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Ranking Notre Dame’s remaining schedule

Before the season started, the Observer Sports Staff ranked the toughest games on the Irish schedule. It is apparent now that Marshall was severely underrated in those rankings. Nevertheless, after three games, the remaining schedule ranks fairly similar to what the preseason rankings were. Let’s take a look at the remaining nine opponents the Irish will face this season.

1. USC (Record: 3-0, AP Rank: 7)

The Trojans have arguably been the biggest surprise in college football this season. Many, including myself, assumed that the Trojans would need time to adjust to Lincoln Riley’s air-raid attack style of offense, but that transition has been nothing but smooth so far. The Trojans have plenty of talent at the skill positions. They are led by three players from the transfer portal: quarterback Caleb Williams, wide receiver Jordan Addison and running back Travis Dye. Addison has been a beast for the Trojans. He posted five touchdowns and nearly 300 receiving yards in USC’s first three games. The Trojans have only played Rice, Stanford and Fresno State this season, but with an easy PAC-12 schedule, it would be shocking if the Trojans have more than one loss when they play the Irish at the end of the season

Key to Irish victory: 

The Irish need to win this one in the trenches. The Trojans have what the Irish don’t: a prolific offense that revolves around a top-tier quarterback and a plethora of wide receiving talent. The Irish defensive line has to improve as the season goes. They must find a way to put pressure on Caleb Wiliams. On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish need to hope the offensive line continues to improve and they need to establish the run game. Similarly to the strategy against Ohio State, the Irish will need to do their best to keep the ball out of Caleb Williams’ hands as long as possible.

2. Clemson (Record: 3-0. AP Rank: 5)

There has been surprisingly very little talk surrounding the Tigers so far this season. Although they only have wins against Georgia Tech, Furman and Louisiana Tech, the Tigers have won all of those games fairly handily. The key to the Tigers’ success has been running back Will Shipley, who has six touchdowns on the season and is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Quarterback D.J. Uiagelelei looks to be much improved as well, having completed 64.8% of his passes for 662 yards and five touchdowns. The Tigers are anchored by a solid defensive corps as well that has already forced seven turnovers this season. Despite the lack of national attention, this Clemson squad feels similar to their national title teams from a couple of seasons ago.

Key to Irish victory:

This game is below the USC game because of the home atmosphere. Although the Irish fell at home to Marshall a couple of weeks ago, Notre Dame Stadium is going to be fired up for a game against Clemson. The Irish need to stop Uiagelelei’s production in this game. When Uiagelelei played in Notre Dame Stadium in place of Trevor Lawrence in 2020, he tore apart the Irish defense and nearly gave the Tigers the victory. The Irish defense can survive some long runs by Shipley, but they will have to limit the Tigers’ quarterback production if the Notre Dame offense is going to keep up with Clemson.

3. BYU (Record: 2-1, AP Rank: 19)

BYU was riding high after their double-overtime victory over Baylor two weeks ago, but last week’s 41-20 loss to Oregon brought the Cougars back down to earth. Quarterback Jaren Hall has been the centerpiece of a balanced BYU offense that has averaged 4.9 yards per carry on the ground and averaged nearly 300 passing yards a game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars must regroup after last week’s disaster against Oregon. In that game, the big play destroyed the Cougars, as they allowed 227 passing yards off of just 14 completions. BYU has two very winnable games ahead of their matchup against Notre Dame, so it is likely BYU comes into the Shamrock Series game as a top-15 team.

Key to Irish victory: 

BYU’s defensive weakness appears to be the big play, which doesn’t bode well for an Irish offense that has failed to produce many big plays all season. In order to win the game, the Irish need to contain Hall’s production and limit wide receiver Chase Roberts, who has 223 receiving yards on the season.

4. UNC (Record: 3-0, AP Rank: RV)

The Tar Heels have a 3-0 record, but it has been anything but pretty. After squeaking out a victory against Appalachian State in their second game, they beat Georgia State by only one touchdown the following week. The Tar Heels have a prolific offense that is led by freshman Drake Maye. Their defense will need to improve going forward though if they are going to compete in the ACC.

Key to Irish victory:

The Irish have to keep pace with UNC’s offense. They will need to get into an offensive rhythm against a subpar UNC defense. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne will need to step up and make some plays downfield.

5. Syracuse (Record 3-0, AP Rank: RV)

The Orange are a somewhat surprising 3-0 after dismantling Louisville 31-7 in week one. In week two, they beat Purdue on a last-minute play last weekend. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has completed 66.2% of his passes with eight touchdowns and he has yet to throw an interception.

Key to Irish victory: 

The Irish secondary will have to step up against Syracuse’s passing attack. Graduate student safety Brandon Joseph will have to lead the way, but others must step up as well if the Irish are to get a win in the Carrier Dome.

6. Boston College (Record 1-2, AP Rank: NR)

The Eagles were stunned by Rutgers in the opening game of the season, and they also suffered a 17-point loss to Virginia Tech in week two. The Eagles have struggled to generate much of any offense this season.

Key to Irish victory:

Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec will be out to prove himself on Senior Day. The Irish will have to keep him in check if they are going to avoid a Senior Day disaster.

7. Stanford (Record 1-1, AP Rank: NR)

The Cardinal destroyed Colgate in the first game of the season but fell flat in a 41-28 loss to USC. Quarterback Tanner McKee has as many interceptions as touchdowns and he will have to improve going forward if the Cardinal are going to compete in the PAC-12 this season.

Key to Irish victory:

This is a classic rivalry game and if the Irish get fired up to play under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium, this one shouldn’t be a problem.

8. UNLV (Record 2-1, AP Rank: NR)

UNLV has wins over Idaho State and North Texas with their sole loss being to Cal. Quarterback Doug Brumfield has been spectacular this season, completing 70.6% of his passes for seven touchdowns.

Key to Irish victory:

The Irish beat themselves in their stunning loss to Marshall. If they play even somewhat decently and limit their mistakes, they should have no problem against UNLV.

9. Navy (Record 0-2, AP Rank: NR)

The Midshipmen have been atrocious this season, having scored just 20 points in their first two games. They are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, which is not nearly enough in a triple offense attack. 

Key to Irish victory:

The triple offense attack has been far from successful for the Midshipmen this season. The Irish will have to keep it that way and prevent Navy from having long, time-consuming drives.

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As Irish search for answers, special teams provides consistency

During Saturday’s game against Marshall, there wasn’t any individual player who was the reason for success, or lack thereof. Throughout the 60 minutes of play, there was rare consistency between any one player. Tight end Michael Mayer stacked up 103 receiving yards, followed by wide receiver Lorenzo Styles with 69. Running back Audric Estime was second to only sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner who had a total of 33 rushing yards.

With these offensive stats also came a messy game for the Irish, and against an unranked team, Notre Dame was only able to come up with 21 points. On the defensive side, Howard Cross recorded 11 tackles, three of which were solos. DJ Brown notched 5 tackles on Saturday, and he joined linebackers Jack Kiser and JD Bertrand with nine total tackles. Yet again, these silver linings came hand-in-hand with missed tackles and broken coverage.  

However, one position group remained consistent within the Notre Dame roster: the special teams unit. On the punting end, Jon Sot totaled 169 yards on the day. On the returning end, Tyree and Styles totaled 59 yards (32 and 27 respectively), and Joseph returned 15 yards on a punt. 

“We challenged the kickoff return unit, and they did a good job of executing at the end of the game,” head coach Marcus Freeman said post game. “You know, you challenge Brandon Joseph, hey, you got a chance to return [a punt] let’s return. [Joseph] did one time today and you got some positive yards. So the special teams unit stepped up today. Majority really pleased with that phase of the ball.”

