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“Find the better way”: Captain Bo Bauer talks leadership, ownership ahead of Cal

It’s no secret that, at 0-2, the Notre Dame football team is feeling some pressure. And the leadership position that being a captain of said team can certainly amplify that pressure.

This certainly rings true for 2022 captain Bo Bauer. After Notre Dame’s home opener loss against Marshall, the fate of Marcus Freeman’s debut season hangs in the balance. Especially with sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner’s season-ending injury, the Irish have had to rethink their entire game plan moving forward.

In addition to restructuring the offense around junior Drew Pyne, the defense has had to take a hard look at itself to see what needs improvement in order to prevent fourth-quarter games of catchup. For Bauer, this review began with a self-evaluation as a player and a captain.

“The first thing I said is ‘what could I have done to, you know, get these guys to the point,’” Bauer said. “We’ve had great leaders who have not let the standard fall. And now that’s on my shoulders.”

Such high standards make a tough loss like the one to Marshall an even tough pill to swallow. Bauer said that the days following Marshall have been difficult. But that this defeat was also a motivating factor for him.

“It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, is to walk around the locker room and look these guys in the eye who’ve given me the greatest gift, the greatest trust in my life to be a captain and lead these guys,” Bauer said. 

The team bond has added an emotional level to the issues at hand. Bauer said that the strong relationships he and his teammates have with each other influence the push to make a play happen. This can also lead to a strong response when it does not go their way.

“I think a lot of the times that it comes down to the guys, we all love each other so much that we wanna make the play,” Bauer said. “And not for some selfish reason or something. It’s ‘we want to win the game together to see our brothers happy and successful’ and we just kind of have to make the game smaller. Just, ‘look, what’s my job this play’ and do that over and over and over again.”

For Bauer, he has focused in on his role on defense. Despite the defense looking like the Irish’s strong suit, they have run into issues in their execution.

“We have to attack the ball,” he said. “Two games, no takeovers. Now it’s starting to be like ‘we have to take ownership for that.’”

Bauer himself posted two tackles on the day Saturday. But the defense was unable to stop some of the “X-plays” Marshall threw at them. According to Bauer, frustration over this stems from the fact that they are consistently working well in practice.

“There’s 11 angry guys out there every snap on defense trying to knock back the tacklers, put them on the ground,” he said of himself and his fellow defenders. “We’re taking it very personally that that kind of didn’t go that way [in the games].”

Moving forward, Bauer said it all comes down to one question: “When it matters the most, can you do what you need to do?” Despite the love the team has for each other and the effort they are putting into practice, the execution of what they learned in their training is where it matters most. If they cannot perform on the field, what they did in practice can risk proving futile.

“We just need to be better,” Bauer said. “I’m willing to find the better way, whatever that may be, and do whatever it takes to get us heading in the right direction.”

Contact Emily at edefazio@nd.edu

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Golden, Rees coordinate plan for major changes 

After a devastating defeat against unranked Marshall, the Irish are looking to regroup and revitalize this weekend at home against Cal. The loss of sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner due to injury threw an even bigger wrench for the Irish. Both the defense and offense came out flat in last week’s game. And there is a dire need for improvement on both sides of the ball. 

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive coordinator Al Golden shared similar sentiments about their mindsets and where they hope to go. Taking accountability and standing behind Marcus Freeman and the team, both coaches are determined to fix the mistakes of the last two weeks.

‘It all starts with me’

The Notre Dame offense has consistently fallen short this season. Shortcomings and red flags seen during the Ohio State game were only exemplified in the disappointing performance against Marshall. Buchner’s inaccuracy on deep passes coupled with the lack of holes created by the offensive line made it difficult for the Irish to move the chains. With Buchner out, however, junior quarterback Drew Pyne could be the switch the Irish need. Experienced and ready to assume Buchner’s role as starting quarterback, Pyne brings a different perspective to the table.

“Drew’s care factor is about as high as anyone you can be around,” Rees said. “I told Drew, we are in a tough spot right now and we need you here. Drew knows the playbook and has respect for his teammates. He’s prepared himself for this for a long time.”

Though this new change will certainly shake things up on offense, Rees foresees it as a way to pivot and create enhanced offensive play. 

“There’s certainly things that Tyler does at a high level that we’ll adjust to or pivot from,” Rees said. “We have a lot of faith and trust in Drew, and we are building that in Steve Angeli right now. Our job is to make sure these two guys are ready to go and play in a football game.”

Rees recognizes that the success of the offense stems from him, and he takes ownership of the team’s performance. Rees’ play calling has been largely conservative, so it will be interesting to see what he does this weekend.

“It all starts with me,” Rees said. “I have to be better, I have to do more to make sure everybody knows what is expected and what needs to be done. We are extremely driven to make sure that we will fix what we need to.”

Rees “believe[s] there can be expansion in the playbook” and must put players in a place that is advantageous to the offense. Running back Chris Tyree, said to be a key asset for the Notre Dame offense this year, has seen little action on the field. 

“We have to continue to find ways to get the guys who will make our offense more explosive and get more touches,” Rees said. “Tyree certainly falls under that category.” 

Despite all the negatives on the offense, there were some good moments. Rees emphasized the importance of recognizing these positives to stay motivated and replicate them while replacing the negatives. 

“There are positives and you gotta find them,” Rees said. “We need to make sure that everyone is doing their job and improving.”

‘We have to do a better job tackling, number one’

The Irish expected their defense to be a huge strength. But so far, their performance has been less than stellar. Missed tackles. No turnovers. Collapsing at the end of long drives at the end of the game. All of these problems have plagued the Irish defense. Though they were able to keep the points down, the defense needs to step up. Golden recognizes this, feeling “disappointed by not discouraged” by the early results, getting straight to the point.

“We have to do a better job tackling, number one,” Golden said. “And our fourth quarter execution has to improve. That’s on me, I have to do a better job putting them in a position to execute in the fourth quarter, and we have to do a better job tackling as a unit in general.”

Golden’s ownership of the team’s shortcomings is similar to that of Rees, highlighting the accountability of both coordinators.

“We can mix it up and do a better job,” Golden said “We’ve limited explosives and have kept the points down. But what we haven’t done is turn the field on a takeaway. So takeaways, more hits and sacks on the quarterbacks are things we can do a better job of.”

These elements, especially an increasing emphasis on tackling, could make all the difference for the Irish defense. However, despite the chaos, Golden recognized the three defensive captains as providing a constant for the Irish defense the past two weeks.

“(Isaiah) Foskey has shown leadership and a late in-game energy. We have to keep finding the matchup for him and help him get pressure on the quarterback,” Golden said. “JD Bertrand’s been very good in terms of setting the front and communication. Bo Bauer’s obviously doing a great job on special teams. Very pleased with all three of these guys but at the same time disappointed, because they’ve worked very hard and aren’t getting the results that they deserve. They gotta keep fighting and good things will happen.”

Preparing for Saturday

Golden, Rees, and the rest of the coaching staff are looking at everything from “the top down.” Though the Irish have not started strong, there is no denying they are trying hard to turn things around. Not taking things for granted and recognizing the importance of each play, Rees says, is the name of the game this weekend.

“Anytime you play this game the margins between wins and losses are very small,” Rees said. “You can have a number of losses that get masked because you won the game. We must not take things for granted. Play in and play out, it matters how everyone does their job.”

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu