matt Salerno on a third and short kickstarted the drive and set the Irish up in Buckeye territory. The terrific catch put the Irish in great shape and earned Buchner’s praise after the game.

“He’s one of our best receivers and he made a huge play,” Buchner said. “And I was thankful that he came down with it.”

The Irish continued to move the ball after Salerno’s catch with Buchner, finding junior tight Kevin Bauman on the ensuing play to set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line. After two run plays, the Irish converted another big third down on a pass to junior tight end Michael Mayer to set up a first and goal from the one-yard line. After an Ohio State timeout, Estime leaped over the pile to score the first touchdown of the season for Notre Dame and give the Irish a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

After a few empty possessions for both teams, Ohio State wasted no time moving the ball down the field on their final drive of the first half. C.J. Stroud got the drive going, completing pass after pass to get the Buckeyes into Irish territory. Running back TreVeyon Henderson had an impressive 16-yard run as well to set the Buckeyes up at the Irish 25-yard line. The Buckeyes’ drive stalled a few plays later, however, and a missed 39-yard field goal allowed the Irish to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

Ohio State’s frustration on offense continued to build at the start of the second half after the Buckeyes went three and out on their opening drive. They also failed to score on their second drive of the half, as well.

The Irish offense couldn’t capitalize on their first two possessions, though, allowing the Buckeyes to stay within three. Head coach Marcus Freeman acknowledged that his team’s strategy was to limit the Buckeyes’ possessions and milk the clock as much as possible offensively.

“We wanted to control the clock, limit their offensive possessions, and run the football,” Freeman said. “It was a 10-7 game until seconds left in the third quarter, so we knew we weren’t going to try to outscore them.”

But a turning point came late in the third quarter when the Buckeyes marched down the field for a 70-yard touchdown drive. Stroud started the drive off by showing off his play-making abilities on the opening play, eluding multiple pass rushers and then finding Emeka Egbuka for a 16-yard completion on the run. After a false start penalty, Stroud then found wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. on the following play for another 11 yards.

Set up at the Irish 48-yard line, the Buckeyes continued to move deeper into Irish territory. A personal foul call backed the Buckeyes up into a second and long situation. However, the Buckeyes overcame the penalty. Stroud found wide receiver Xavier Johnson down the middle for a go-ahead 24-yard touchdown pass.

The Irish desperately needed an answer on the ensuing drive, and it looked like they were off to a good start, as Buchner found graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy for a 32-yard play to open the drive. On the following play, junior running back Chris Tyree ran for 14 yards to set the Irish up at the Ohio State 41-yard line. But a crucial offensive pass interference call against Salerno backed the Irish up, eventually forcing Notre Dame to punt.

After getting the ball back, the Buckeyes put the Irish away for good, courtesy of a 95-yard touchdown drive powered by the run game. Running back Miyan Williams carried the ball on the final five plays of the drive. His two-yard rushing touchdown with just under five minutes to play in the game all but solidified an Ohio State victory.

“They had four rushing big plays in the fourth quarter,” Freeman said. “That is a heartbreaker for a defense when you are giving up big plays to an offense that is running the ball. We have to be able to finish and execute.”

An Irish three and out on their next possession further cemented that reality. The Irish punted, and Ohio State ran the clock out to secure the season opening victory over Notre Dame. While the Irish fought hard, Freeman was ultimately disappointed in his team’s execution and inability to respond offensively late in the game.

“We didn’t finish the game. We didn’t execute,” Freeman said. “I think we learned that we have a good football team, but we have to learn how to finish. We battled for two and a half quarters, but then they scored 17 seconds before the end of the third quarter and we don’t respond. And then they go and score again in the fourth quarter, and that’s the game.”

The Irish will return to action in the home opener next week against Marshall, and Freeman is excited to get back to work and get the first win of the season next week.

“We have a lot to learn from this game,” Freeman said. “The beauty of this thing is we don’t have to wait 245 days. We have seven days for another opportunity, so we have to get back to work.”

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Key moments from season opener against Ohio State

The Irish went toe-to-toe with the Ohio State Buckeyes in their season opener on Saturday night in Columbus, but the Ohio State offense clicked late to secure a 21-10 victory. Let’s look at some of the key moments that dictated the course of the game and gave the Buckeyes a season-opening victory.

