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2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Irish running back prepared to run it back

The Irish return the key pieces from their vaunted rushing attack in 2022, and they’ll look to establish more consistency to bring the offense to another level in 2023.

2022 Summary

It’s fair to say that the running back room was by some distance Notre Dame’s strongest position group in 2022. With the Irish passing offense oftentimes limited, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees leaned on the ground attack to set the tone in nearly every game over the back half of the season. And set the tone it did. The Irish exceeded 200 team rushing yards in 5 of their last 7 games while posting a 6-1 record. 

Part of what made the running back room click so well was the balance struck between different player profiles. Every back that played significant snaps brought something unique to the table that opposing defenses would have to contend with. Sophomore Audric Estime provided the power, using his 220-plus pound frame to wear down defenses and bully his way through the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations. Junior Chris Tyree brought flash, adding a dynamic playmaker to the room that Rees could deploy in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Sophomore Logan Diggs offered a nice blend of both Tyree’s speed and Estime’s strength. Diggs also led all backs in receiving yards. 

Key Departures

Nothing but good news in this department for the Irish. There was some speculation that Chris Tyree could enter the transfer portal after he saw his snap counts decrease over the back half of the season. However, the junior running back opted to stay in South Bend for another year.

Transfer Portal Additions

Unsurprising given the amount of returnees in an already-crowded running back room, Rees and running back coach Deland McCullough opted not to take any transfers at the position.

Freshman Additions

After two late decommitments, the Irish will add one freshman running back to the 2023 depth chart. Consensus top-100 recruit Jeremiyah Love profiles more in the Diggs mold of a hybrid back than a pure power or speed addition. While Love certainly doesn’t lack in the speed department — the high school track star boasts a Missouri 5A state title in the 100 meters — it’s not the only aspect of his game. All scouting reports of Love mention his receiving ability as a major aspect of his skillset. Rees will all but certainly utilize him in the passing game either next season or further down the line.

Projected two-deep

The two-deep for the running back spot is either the easiest or hardest to figure out on the 2023 roster, depending on your perspective. On one hand, the starting options are pretty much all sharpied in. Estime, Diggs and Tyree all logged over 250 snaps last season. Rees settled on Estime and Diggs as names 1a and 1b and Tyree as a change of pace option. Given the impressive results once that rotation emerged, there’s little evidence to suggest it will be tweaked heading into 2023.

What does allow for intrigue, however, is the back end of the rotation. Jadarian Price, for instance, received strong reviews throughout training camp last offseason and was a Blue-Gold game standout. Though a summer achilles injury ended his 2022 campaign before it could start, it stands to reason that if he makes a full recovery he could potentially push Tyree for playing time further down the committee depth chart. The same applies to the aforementioned Love, who at 6’0, 190 pounds, likely doesn’t have a long way to go on the physical end of being game-ready for college football. While Estime and Diggs are locked in to play big roles in 2023, how Rees and McCullough split minutes between the veteran Tyree, the wild card Price and the rookie Love remains to be seen and could be one of the most interesting things to keep an eye out for in the 2023 Blue-Gold game.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

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‘Meant for Mitch’: With Mayer out, Evans steps up in tight end role

On Friday afternoon, the Notre Dame football tight end room was tasked with filling an All-American-sized hole that Michael Mayer left in the Irish offense. Mayer declared for the 2023 NFL Draft after serving as the offensive crutch for the Irish throughout the 2022 season. 

Mayer set several records in his time at Notre Dame. He set the Irish tight end records for career receptions, touchdown receptions and receiving yards. He also owns the single-season records in each of those statistics, along with the single-game receptions record (11 against BYU). Since Mayer arrived on campus, he played in every Irish matchup except the 2021 game against Virginia Tech and over the last two years, started in every single one of his appearances. He caught a pass in every career appearance. The junior was also a captain on the Irish squad in the 2022 season. 

His departure left three active names in the tight end room: sophomore Mitchell Evans, freshman Holden Staes and sophomore Davis Sherwood. Injured freshman Eli Raridon and sophomore Kevin Bauman round out the squad currently, and the group will add Cooper Flanagan in 2023. No member of this group has played for the Irish in a heavy receiving role before. In 2022, Mayer notched 67 receptions, while all other tight ends combined for one catch. With Mayer’s presence, the rest either did not see the field much or took up blocking roles. 

So, when the Irish found themselves without Mayer for only the second time since his arrival, the tight ends had to figure out how to contribute. On the receiving end, that responsibility fell most often to Evans. 

In an offense that threw 33 times, Evans took on a receiving role in addition to his usual blocking responsibilities. The junior tight end was targeted four times. Of the four, he made three receptions for 39 yards and grabbed the game-winning touchdown. 

First quarter

In the first quarter, Evans and Staes both took to the field. Staes was targeted once but sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner fired just too high out of Staes’ reach. Evans also ran a route on that play but a hurry on Buchner didn’t allow his role in the progression to unfold. 

Buchner found Evans on the very next play though. On third and fifteen from the Carolina 45, Evans leaked up the middle late in the play. Once he caught the ball from Buchner, Evans then stepped around the first tackle and across the 30 to ensure a first down for 18 yards. These accounted for two of his seven routes in the quarter and the reception would ultimately be his longest of the night. With his 18-yard reception, Evans became Buchner’s second completion of the night and one of six receivers the Irish used through the matchup. 

For the rest of the quarter, Evans blocked for the Irish, most notably making the key edge-sealing block in a shovel pass to wide receiver Braden Lenzy that converted for an Irish first down. 

Second and third quarters

In the second quarter, Evans played in his usual role most effectively. He ran five routes but was never the target. On the way to an Irish field goal, Evans set a key block, enabling Buchner to scramble to the left for 21 yards. While Staes and Sherwood did not see the field in the first half, Evans played 32 of 33 snaps. He ran 12 routes and blocked on his other 20 snaps.

The third quarter started slow for the Irish tight end. While he played 18 snaps, Evans saw no targets and only ran six routes. Still, he continued to be a force to be reckoned with in his blocking, especially at key moments. With 0:37 left in the quarter, Evans lined up behind the left side of the line. As Buchner snapped the ball, Evans bounced to the right and picked up a quick Carolina blitz just long enough for Buchner to get a pass off to Lenzy. Lenzy then turned the corner and snuck inside the pylon. That allowed the Irish to tie the game at 31-31.

Fourth quarter

It was in the fourth that Evans started to find a bit of a route-running rhythm, and another Irish tight end made a contributive appearance. 

South Carolina punted to start the final quarter and it looked like the Irish would have to do the same on their own three-and-out. Enter Davis Sherwood. The sophomore lined up behind the line of scrimmage with the rest of the Irish in punt formation. As Lenzy came around on the sweep, Sherwood took the snap and dished it to Lenzy who took off for 20 yards and the first down. The play kept the Irish drive alive so running back Logan Diggs could take off for a 39-yard score two plays later. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman was proud of the execution from everyone involved. 

“We ran a punt earlier in the game,” Freeman said. “We wanted to see the look we would get, and after we ran the punt, [special teams coordinator Brian Mason] said ‘it’s there if we want it.’ Right before we went out there, he said ‘it’s there.’ I said ‘let’s do it.’ We’ve been practicing that fake all year long … and I wanted to run it. I knew going into the game, if the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to run it. Mase said ‘let’s do it here,’ and I said ‘let’s go.’ We executed; it was beautifully executed.” 

On the 39-yard run from Diggs, Evans contributed again, picking up a block behind the line. The blitz likely would’ve caught Diggs before he reached the line and bounced out right to take off for the touchdown.

From there, Evans continued to represent the tight ends, through to the end of the night. He ran seven routes in the fourth and Buchner attempted to find him on three of those but one ended drastically wrong for the Irish. After running the ball all the way up the field, the Irish opted to switch it up on the Gamecocks and attempt a pass. The play was designed for Evans to be the receiver, the same way it would have been for Mayer. Buchner threw late and into tight coverage though and instead of Evans, the Gamecocks scored on the play via a pick-six. Still, Evans ran the route well but a late-arriving ball, with a defender almost waiting for it, wasn’t going to make it to him.

The final Irish drive featured Evans twice in the receiving game and more in his blocking. He delivered a key block on Diggs’ 17-yard run to open the drive. He caught a five-yard pass just past midfield, allowing the subsequent Estime rush to earn the first down. Two plays later and the Irish were at the Carolina 16. The next play saw Evans’ role look the most like Mayer’s but he made it his own. 

In post-game press conferences, both Freeman and Buchner said if the final play of the Irish drive didn’t open for Evans, it would’ve been dead. The goal was to get the ball to Evans, the same way it would have been for Mayer. 

“I know someone talked about it earlier how [Jayden Thomas] was open. The thought on that was ‘it’s kind of a shot or nothing,’ so if Mitch was covered, throw out of bounds, and if not, give him a chance and try to score a touchdown,” Buchner said. 

And it was there. Evans faked a block and then peeled off, almost forgotten about by the Gamecocks’ defense. Buchner waited for that to unfold and then hit a wide-open Evans who practically walked into the end zone. The score ultimately sealed the Irish win. 

“That was meant for Mitch, and it unfolded beautifully,” Freeman said. “Again, I think it’s a credit to how we were running the ball. Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball in that short yardage situation, be able to leak Mitch out, that’s a tough play versus a defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball. But it was great execution by these guys.” 

Evans played 76 of 80 snaps. Not only did he close the game out for the Irish but he took on full tight end responsibilities for the first time in his two years with the Irish. And, he did it his own way. Blocking remained just as important in his game but he became a receiving option who, along with the rest of the receiving corps, can make up for a lack of Mayer without giving up essential run game and pocket protection.

The final Irish offensive play was ‘meant for Mitch’. And, after a strong effort throughout the Gator Bowl, taking over the starting tight end role at Notre Dame appears to be meant for Mitch as well.

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu.

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‘The third and fourth quarters are our quarters’: Irish run game executes monster second half to beat South Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, the Irish run game paved the way to victory with 264 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. 

Sophomore running back Logan Diggs finished the day with 89 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. He also added 81 receiving yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree also found success in the run game, finishing the day with 95 and 21 rushing yards, respectively. 

Diggs scored his receiving touchdown off of a short pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. Diggs then raced down the sideline, beating the pursuit of multiple Gamecock players to the end zone. Diggs’ explosive touchdown cut the Gamecocks’ lead to seven and kept the Irish within striking distance at halftime. 

Diggs described what went through his head during his touchdown. 

“As soon as I got out of my release, I knew it was good. I have trust in Tyler that he’s going to put it where it needs to be. At that point I have to trust myself and trust my speed to capitalize, and I did, and it’s a blessing,” Diggs said.

Although the Irish only had 54 rushing yards in the first half, the second half saw the Irish rush for 210 rushing yards.

Diggs knew that the run game would have success after halftime. 

“We always know the third and fourth quarters are our quarters,” Diggs said. “We had to be patient in the first half, but once your back is against the wall, that’s the type of games that we want.”

Offensive line steps up to provide crucial blocks

Diggs praised the offensive line for the team’s second-half success on the ground. 

“When we were in that huddle and you see the O-line and they’re fixing their gloves and tightening their hands, you just know. I have the utmost trust in them and [offensive line] coach Harry [Hiestand] and their preparation,” Diggs said. “All I do is adjust my reads and trust my coaches and go out there and execute. They put us in a great position to continue to run the ball.

Buchner himself had a great day on the ground, rushing for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Buchner also credited his success in the run game to the offensive line.

“The big guys played their tails off. It’s great standing there in the huddle when they’re strapping their gloves and they’re ready to go. Having that look in their eyes gives you more confidence as quarterback that we’re going to be able to run the ball,” Buchner said.

Head coach Marcus Freeman loves the mentality of his offensive linemen late in the game.

“They want the pressure on. They want to run the ball in those critical moments, and hats off to them,” Freeman said. “They’re an excellent group. They’ve done an excellent job all season.”

In addition to praising his running backs and offensive line, Buchner praised the blocking of his tight ends and wide receivers as well.

“The boys up front were rolling today. Our backs had an unbelievable day,” Buchner said. “The tight ends and the wideouts had a huge role in the run game today, and I don’t know if people realize that. [Graduate student Matt] Salerno, [sophomore] Deion [Colzie], [sophomore Jayden] Thomas, [sophomore Lorenzo] Styles Jr…. those guys blocked their tails off all day long. Those are things that go unnoticed.”

Freeman touted his team’s ability to run the football against a South Carolina defense that was expecting them to run the ball.

“When you have the ability to run the ball when the other team knows you’re going to run it, that’s when you know things are rolling. They knew we were going to run the ball,” Freeman said.

On the game-winning touchdown drive, the Irish focused heavily on running the football, but they ultimately scored on a pass play to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans on a critical third down.

Freeman credited the run game with opening up the game-winning touchdown pass to Evans.

“I think it’s a credit to how we were running the ball,” Freeman said. “In that short yardage situation, to be able to leak Mitch out, that’s a tough play for a defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball.”

Looking ahead

The success of the run game in the Gator Bowl bodes well for the Irish run game next season with the Irish returning their top three running backs in Diggs, Estime and Tyree. The Irish also return three of their starting offensive lineman next season with sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, senior center Zeke Correll, and sophomore right tackle Blake Fisher all expected to return. The Irish will need to replace graduate student right guard Josh Lugg and graduate student left guard Jarrett Patterson.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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‘What a great feeling’: Irish take home first bowl win of the Freeman era, 45-38

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last year, the Irish came out of the gate with a 21-point lead in the Fiesta Bowl but lost in the second half to Oklahoma State, 37-35. After making it back to a bowl game this year, the Irish were behind South Carolina at the half, 24-17, but turned the game around to win 45-38. This matchup became the highest-scoring game in Gator Bowl history.

“It’s never how you foresee it on the front end. In all the days you can sit here before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go, it wasn’t like that. But the ending was, and that’s what we’ll remember,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “To send [the seniors] off the right way, no matter how we could achieve it, that’s what matters. So I’m happy we got it done.” 

The Gamecocks came out swinging and scored quickly. After several quick flips, the Irish defense looked to be making their first stop, but gave up a pass underneath to tight end Nate Adkins for 24 yards. Quarterback Spencer Rattler then hit Xavier Legette in the flat, who ran in for a score from the Irish 14.

The Irish offense took the field to roaring South Carolina fans and could not answer, going three-and-out and punting to the Carolina 32.

The Irish quickly got another chance though, this time from their own 50. Rattler found Ahmarean Brown on Carolina’s 43, but — looking to evade Irish graduate cornerback Tariq Bracy — Brown dropped the ball. Junior safety Ramon Henderson pumped the breaks to spin around and dive on it. Diggs then took the ball seven yards before a completed pass to Tyree and a sneak from quarterback Tyler Buchner grabbed the first Irish first down.

Facing third and 15 after an illegal motion, Buchner found sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans over the middle for 18 yards and a first down. This was Evans’ first reception of the season after taking a secondary role to All-American Michael Mayer all year. After that, sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas was left wide open on the right side of the field to grab another first down for the Irish. Buchner fired a second-down pass attempt to Tobias Merriweather just out of the freshman’s reach, so on the next snap, the quarterback took it in himself. The Irish went 50 yards in 10 plays and three minutes and 37 seconds. 

Adkins caught another long pass up the middle for a first down at the Irish 42, this time from wide receiver Dakereon Joyner. Rattler found Adkins immediately after that for nine yards. Joyner received another wildcat snap and gained eight yards to the Irish 25. On third and eight, Rattler tried to find Legette in the end zone, but Xavier Watts broke up the pass.

However, the Gamecocks fooled the Irish on fourth down. Holder Kai Kroeger executed what head coach Shane Beamer called a fake field goal, despite Gamecocks kicker Mitch Jeter not even being on the field. Kroeger took the snap from the Irish 23, looked off a wide receiver and passed to long-snapper Hunter Rogers in the end zone. 

On Notre Dame’s third drive, they again didn’t get very far. After a Braden Lenzy first down, Buchner attempted a pass, but it was tipped at the line. South Carolina’s DQ Smith snatched it out of the air and took it to the house, leaving 44 seconds in the quarter. It was Buchner’s third career pick-six and left the Irish trailing, 21-7.

Buchner would finish the game 18-33 with three passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. He ultimately threw for 274 yards but also tacked on three interceptions.

After the Irish waited the quarter out, Diggs picked up six yards to start the second. Buchner found Thomas for a first down, bringing the Irish to the Carolina 46. Tyree then brought the Irish to their own 40 for another first. Buchner found Thomas again for a first down at the Carolina 30. Buchner then took off around the outside for a 21-yard run to bring the Irish to the nine-yard line. He missed another pass though, this time for receiver Deion Colzie and on third and goal, the sophomore quarterback took a sack along the Carolina sideline. To put up more points, graduate student Blake Grupe drilled the first field goal of the game with 8:36 left in the half to make the score 21-10. 

On the next Carolina drive, several stops from Bertrand and junior defensive end Riley Mills brought the Carolina offense to two third downs, but they converted on both. Mills and Bertrand would make themselves known throughout the game. Bertrand accounted for eight tackles, half a tackle for loss and one QB hurry. Mills racked up only four tackles but broke behind the line several times for a sack and one and a half tackles for loss. On the second down of that Carolina drive, Rattler found Joyner for 26 yards. Two incomplete passes into the end zone from Rattler forced the Gamecocks to kick. Jeter sent the ball through the uprights for three points and a 24-10 advantage. 

On the first play of the Irish drive from their own 20, Logan Diggs caught a short pass from Buchner and took off. Diggs got around to the outside and, with insurance from a late block from Styles, found the end zone. After the kick, the Irish held 17. 

On the next drive, the Irish forced the first Gamecock punt of the day. But they were also forced to punt from within their own five. 

Although the punt from Jon Sot was returned to about the Irish 40, a blindside block committed by Joyner and an ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct foul on South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer walked the Gamecocks back to their own 20 to start their final drive of the half.

While it looked for a while like the Gamecocks would march right down one more time to the Irish end zone, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison intercepted a deep shot from Rattler for his sixth pick of the season. The Irish would kneel for the first time Friday night to end the half. 

To open the second half, the Irish and the Gamecocks exchanged three and outs. With 12:49 left in the third, Matt Salerno fair caught the Carolina punt at the Irish 32. Audric Estime was stuffed on the first play of the drive, but on the second he broke out to the Carolina 48 for 20 yards. From there, the Irish took three plays to reach the end zone. Buchner found Thomas for 25 yards and a first down at the 23. Estime ran once more after that to bring the Irish to the Gamecocks 11. To finish the drive off, Buchner took it to the house himself. Notre Dame tied it up with the first score of the half, 24-24. 

The Irish couldn’t tackle Legette on the kickoff return, so the Gamecocks started their responding drive from their own 33. It took a third-down pass finding Adkins again for the Gamecocks to convert. The tight end caught this pass for 17 yards. On second and 11 from the Irish 42, Rattler hit Legette in the end zone for a score. Carolina led the Irish 31-24 with 8:31 left in the quarter. 

From their own 20, the Irish sent Logan Diggs in twice, bringing up third and four. From the line of scrimmage, Tyler Buchner tried to flip it to Thomas, but the pass ended up behind the receiver and bounced between Gamecocks before Nick Barrett rolled to catch it. With 6:37 left in the third, the Irish defense didn’t let the Gamecocks convert. From their own 12, the Irish took over again, but to no benefit. They got close to midfield before punting for a touchback. 

Despite the exchange, the Irish defense held tight. Bertrand rocketed into Rattler’s face on third and ten to force an incomplete pass and then a punt from the Gamecocks. After a delay of game penalty, the Gamecocks only punted to their own 44. Buchner took the pass in the shotgun and found Lenzy coming across on a deep crossing route. With his speed, Lenzy turned the corner inside the pylon for another one-play drive from the Irish. 

Lenzy’s score tied up the game, 31-31. The Irish defense again made a third and ten stop. Botelho logged his second sack of the day to force the Gamecock punt, which Salerno caught at the Carolina 26.

Diggs rushed twice for a total of six yards. On third and four, Buchner tried to find Colzie down the sideline, but Gamecocks defender Marcellus Style broke it up. The Irish took the fourth and four opportunity to fake a punt of their own. Sophomore tight end Davis Sherwood dumped it to Lenzy, who then looped around the right side for an Irish first down at the Gamecock 47.  On third and two, Diggs broke through the middle and took it 39 yards to the house. The Irish took the lead for the first time then with 12:41 left in the game. 

Another touchback started Carolina at its own 25. The Gamecocks punted for a fourth time and gave the Irish the ball back with 11:09 to go. 

The Irish marched downfield in response. Eventually, Estime brought the Irish inside the Gamecocks’ seven-yard line with a 26-yard rush, but the Irish would fail to score. Instead, Buchner would try to force a pass to Mitchell Evans, but Carolina defender O’Donnell Fortune intercepted it for a 100-yard touchdown run. This tied the game up at 38 apiece, but the Irish weren’t done just yet.

“We were looking for a specific look, and we thought we had it,” Freeman said regarding the pick-six. “Didn’t have the exact look we were looking for, and the guy made a great play … Ultimately should not have thrown it, should not have called it.”

Tyree got tripped at the 20-yard line on the kick return, so the Irish started their drive from there. After marching fairly quickly downfield, the Irish found themselves with another third and five. Buchner hit Tyree for a first down at the Carolina 19. On third and seven, Buchner found a wide-open Mitchell Evans, who walked into the end zone for the second Notre Dame lead of the game. The Irish drive left a minute and 38 seconds in the game. 

“This is what real life is about. The ability to respond to some of those situations that happened to you,” Freeman said. “But the greatest thing about it was to be able to, again, use that situation as another example in the future, and the ability for that offense to have that happen, look at them on the sidelines and say, ‘In about … two minutes, you’re going to go right back out there,’ and for them to march down the field and score — that’s what it’s all about.”

The Irish kicked off for the last time, which Brown returned to midfield, but another blocking penalty brought the Gamecocks back to their own 13. Rattler scrambled for first down and more, and with a personal foul on freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed, the Gamecocks were on the Irish 36. Junior cornerback Clarence Lewis broke up Rattler’s first down pass. Then, Mills pressured Rattler again to force intentional grounding. The loss of down penalty forced South Carolina into a third and 21. Rattler threw out of bounds under pressure. The Gamecocks then backed up 15 more yards for unsportsmanlike conduct: fourth and 36.  