And while they weren’t perfect on the night, especially with a failure to recover graduate student place kicker Blake Grupe’s attempted onside kick, they were consistent. 

Sot provides punting consistency

Sot opened the Irish off with a 35-yard punt, landing at the Marshall 10, and the following drive for Marshall would be proven unsuccessful. The next time Sot would see the field would be with 3:14 left in the first quarter. This time, Sot punted the ball 36 yards, landing on the Marshall 24, likely shorter than the Irish wanted. The Thundering Herd scored on that drive.

It wasn’t until 8:10 left in the second that Sot would be needed again. This time, the Irish were trapped at their 27 after multiple incomplete attempts and were forced to punt. Sot came through, punting 61 yards to the Marshall 12. 

“Our special teams put the ball in a great field position at the five-yard line, and we have to, when it matters the most, execute,” Freeman said. 

The final time Sot would take the field would be with 10:32 left in the game. After a penalty, and multiple incomplete passes, the Irish were again forced to punt. Sot landed the ball 37 yards away at the Marshall 6. 

Out of Sot’s four punts on the field, three of them landed within 15 yards of the endzone. 

Return game vastly improves

On the returning end, Joseph kicked off the game with a fair catch at the Irish 41. The first time a Notre Dame player would return the ball would be when Tyree returned a kickoff from Marshall Rece Verhoff 32 yards to the Irish’s 33 in the second quarter. While this play would eventually lead to an Irish turnover, Tyree improved on last week when he averaged 11 yards per kickoff return.

The next return would be late in the second quarter when Styles returned a kickoff 27 yards to the Notre Dame 27. However, with only 15 seconds left, the Irish were unable to make anything out of it. Later in the game, Joseph returned his first punt of the year, this time taking it up 15 yards to the Irish 43. 

The last play that the special teams participated greatly in would be when Bo Bauer blocked a Marshall punt. While this seemed to spark a little bit of hope in the Irish fan base, it was ultimately too little too late.

“We have to execute and that’s at the end of the game. Fourth quarter. When the game’s on the line,” Freeman said. “We got to find a way to get a stop. We got to tackle this.”

While Marshall outworked Notre Dame in several categories Saturday afternoon, the Irish special teams outclassed the Herd’s unit. On average, Sot punted the ball to Marshall’s 13. Comparatively, Marshall’s punter John McConnell averaged the Irish 30. Sot also out punted McConnells average yardage 42.3 to 36.8. The Herd also returned one punt for a loss of three yards, and their one kickoff return managed just 20 yards.

Ultimately, the special teams set up the Irish for success, however, it was the rest of the team that were unable to execute, thus leaving the Irish to lose 26-21 and fall to 0-2 in the new Freeman era.

Olivia Schatz


Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu

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TaRiq Bracy, Rylie Mills prepared to lead Irish defense this season

Although the Irish came up short in last week’s season-opening loss in Columbus, there were plenty of positive takeaways, especially on the defensive side of the football.

The Irish secondary held a potent Ohio State offense to 223 passing yards, compared to the Buckeyes’ 683 passing yards against Utah in last season’s Rose Bowl.

One of the leaders who emerged on Saturday night was graduate student cornerback TaRiq Bracy, who finished the game with four tackles — three of which were solo.

Head coach Marcus Freeman acknowledged that Bracy has always been talented but has become more consistent as he matured as a football player.

“From the minute I got here, he was talented. There was no question to how talented TaRiq Bracy is,” Freeman said. “But what he has shown us is that he is able to be consistent and perform at a really high level every day.”

Freeman praised Bracy for his ability to play multiple positions and step into a big role as a senior.

“We have used him at multiple positions. It’s impressive for him to be able to play nickel and then go out to corner and then go back to nickel and to be able to ask him to do different things,” Freeman said. “He’s really performing right now as a senior should, and he is a guy that we are really going to depend on. I couldn’t be more pleased with his performance.”