Irish open with huge play

The Irish started the opening drive of the game from their own 15-yard line, and this set the tone early for the Irish. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner had some pressure on the play, but he made a sensational pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. on the sideline. Styles then eluded multiple Buckeye defenders — gaining 54 yards and a penalty on the play — and set the Irish up at the Ohio State 16-yard line.

Although the Irish drive would stall moments later, the play set up a field goal from graduate student kicker Blake Grupe to give the Irish the first points of the game. It showed the Irish had the potential for a big play at any moment and that they weren’t going down without a fight in Columbus.

Salerno’s circus catch sets up first Irish touchdown of the season

Aside from the big play to open the game, the Irish struggled to move the ball with any authority throughout the beginning of the first quarter. That changed with the 87-yard drive that the Irish put together towards the end of the first quarter that was capped off by sophomore running back Audric Estime’s one-yard touchdown run at the beginning of the second.

Arguably the biggest play of the drive happened on a critical third and two when Buchner found graduate student Matt Salerno downfield for a sensational 31-yard reception. Salerno bobbled the ball twice with a defender all over him, and he managed to make a highlight-reel catch as he was falling to the ground.

Immediately following the catch, Buchner found tight end Kevin Bauman over the middle for a 22-yard reception that set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line. A couple plays later, Buchner found junior tight end Michael Mayer to convert on a huge third down to set the Irish up with first and goal from the one-yard line.

After a Buckeyes’ timeout, Estime leaped over the pile to score the first Irish touchdown of the game and give the Irish a 10-7 lead.

Buckeyes falter on final drive of first half

With the Irish holding a 10-7 lead with the first half winding down, the Buckeyes had one last chance to gain some momentum ahead of the second half. C.J. Stroud led the Buckeyes quickly into Irish territory, completing pass after pass. Running back TreVeyon Henderson then got the Buckeyes deeper into Irish territory with a sensational 16-yard run that pushed them down to the 25-yard line.

It looked like the Buckeyes were going to score a touchdown and grab a lead heading into the locker room, but the Irish defense held firm. With the Buckeyes facing a critical third down and six, Stroud threw a pass slightly behind wide receiver Emeka Egbuka. Egbuka nearly made a fantastic catch, but he was unable to hold on and the Buckeyes had to bring out the field goal unit on the fourth down.

With the Buckeyes desperately needing some points heading into the half, Noah Ruggles failed to convert for the Buckeyes, missing the 39-yard field goal. In what turned out to be a disappointing first half for the Buckeyes, the missed field goal deflated the crowd to some extent and allowed Notre Dame to maintain the lead into the locker room.

Buckeyes regain lead late in third quarter

With the Buckeyes struggling to get much going offensively in the second half, the 10-play, 70-yard drive at the end of the third quarter turned things around. The drive started off with Stroud showing off his play-making abilities, eluding multiple pass rushers in the back field. Stroud then found Egbuka on the run for a 16-yard completion. On the following play, Stroud exposed the Irish defense yet again, finding wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. on the sideline for an 11-yard completion to put the ball in Irish territory.

The Buckeyes continued to move the football further into Irish territory, but a personal foul penalty backed the Buckeyes up into a second and 21 situation. Stroud managed to get about half of the yardage back on second down on a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Xavier Johnson over the middle. Stroud then made the biggest play of the game, finding Johnson again over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes the lead at the end of the third quarter.

Buckeyes put Irish away with run game

After stopping the Irish on the ensuing drive, the Buckeyes scored another touchdown to put the Irish away late in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes relied on their running game heavily on this 95-yard drive, picking up most of their yardage from running back Miyan Williams. After getting to the Buckeye 40-yard line, Williams took over and ran right up the middle for an 11-yard gain to get into Irish territory.

After a short completion from Stroud, Williams carried the ball on the next five plays, and he eventually found the endzone on a two-yard run. That touchdown gave the Buckeyes an 11-point lead and effectively made the game out of reach for the Irish. After Notre Dame punted on their ensuing drive, the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock and secure a 21-10 victory.