Rattler fired up a long shot for Wells Jr. who jumped up, covered by Bracy and freshman Jaden Mickey. Bracy attempted to make the catch, but it bounced off his hands and Mickey swatted it out of the air, killing the Gamecocks’ drive. 

In victory formation, Buchner knelt once to end the game, marking a win for the Irish. It’s their first bowl win over a ranked opponent since 2017.

“What a great feeling,” Freeman said. “As I told these guys in the locker room, the opportunity to finish as a champion, there’s no greater feeling. I’m so proud of the way they continued to battle today, which is a representation of what they’ve done all season long. I know I said this before but we were on that bumpy road. But they continued to trust their coaches, to trust their leaders, and this is a great way to finish off this 2022 season … I’m extremely proud of this team, the leaders, the seniors. To send that group off the right way, it’s very pleasing.”

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Observer Sports Staff predicts the Gator Bowl: Notre Dame v. South Carolina

Aidan Thomas – Sports Editor

Bowl games are a bit of a battle of attrition with all the opt-outs, and Notre Dame loses two All-Americans for this battle with South Carolina. However, the Gamecocks will be down about half-a-dozen starters, so it feels like, while lacking their star power, Notre Dame might have an edge in player availability. Quarterback is obviously the big question mark, and we’ll see if Tyler Buchner made much progress since completing 56% of his passes for no scores, two interceptions and a 54.0 quarterback rating in seven quarters earlier this season. He’ll have his opportunities against a Gamecocks’ defense that has struggled in all phases of the game of the year.

The Irish were victimized by the big play occasionally, which could bite them versus the explosive Spencer Rattler, but they generally contained opposing offenses well. They only gave up 300+ passing yards once (Drake Maye). South Carolina will likely have to run the ball to win this one — the Irish finished 2-4 this year when allowing 90+ yards to an opposing rusher and 6-0 when keeping the leading rusher under that number. The Gamecocks’ two starting running backs on Friday combined for 339 yards this year. If the Irish stop them, Notre Dame should have enough offensive punch against a depleted defense to win. 

Notre Dame 31, South Carolina 24

Nate Moller – Senior Sports Writer

This game almost feels like a season opener because of the number of opt-outs on both teams, which will leave a lot of question marks for the Irish and the Gamecocks. Although the Irish will be without All-American tight end Michael Mayer, there are plenty of young, talented wide receivers that should step up to fill this void. One name that comes to mind is sophomore Deion Colzie, who had 192 receiving yards over the Irish’s last five games after struggling with a knee injury at the beginning of the season.

The Irish running game should still be intact with Audric Estime, Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree leading the way behind a vastly improved offensive line. The biggest question mark offensively is quarterback Tyler Buchner, but I expect him to be effective enough to make some big plays. On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish will need to contain Gamecocks’ quarterback Spencer Rattler, who has accounted for 9 touchdowns in his last two games. Despite his recent success, Rattler has thrown 11 interceptions this year, and I expect the Irish to force some turnovers in this one. The streak of the Irish winning when I picked against them ended with the loss to Southern California, so I am taking the Irish in this one. 

Notre Dame 27, South Carolina 20

Madeline Ladd – Associate Sports Editor

As the Irish take on the Gamecocks this Friday, the makeup of both teams will be strikingly different from the rosters fielded earlier this season. With Mayer and Foskey both opting out to prepare for the NFL draft, the Irish will be lacking their star players. However, this provides the opportunity for more young talent to shine, especially among the wide receivers. Tyler Buchner will take the field for the first time since Marshall, as a recent Drew Pyne transfer opened up the starting QB spot. Buchner will be key to the game, and whether or not his previous injury will make him hesitant to run is the question. However, I expect him to be able to play with intensity upon his return and rely on the continued excellence of the offensive line — which surprisingly includes Jarrett Patterson. 

The Gamecocks have a dangerous QB in Spencer Rattler but his receivers are a question mark due to injuries and losses to the portal. South Carolina did upset Tennessee and Clemson but can be run on if Buchner can open up the field with passing. Though Notre Dame historically does not fare well in bowl games, I think they can pull this one off on Friday considering South Carolina’s lack of depth and the Irish’s strong run game. 

Notre Dame 28, South Carolina 17

Mannion McGinley – Assistant Managing Editor

It will be blatantly obvious that both the Irish and the Gamecocks are missing key players from their seasons on Friday. There’s no question about that. With that said though, it comes down to how big the holes on each side are.

Yes, Notre Dame has lost Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey. That’s two game-changing players and they’re accompanied by a Drew Pyne departure to Arizona State. Losing your star tight end and your signal caller on top of that will hurt. But an intact — and consistently stellar — run game has been the key to the offense all year. Estime, Tyree and Diggs will play behind the same strong offensive line and with their former starter back under center. The Gamecocks cannot boast as strong an offensive safety net outside of Rattler’s arm. After losing two tight ends that sat in his top five receivers and two of his leading rushers, Rattler will almost be an island. He’ll need a lot more activity from his wide receivers, and quickly.

On the defensive side, without Foskey, it will take the Irish defensive line a bit longer to figure Rattler out. But after a few stops, they’ll start to get to him. Between that and convincing play from the Irish secondary that limits where Rattler can look, the Irish should take this one home. Figuring Rattler out will cost the Irish a few points but ultimately the run game and a successful return for Buchner will lead to an Irish win. As always, a turnover or two for the Irish could seal it, no questions.

Notre Dame 27, South Carolina 17

Emily DeFazio – Associate Sports Editor

The Gator Bowl will be the first showing for the Irish without some superstar members the likes of Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey. Despite the fact that they will be preparing for the NFL draft, the team will certainly feel their absence on the field. Not only that but with Drew Pyne — the season’s unexpected QB1 — transferring to Arizona State, the team will be facing the Gamecocks with a semi-new leader at the offensive helm. Buchner led the Irish against Ohio State and Marshall, but that was before the team found its groove this season. He will be reintroduced to a new dynamic than he remembers from September; his play, then, will be the make-or-break to offensive success. That being said, with a solid offensive line and a system of running backs in his arsenal, Buchner should be able to largely pick up where he left off.

South Carolina is not to be underestimated, either. The Gamecocks were Clemson’s only other loss this season, albeit by one point. If that is a comparison to go by, then Notre Dame should be able to secure a definitive win. Should they figure out how to take advantage of a significant depletion to South Carolina’s roster, the Irish should walk away with their first bowl win in the past few years.

Notre Dame 28, South Carolina 21

Liam Coolican – Associate Sports Editor

The question that will decide this game for Notre Dame will be: can the Irish run the ball well enough to secure the win? The answer, throughout the year, has mostly been a resounding yes, but occasionally it has faltered. There will be nothing to fall back on against South Carolina, as the losses of Pyne and Mayer both hurt immensely. Notre Dame certainly has talent at quarterback and receiver, but they are mostly unproven. Buchner was good but not stellar before missing most of the regular season, and outside Mayer, no receiver has emerged as a consistent threat. 

On defense, too, there are some concerns. The defensive line was already thin, and the loss of Foskey only exacerbates the problem. In the secondary, the loss against USC exposed just how much the Irish need Cam Hart, and he’ll miss the bowl game as well. Rattler — Caleb Williams’ former teammate at Oklahoma — is a similar player and also extremely talented. Of course, he’s not the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but expect him to be able to take advantage of the Irish defense in many of the same ways. 

South Carolina has some opt-outs, too, but unlike the Irish, they aren’t missing their starting quarterback and arguably two best players. This game will look much more like the opening two games of the season than the Irish team we saw in the second half of the year. Buchner will play well, but a late turnover will be costly for the Irish, and Rattler will lead a game-winning drive.