Bracy was proud of the secondary’s performance Saturday, and he emphasized the importance of competing with any opponent.

“The message we sent is that we are here to play ball,” Bracy said. “Any time we play, we want to come out and compete at the highest level. We are ready. It doesn’t matter what team we play or who it is, we just want to compete.”

Bracy emphasized the importance of limiting explosive plays, which the Irish did well for the most part against the Buckeyes.

“The receivers are going to catch the ball. That’s part of football, but we want to limit their explosive plays and limit the yards after catch,” Bracy said.

Another player who stood out for the Irish on Saturday was freshman cornerback Ben Morrison, who finished the night with three total tackles.

Bracy praised Morrison for his ability to step into his first collegiate game and make an impact.

“We knew what he could do coming in. We saw him ball out in our fall camp,” Bracy said. “We were 100% confident in his play, and it showed on the field.”

Freeman also praised Morrison and freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey for their performance on Saturday.

“To have Jaden Mickey and Ben Morrison play and perform at the level that they did in that game as true freshmen, they are going to be special,” Freeman said. “Both of those players are going to be special for our football program for years to come.”

Bracy also praised graduate student safety Brandon Joseph for being a captain of the Irish secondary.

“He’s a smart player, very athletic and can change the game,” Bracy said. “Having a guy like that along with the rest of our safeties is very helpful playing that nickel and corner position and knowing you have help over the top.”

Despite the secondary’s success against the Buckeyes, the Irish came up short, and Bracy knows his team can learn from this loss.

“It’s football. You are going to win some and lose some. There has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser,” Bracy said. “And if you lose, you have to learn from it and bounce back.”

Bracy is excited to return home this weekend and feed off the crowd’s energy.

“It feels great to be back at home with the fans supporting us. We are ready to move on and play the next game,” Bracy said.

Bracy emphasized the importance of the Irish focusing on this week’s upcoming game against Marshall and not dwelling on the past.

“It’s about the next game,” Bracy said. “Coach Freeman says all the time, ‘one play, one life.’ If things don’t go your way, on to the next week. Get in the film room, practice hard and get ready for next week.”

Junior defensive lineman Rylie Mills, who finished Saturday’s game with three tackles, is also one of the anchors of the Irish defense.

Despite the loss, Mills felt that the defense competed well against the Buckeyes and that the Irish could get another shot at Ohio State in the playoffs if they continue to improve and take care of business.

“The biggest takeaway is that we are right there. And if we take care of business and do what we can do day in and day out the rest of this season, I have no doubt that we will play that team again,” Mills said.

Mills emphasized the importance of constantly improving as the season progresses and competing every day in practice.

“As we go on this season, we have to trend upwards,” Mills said. “We have to go out and dominate every day of practice.”

When asked about finishing games strong this season, Mills stressed the importance of working hard towards the end of practices.

“When we get to later periods of practice, are guys getting tired and wavering off, or do we still have the same intensity as when we came out there?” Mills said. “There’s things like that where, as we get to the tougher part of practice you have to keep up with the same intensity that you started.”

Mills also mentioned that he and his teammates have meticulously watched the film from Saturday’s game to look for areas that they can improve.

“For me specifically, I noticed that I have to work my pad level lower and work my moves better,” Mills said. “I’m my harshest critic, so every time I come away from a game like that and watch the film, I notice some highlights and things I did okay. However, there are things that I look at and realize I can do better. I just look at those and I know if I can really perfect that, I can be that much greater next week.”

Mills acknowledged that the defense was firing on all cylinders in the first half of Saturday’s game, and he hopes that the defense can replicate that performance going forward.

“The biggest positive is for the first half of football, we were stopping them. We were stopping the run and dominating the guy in front of us and working moves to get to the quarterback,” Mills said.

Mills believes the Irish are capable of bouncing back this season and getting another shot at Ohio State in the playoffs.