South Carolina 31, Notre Dame 28

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Moller: Freeman can use Gator Bowl to gain momentum into next season

As more and more college players decide to sit out bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft or enter the transfer portal, bowl games have lost their significance to an extent. In Friday’s Gator Bowl between the Irish and the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Irish will be without junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey. Both All-Americans opted out to pursue the NFL draft. The Irish will also be without junior quarterback Drew Pyne. Pyne started the last ten games for the Irish but decided to transfer to Arizona State. On the flip side, the Gamecocks will likely be without some important wide receivers and tight ends and pieces in the secondary. 

So with all of these key players out on both sides, what does the Gator Bowl mean for head coach Marcus Freeman and the Irish?

After falling short of some lofty preseason goals, winning the Gator Bowl in itself might not mean too much for the Irish. However, this is an opportunity for Marcus Freeman to gain more experience as a head coach and build momentum into next season.

Building momentum into next season starts with sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. The dual threat will start in the Gator Bowl for the first time since week two. He suffered an AC sprain to his non-throwing shoulder in Notre Dame’s loss to Marshall. Expected to lead the Irish this season, Buchner never got a chance to prove himself after two modest performances in his only two starts.

Despite a very disappointing season for Buchner, he will have the chance to prove himself in a low-stakes game this Friday. Buchner really didn’t get a chance to show off his abilities in seven quarters of action this season. Conservative game plans only allowed him to attempt 50 passes. Buchner completed 28 of those passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Without a key offensive weapon in Michael Mayer, there will be a lot of pressure on Buchner to perform at a high level if the Irish are to beat the Gamecocks. Although Buchner will have some high-quality running backs to rely on, the playbook will likely be more open for Buchner in the bowl game. With rumors swirling around that the Irish are pursuing a quarterback in the transfer portal, Buchner’s performance in the bowl game is very important for him if he wants to secure his starting spot for next season. 

In Mayer’s absence, the Irish will need a plethora of players to step up at the wide receiver position. Mayer accounted for roughly one-third of all Irish receiving yards on the season. There will be a major void that needs to be filled in the bowl game and next season. Although graduate student Braden Lenzy will be around for the bowl game, he isn’t expected to return next year. That leaves it up to a young, inexperienced Irish receiving corps. 

To build momentum into next year, the Irish should prioritize getting sophomores Lorenzo Styles Jr., Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas involved in the offense. All three receivers have shown flashes of their potential this season, but none of them have contributed to the offense on a consistent basis. Freshman Tobias Merriweather is another receiver that should see plenty of the field in Jacksonville. Although Merriweather only has one catch on the year, that catch was a 41-yard touchdown reception that showed just how explosive he can be. At tight end, it’s worth seeing what sophomore Mitchell Evans and freshman Holden Staes bring to the table.

The bowl game might also provide more clarity on the Irish run game going forward. The Irish stuck with a three-man backfield during the regular season. Junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime each recorded over 400 yards on the ground. With the backfield becoming potentially more crowded next year with the return of freshman Jadarian Price from injury, there could be some major splits in playing time among running backs. The Irish can use Friday’s game to figure out which back they trust most going forward. Audric Estime appeared to be the Irish’s best option on short-down situations towards the end of the season, but Tyree and Diggs proved themselves as reliable options as well. If one of these three players can step up on Friday, that could help them secure more playing time in next year’s season opener. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have the chance to prove themselves against a South Carolina team that is led by quarterback Spencer Rattler. Although Rattler has proved to be inconsistent at times this year, he is one of the most talented players in college football and he will prove to be a challenge for an Irish defense that recently struggled to contain USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Rattler is nowhere near as talented as Williams, but the Irish defense will have a chance to redeem themselves from their poor performance in Los Angeles to close out the year. 

All in all, the Gator Bowl is a low-risk game for the Irish. They really have nothing to lose considering the players that are going to be missing, so they should prioritize opening up the playbook on offense and seeing what players can make big plays. If the Irish are going to perform well on Friday without some of their top players on both sides of the football, they are going to need some new faces to step up. And those players that step up might prove to be key pieces to next year’s Irish team. 

Additionally, this game gives Marcus Freeman another head coaching game under his belt. There have been lots of ups and downs in Freeman’s inaugural season, and the Gator Bowl has the potential to be the perfect segue into Freeman’s second year as head coach.

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Pyne flips script, shows capability to dominate despite mistake

All year, Notre Dame junior quarterback Drew Pyne has been judged by virtually everything but the final result. After taking over as the starter, Pyne won eight of his first nine games. He did this without gaudy numbers. Pyne never threw for 300 yards in those nine games. During a three-game winning streak, Pyne completed just 32 of 64 total pass attempts for four touchdowns and two interceptions. On five occasions, the former four-star didn’t eclipse 156 yards passing. He had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage in every game, and he missed open receivers with underthrows. Yet, with one exception, the Irish kept winning. Pyne seemed to find the clutch gene when he needed it. 

There was the Clemson game when the Irish really didn’t orchestrate any offense all half, leading 7-0 on a special teams touchdown late in the second quarter. Then Pyne notched the final 26 yards of a 78-yard drive, running twice for 15 and completing an 11-yard pass. Then, up 28-7, Pyne drove the dagger into Clemson’s back with a scoring strike to junior tight end Michael Mayer in the fourth. 

Or against Syracuse, when Pyne completed three straight passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in a critical end-of-half drive to seize control against the then-No. 16 Orange. Throwing it back to his first career start, Pyne led the Irish to just seven first-half points. On three straight scoring drives to start the second half, the junior completed eight of nine passes for 85 yards, leading Notre Dame to 17 points and a 24-17 win. 

All season long, Pyne showed flashes, putting it together in big moments and slowly pulling the Irish season back on track. On Saturday, however, it was almost the opposite. For almost all of four quarters, Pyne dazzled. He completed his first 15 passes. On the day, he finished 23 of 26 for 318 yards. Criticized for his downfield passing, Pyne completed eight passes that were aired out at least 18 yards past the line of scrimmage. Throw in a short pass to Audric Estime for 30 yards, and Pyne completed nine passes, including three touchdowns, for 18 or more yards. 

“Yeah, we went empty [backfield] a lot. We kind of knew what [USC’s] check was to empty,” Pyne said of the downfield passing success. “We worked that all week, Coach Rees had great plays against it and we were just able to execute.”

From a box score standpoint, the Irish piled up impressive numbers. They were outgained by just 33 yards, earned one less first down and punted one less time. Even on the ground, the Irish generated a couple of big plays. Audric Estime broke off a 24-yard run and a key nine-yard rush on third down. Chris Tyree set up the Irish’s first touchdown with an 18-yard run. For large portions of its time on offense, Notre Dame moved the ball at will. 

Pyne demonstrated trust in more than just Mayer, finding sophomores Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie for chunk gains on several occasions. Colzie notched three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. He converted a 3rd and 10, a 2nd and 20 and also scored a touchdown on his three catches. Pyne targeted Styles five times, completing four passes to the sophomore, often short passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Styles responded to the trust by racking up 36 yards after the catch. 

“I think it’s credit to them. They’re two young guys who just work their tails off nonstop. We work in practice, after practice. I worked that with Deion during the week, throwing a high ball up to him in the red zone,” Pyne noted. “Those guys come to work every single day with a positive attitude. They’re silly guys who like to have fun. They’re some of my best friends. That chemistry of being close with them — as receivers — translates on the field and in all the work we put in during the week.”

However, when it comes down to it, this game will be remembered for two fatal offensive mistakes. Rather than stretches of frustration with moments of brilliance, it was long stretches of brilliance with two moments of frustration. On the second drive of the game, Pyne couldn’t evade pressure enough to convert a 3rd and 2, falling a yard short of the first down. Notre Dame opted to go for it rather than try a 44-yard field goal and failed. That kept the deficit at 10 points. From there, the Irish offense did get going, but they had limited opportunities, getting just one more full drive in the half. They converted that one for seven points over nine plays and 80 yards. But USC responded and kept a double-digit lead at halftime. 

Coming out in the second half, the overwhelming sense was that Notre Dame needed to score after receiving the kickoff. USC was controlling the clock and marching at will. The Irish needed to minimize the number of stops required of their defense. And Pyne and Co. obliged for the first seven plays of the drive. Back-to-back completions to Mayer accounted for 35 yards, and the Irish quickly marched down to the red zone. There, Pyne kept the ball on a read-pass-option and looked to distribute it quickly to a running back in the flat. Instead, he never fully gripped the ball, dropping it for an easy USC fumble recovery. The Trojans subsequently mashed the Irish defense for 74 yards on seven plays and a touchdown. Notre Dame never again came closer than 10 points. 

“I think USC is a great team. That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things the rest of the season,” Pyne said. “Caleb Williams is a great player, their defense is good. They are a great team, but so are we and they got the best of us tonight.”

Pyne’s answer was in response to a question about whether it was fair to boil the game down to just two or three key moments. Pyne didn’t directly answer that, but his assessment of two great teams battling it out signaled a seemingly tacit agreement with the statement. USC wasn’t necessarily the better team. If Notre Dame executes on two more plays in this game, it’s an entirely different storyline. 

If the Irish take the points rather than go for it on fourth down, or just convert the fourth down, the game may have been 10-3. Given the lethal nature of Notre Dame’s second-half offense, a touchdown had the ill-fated fumble not occurred seems likely. That’s a 10-point swing. All of which goes to say that for all of Caleb Williams’ Heisman brilliance, the Irish were two snaps away from having the ball with six minutes left in a 31-31 game. Or, if you want to be picky, maybe USC operates a little differently on its lone second-half punt if the score is tied and the Trojans score. Still a one-possession game.

But with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, down 10, it felt lost. USC had only one non-game-ending possession last under three minutes, meaning if that held, Notre Dame would have needed to score twice in just over three minutes of game time. Cramped for time, Pyne forced a throw while scrambling, firing the game-sealing interception. 

Pyne’s season? Inconsistent and frustrating but shored up by an ability to generally deliver when absolutely needed. Against USC? Pyne and the Irish offense delivered all game only to beat themselves in two critical moments. 

It demonstrates growth — Notre Dame’s oft-critiqued offense was extremely close to going punch-for-punch with a Heisman candidate and one of the best offenses in the country. The same offense and the same quarterback that earlier this year frequently looked punchless against the likes of Cal and Stanford. It’s hard to score 38 points in 24 minutes and 37 seconds with an average starting field position that is 16 yards worse than your opponent. Defensively, the Irish looked outclassed by an opposing offense for the whole game, the first time that’s happened all year. 

“We were just trying to focus on execution,” Pyne said of playing from behind the whole game. “We were just trying to control what we control.” 

Ultimately what the Irish offense could feasibly even have controlled was barely enough to match the Trojans blow for blow. Thus, the game script demanded virtual offensive perfection. And in a regular season full of twists, turns and imperfection, Pyne and the offense were close to perfection. But a performance demonstrating vast improvement from the offense’s early and midseason form came up two snaps shy of accomplishing a daunting task. 

One fourth-down stop, one brutal, avoidable and self-inflicted mistake. One 11-point loss. 

That’s the margin of error in games between great opponents, and Pyne and a young Irish offense saw that firsthand in the Coliseum. There will be expectations that the Irish build on that growth in 2023, and Saturday night was a big first step. But before that, Notre Dame gets one more shot in 2022, and it comes with an opportunity to display sustained offensive improvement against a strong opponent. 

“We have a lot to play for, still. We’re gonna be in a bowl game, and I want to send these seniors out the right way…I’m gonna prepare for that, to finish the season out on a positive note,” Pyne said. “I’m proud of how we fought today, I’m proud of how we fought all season. I’m really proud of our team. In a month, when the game comes up, we’re going to finish it in the right way.”

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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‘Self-inflicted wounds’ lead Irish to 38-27 loss at USC

LOS ANGELES — On a night when they faced college football’s Heisman favorite, Notre Dame football needed perfection and didn’t quite attain it, falling to USC 38-27 at the Coliseum. Head coach Marcus Freeman said he was disappointed in the loss, feeling the Irish didn’t play at their best and could have fared better if they did. 

“You want to see how you compare against a team like that when you’re playing at your best,” Freeman said. “We didn’t play at our best. A couple self-inflicted wounds, we turned the ball over twice, the turn over on downs in the first half and defensively we didn’t stop the run.” 

Without those pieces, the Irish couldn’t keep up with USC quarterback Caleb Williams and his offensive line that gave him seemingly infinite time. 

USC opened the game from their own 25 but didn’t stay there long. Two reverse plays and a convincing faked handoff later, the Trojans broke into the end zone before five minutes passed. Receiver Tahj Washington caught an 11-yard pass from Williams, diving just inside the pylon to score. The Trojan pace set the tone for the night on both sides of the ball. 

It took the Irish a few drives to work up to that speed though. From their own eight, the Irish opened with quite the opposite energy. Diggs refused to go down twice, bringing the Irish to third and 2, but on his third carry, the Trojans read it right away and forced a punt from Notre Dame’s own 12, leaving USC a short field to answer, starting at their own 49.

And answer they did. Despite repeated pressure from senior linebacker JD Bertrand, Williams found Austin Jones to bring the Trojans to the Irish two-yard line. After a few penalties shook out to hurt the Trojans, Denis Lynch buried a field goal to put USC up 10-0. 

On this drive, the Irish were inches from snagging a fumble recovery. Wide receiver Jordan Addison fumbled after a 23-yard gain, but he scooped it back to his chest and was ruled down, milliseconds before the Irish punched it out again. On the previous drive, senior safety Brandon Joseph ripped the ball out of USC running back Austin Jones’ hands. Jones was ruled down. It’s been part of the Irish storyline all year. Penalties negated two turnovers against Cal earlier this year, and the Irish failed to recover two forced fumbles in the loss to Stanford.

Irish find a groove

To start their second drive, the Irish faced a quick third and 2 again. Diggs carried and this time converted. On second and 6, junior quarterback Drew Pyne hit Audric Estime through the air and the sophomore running back took off for 30 yards. As time ran out though, the Irish marked a fifth scoreless first quarter. 

Yet another third and 2 sat in front of the Irish as the second quarter started. Drew Pyne scrambled avoiding several tackles but ultimately couldn’t get the first. On a fourth down attempt, “Mitch-a-palooza” failed for the first time. With tight end Mitchell Evans inches short of the first, the Irish remained scoreless and turned it over on downs. Before this, Evans’ play under center was perfect. 

“We felt really confident trying it again on a fourth and one situation. That was the plan,” Freeman said. “To do it on a fourth and one, in plus territory and we didn’t get it. We’ll have to go back and see what they did to stop it but we just didn’t get the surge we needed.”

With 13:52 left in the half, the Trojans took the ball back at their own 26. After a Jones carry, freshman corner Benjamin Morrison deflected Williams’ pass to Brenden Rice, forcing a third down. The Trojans were able to convert again though as Williams hit Michael Jackson III. Several quarterback hurries and a Jayson Ademilola sack later though, Williams received the snap, this time to punt rather than throw. The Irish forced the Trojans off the field in 2 minutes and 45 seconds. 

On a fourth attempt at third and 2, the Irish converted behind Diggs again with 9:50 to go in the half.  Two plays later, Pyne found sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie 30 yards downfield to convert on a third and 10. Chris Tyree brought the Irish just outside the red zone which was enough for Pyne to find Michael Mayer in the end zone on the next snap. The junior tight end caught a 22-yard pass for six points. 

Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe kicked the extra point to a chorus of “Let’s Go Irish” cheers from the visiting Irish fans. Notre Dame officially made it on the board with 6:14 left in the half. Trojans 10, Irish 7. 

Junior tight end Michael Mayer signals first down. He caught eight passes for 98 yards in the Irish’s 38-27 loss to USC on Saturday. Ryan Vigilante | The Observer

USC offense, opportunistic defense strike

USC marched downfield again, milking clock despite the Irish pressuring Williams. Forced to scramble, he found Addison on the Irish 25. Then, Jones rushed for another first down to the Irish 13 and, after a defensive holding call, the Trojans snapped from the Irish 5. Junior lineman Riley Mills became the next Irish defender to bite on the fake handoff and Williams kept it for a score. The Heisman favorite broke out the trophy’s pose in celebration and with 0:34 left in the half, extended the Trojan lead back to 1o points, 17-7. 

Pyne scrambled to pass to Lorenzo Styles for an Irish first down at the Notre Dame 27. The next play though, Pyne took a sack and ended the first half with a whimper. 

The offense came out in the second half with a bang. Pyne found Mayer through the air twice behind definitive pass protection for two chunk plays to bring the Irish to the Trojan 39. Behind three runs, the Irish earned another first down. Just when it looked like the Irish would turn the tide and score, Pyne lost control of the ball while looking to complete a quick pass on a run-pass option play. Trojan linebacker Ralen Goforth jumped on it. 

“The fumble at the very first series [of the half] in their territory, obviously that killed us,” Freeman said. “Those can’t happen. They can’t happen. They do something spectacular and they create a takeaway, good for them but for us to give the ball away on a self-inflicted wound, those are inexcusable.”

Pyne’s fumble ultimately changed the Irish tune. As quickly as Notre Dame marched, USC did faster. Behind a pass to Mario Williams and two runs from Austin Jones, the Trojans were suddenly inside the Irish 5 again. Another disguised run lost the Irish defense inside the five and Raleek Brown waltzed in for a touchdown, 24-7. From then, rather than bouncing between 10 and three points, the score would swing between a 10 and 17-point Irish deficit. 

Caleb Williams too much, Irish can’t keep pace

With 8:21 left in the third, the Irish start at their own 25 before Estime runs twice, all the way to the USC 46. Another pass to Styles converses a 16-yard first down. The Irish found themselves back where Pyne dropped the ball but this time, the quarterback found Colzie in the back corner of the end zone for a score. The Irish lead cut back to 10 again, 24-14. 

With the Trojans back on the field, Freeman said the Irish needed a stop to give the offense a chance. The stop never came through.

“It’s difficult to play catch up to any team but when you’re not able to stop their offense it’s extremely difficult and we weren’t able to do that at critical points of the game today,” Freeman said.

After several first downs, most of the yards on the ground behind Austin Jones who ultimately ran 25 times for 154 yards, Williams performed what had become a well-known magic trick. Again, despite intense pressure from the Irish defense, Williams successfully scrambled away from several tackles and brought the Trojans to the Irish 20. 

“He has the ability to extend plays and keep the play alive even though it really should be a dead play,” Bertrand said of Williams. “But he can escape the pocket and still just keep it going.”

Another run from Jones brought the Trojans to the Irish nine. Williams found Lake McRee — his eighth different receiver of the night — for six yards to end the third quarter. Williams would take it himself to get back in the end zone for the fourth Trojan touchdown of the night. Again, Williams went untouched to bring the Trojan total to 31 points. 

Notre Dame struggled to tackle Caleb Williams all night, as the Heisman favorite ran for 54 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Vigilante | The Observer

Late interception seals Irish fate

The Irish had 14:53 left in the game to make something happen. Pyne found Mayer twice for a first down before under-throwing Styles. That was Pyne’s first incompletion of the night. He ultimately went 23 for 26 on the night while throwing for 318 yards. On second down, he found sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas for 16 and then graduate receiver Braden Lenzy for 25 to bring the Irish to the Trojan 21. A holding call on the Trojans brought the Irish to the USC 11. There, Tyree and Diggs carried once each, with Diggs finding the end zone. Ultimately, the drive took seven plays for 75 yards and the Irish took 3:24 off the clock. 

Off another touchback, the Trojans started again from their 25. Austin Jones led off for the Trojan attack again before Caleb Williams found Brenden Rice on third down. Rice broke the tackle attempt of freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey, and the 25-yard catch became 40 as Mickey was charged with a facemask penalty. A delay of game and two holding penalties stalled the drive. The Trojans took the field at the Notre Dame 36, 15 yards short of the line to gain on fourth down. Again, Williams kicked a short punt.  

From the 10, the Irish attempted to begin an unlikely comeback, fighting the clock. Two imperfect passes from Pyne led to a messy incompletion on an attempt to Mayer and then an interception at the USC 25. Entirely on the ground, the Trojans found the end zone again on Williams’ third rushing touchdown.

In a last-ditch effort, Styles took off on the kick return for 37 yards. After a holding penalty, Pyne regained composure to throw three successful passes to bring the Irish to midfield. Following that, Pyne found Colzie and Mayer again for over 20 yards each. First, Colzie snagged a ball in the middle of the field for 22 yards. Then, Pyne found Mayer in the end zone from 24 yards out. At 27 points, the Irish couldn’t convert on the two-point attempt. 

To close a night of tough swings for the Irish, USC recovered the onside kick and knelt to cap the night off, 38-27. 

Contact Mannion McGinley at mccginl3@nd.edu.

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‘You can really see that love we have for each other’: Irish ride stellar start on senior day

As Notre Dame struggled through its first month of the season, the biggest criticism of the team was the lack of an identity. First-year head coach Marcus Freeman has talked about this all season, and perhaps nothing stood out more today.

A resurgent run game that emerged in October started to change things. But there’s more to it. And, ironically for a team that struggled so much at the start of the year, that extra push has come early in games. In its first seven games, the Irish did not score a single first-quarter touchdown. They have outscored opponents in the opening 15 minutes 61-13 since, developing the type of consistency they sorely lacked in September when almost everything was up in the air.

That just makes it that much sweeter that everything about senior day just felt right for Notre Dame.

“What these seniors did for this program will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the near future,” Freeman said.

From the opening ceremonies to junior running back Logan Diggs’ 51-yard run on the first play, Notre Dame’s 27th meeting against Boston College, which ended in a 44-0 blowout, could not have started any better.

The Irish fizzled out after the early Diggs run, settling for a 26-yard field goal on their opening drive. But their next big play was not far behind. On BC’s third offensive play, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison used a stellar read to notch his third interception in as many games. Blessed with a short field, the Irish would once again rely on Diggs. All five of Notre Dame’s plays on their 20-yard scoring drive were handoffs to Diggs. That included the 3rd-and-goal rush from the one yard line that Diggs turned into his third touchdown of the year.

“We were challenged earlier in the week that this was gonna be a game where we were gonna run the ball. Going out there to play as a unit and run the ball like we did — it’s just so much fun, and to be able to send our seniors out with a win like that — nothing better,” said sophomore left tackle Joe Alt.

The Irish would quickly extend their lead after forcing a three-and-out. This time, they did most of their damage through the air. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne kept the drive from stalling with an impressive scramble and 23-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie on third and eight. After finding Diggs on a crafty wheel route for 28 more, Pyne finished things off by finding graduate student Matt Salerno on a play-action fake.

“He is [the ultimate teammate],” Freeman said about the former walk-on. “To get his first touchdown — he deserves it.”

Boston College pulled off an impressive third and eight pitch-and-catch of their own immediately after. Eagles QB Emmett Morehead found star wideout Zay Flowers with a 38-yard dime for BC’s first big play. However, a deep shot on the very next play had a much different ending — but not a new one. A leaping Morrison secured his second pick of the day in the end zone to halt the Eagles’ momentum.

“It felt like I was a kid out there,” said Morrison. “This is a moment that you don’t get this every single weekend, so when it does happen, you just gotta actually appreciate it and just live it in for a little bit.”

The Irish turned the interception into a 10-play, 57-yard drive, finishing with a 41-yard field goal from graduate student Blake Grupe. For the second straight drive, the Eagles would immediately follow an impressive third down play with a turnover. After keeping their drive alive with an impressive catch by running back Alex Broome, graduate student Jack Kiser stripped Morehead. Senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey scooped up the ball for ND’s third takeaway in the game’s first 20 minutes.

“We’ve all been really prepared,” said junior safety Xavier Watts about the defense’s emergence throughout the season. “Just trying to take it to the next level.”

The Irish offense continued to take things to the next level themselves. A false start on a fourth and one prevented Notre Dame from putting the game further out of reach. But another Grupe field goal stretched their advantage to 23. Sure enough, the Irish defense delivered another knockout blow in the very next series. Senior cornerback Cam Hart knocked away a backward pass on a third and one. And senior linebacker Marist Liufau was right there to pounce on it.

Liufau returned the ball to the end zone, but because the play was originally ruled incomplete, only the recovery stood. The Irish offense made sure they would get that touchdown, though. A 26-yard rush by Diggs set up sophomore running back Audric Estime’s seven-yard scamper and tacked on seven more points, giving Notre Dame its largest lead of the season. Sophomore running back Chris Tyree joined the party on Notre Dame’s next drive. He ran for 26 yards on its first play. Three snaps later, he finished it himself with a 12-yard rush right up the gut.

Even when they weren’t forcing turnovers, the Irish defense dominated. And while much of the focus was on how Notre Dame started the first half, the way they ended it was even more significant — a sack by Foskey, the 25th of his career to pass Justin Tuck ‘05 for the most in school history.

One week after upsetting then No. 16 NC State, the Eagles offered little resistance to the Irish in any facet. As the snow turned from swirling to suffocating, with visibility the only thing lower than Boston College’s point total, they had virtually no chance of getting back in the game. Estime added his second touchdown of the game 9:06 into the third quarter. Other than junior tight end Michael Mayer becoming the third player in school history to total 2,000 yards, both sides largely played out the string the rest of the way.

This season is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic in Notre Dame’s recent history. Saturday, on the other hand, provided the type of comforting reassurance rarely afforded to the Irish this year. Notre Dame already proved it can look like the type of high-end program necessary to win the biggest of games. Their 35-14 win over then No. 4 Clemson proved as much. However, they’ll never get the chance of playing under the sport’s brightest lights if they can handle the lower-profile tests on their schedule.

“Great teams are able to play to a standard … not to an opponent. Great teams, championship teams, they set a standard saying this is the way we’re gonna work. There’s no other option,” Freeman said. “It’s something we’ll continue to strive to be.”

“It’s how you respond, to me, that really dictates the future. And that’s the challenge I always have with these guys. It’s never what you foresee on the front end, but it’s how you respond.”

Saturday’s victory was the latest chapter in Notre Dame’s impressive second-half of a response. It doesn’t mean they’ll never play down under Freeman again, but given they end the year with the Trojans and a TBD opponent in what should be a respectable bowl game when the Irish prepare for their next game without loads of national pageantry, they know they can thrive, not just survive.

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Key moments of the game: Notre Dame versus Boston College

No. 18 Notre Dame dominated the Boston College Eagles this afternoon in their home finale and senior day, securing the win in a  44-0 blowout. Here are five key moments of the game that contributed to the Irish’s victory in the 27th meeting of the two teams. 

Ben Morrison Interceptions 

Freshman cornerback Ben Morrison was a star against the Eagles and helped get things rolling for the Irish. Less than three minutes into the game, Morrison intercepted the ball on the BC 20. The Irish then secured the first touchdown of the game. But Morrison had more to give. Just when the Eagles had a substantial drive in the final two minutes of the first, QB Emmett Morehead’s pass was intercepted by Morrison in the end zone. In the third quarter of gameplay, Morrison did it again; this time, in a snow squall. His five career interceptions are the most for an Irish freshman since former Irish safety Kyle Hamilton had four in 2019, and the most yearly for an Irish player ever since Manti Te’o intercepted seven in 2012, placing Morrison in a suitable spot for a freshman All-American honor. The true freshman is just getting started.

Run Irish Run

The Irish saw the most success today in the run game. Granted, the weather may not have given them much of a choice. But the Irish backs still showed up in a big way. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne threw for 122 yards and one touchdown in the first half (156 total), but was 10/19 for completion (13-25 overall). These bad misses on several passes coupled with Pyne’s lack of effectiveness in the red zone did not hinder the Irish today, but must be noted. The Irish demonstrated efficiency within possession, as all seven of their drives in the first half resulted in points (three field goals, four touchdowns). Three of these touchdowns were a product of rushing the ball, as was the prior first down. 214 of Notre Dame’s 336 first-half yards came on the ground. Meanwhile, Boston College rushed for just one yard in the first 30 minutes.

Running backs dominate gameplay

The running back trio of sophomore Logan Diggs, sophomore Audric Estime, and junior Chris Tyree dominated consistently throughout gameplay, carrying the Irish to a 37-0 lead at halftime. Diggs had a stellar performance, kicking things off for the Irish with a 51-yard rushing first down in the first play of the game. Diggs would later run it in for a touchdown 4:55 into the first quarter. By then, Diggs already had 75 yards on the ground on seven carries, eclipsing Notre Dame’s rushing production last weekend (66 yards) in their 35-32 win over Navy. “Diggs on the carry” echoed repeatedly throughout Notre Dame stadium as the sophomore amassed over 122 yards in the game. Estime also contributed greatly with a touchdown in the second quarter,  and Tyree followed suit well. Estime had another touchdown in the third, earning 71 total yards at the end of the game. Tyree clocked out at 50. 

Turnovers and sacks wither down the Eagles

Turnovers were key for the Irish this game to show the Eagles which team was boss in the first half. Three interceptions from Morrison, a fumble recovery by senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey, and a fumble recovery on a backward pass from senior linebacker Marist Liufau gave the Irish momentum and withered down the already lethargic Eagles. Foskey’s sack in the final seconds of the first quarter earned him the all-time sack record at ND, passing former Irish Justin Tuck’s record of 24.5 sacks with 25 of his own. Junior Xavier Watts also contributed a sack at the end of the third, with Justin Ademilola right behind him.

Irish keep morale in difficult weather conditions 

The biting weather that produced a feels-like temperature of 11 degrees at kickoff did not deter the Irish from having their highest-scoring game of the season. Explosive plays early contributed to an Irish 37-0 shutout by the end of the first half, which continued for a final score of 44-0. Boston College was looking like they had quit and wanted to leave early on, but this only increased as time progressed. When the snow picked up in the second half, leaving little visibility, the Irish did not waver. Irish players danced and stirred up the crowd as the flakes covered the field, and gameplay went on. A mix of the senior day sentimentality and some true Irish grit gave the Irish a well deserved, confidence-instilling blowout to round out things at home.