“If we just keep preparing and being intense in practice and focusing on finishing, at the end of the season we will play those guys again,” Mills said. “I know we will be way more prepared and ready to go.”

Like Bracy, Mills is excited to be back in front of the home crowd this Saturday.

“I’m super pumped for it. It’s always great when you are at home and you have the crowd on your side,” Mills said. “Last week they weren’t cheering when we were moving down the field, so it will be nice to have that.”

Nate Moller


Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu

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Notre Dame’s keys to victory against Ohio State

With the Irish currently sitting as 17.5-point underdogs against Ohio State, they are going to need a multitude of things to go their way come Saturday. Limiting the production of Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud will be nearly impossible, but there are other paths to victory for the Irish.

1. Win the turnover battle

This is an obvious one, but it is almost a necessity for Irish to upset the Buckeyes. With a young quarterback in sophomore Tyler Buchner, the Irish will need to avoid turnovers at all costs. Buchner had three crucial interceptions last year, and that is not going to fly in Columbus. Buchner will have his hands full, though, against a much-improved Ohio State defense led by former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

At cornerback, the Buckeyes will be led by Denzel Burke. Burke is coming off a terrific freshman season and has the potential to become one of the best corners in the league. The Buckeyes will also have plenty of talent at safety with Ronnie Hickman and Josh Proctor.

Although Proctor got injured last season, he arguably has the potential to become one of the best defensive playmakers in college football. Regardless, he will undoubtedly be a headache for Buchner and the Irish wide receiving corps. The Buckeyes also added Oklahoma State transfer Tanner McCallister to further solidify their secondary.

With all this being said, Buchner will need to be precise and decisive in the passing game. If Buchner tries to force passes out to the flat or into tight spaces, the Buckeyes have plenty of playmakers to make Buchner pay for potential mistakes.

On the other side of the football, the Irish need to generate turnovers at opportune moments. The Irish will need anything they can get to take the life out of the crowd, and a timely interception and fumble can do just that. Stroud is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, so the Irish will have to get lucky and get turnovers from their top defensive playmakers.

2. Limit Ohio State’s production through the air

C.J. Stroud is going to throw for a lot of yards against Notre Dame, and there is no way around that. What the Irish need to do is limit the big play. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the most important receiver for the Irish to stop. Unfortunately for the Irish, the Buckeyes have plenty of other options in the air. The incredibly athletic Marvin Harrison Jr. is one of these targets. So are Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka, two more reliable options for the Buckeyes to turn to as well.

So how can the Irish limit this lethal Buckeye passing game? The Irish cornerbacks will need to step up big time if they are going to have a chance. Junior Clarence Lewis struggled mightily in the Fiesta Bowl — he will have to be much improved if the Irish are going to stand a chance. Senior Cam Hart needs to step up as well. Although Hart had moments of greatness last season, there were times where he was the weak link of the Irish defensive corps. 

At safety, the Irish will need Northwestern senior safety transfer Brandon Joseph to be on top of his game. If Ohio State comes out of the gate firing with deep passes every which way, this game could be over before the first quarter. So it is vital for the Irish secondary to keep everything in front of them to keep the game close for as long as possible.

3. Develop a run game

Developing a run game is of the utmost importance for an Irish offense that should not try to rely too much on Buchner’s passing ability. The Irish have three great running backs, and it looks like all three of them should see plenty of snaps with no starter being named at the position.

Explosive junior Chris Tyree will likely lead the way for the Irish, bringing plenty of big-play potential. Tyree will be joined in the backfield by sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime, who are both ideal for short-run situations but more than capable of breaking a long run as well.

Diggs jumped onto the scene last year with a fantastic game against Virginia Tech, and he finished the year strong with three touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the process. Estime only had a handful of carries, but his six-foot, 228 lb frame should be perfect for goal line and third-and-short situations.

Aside from the running backs, Notre Dame should feature a much-improved offensive line. Sophomore Joe Alt will start at left tackle for the Irish after proving to be one of the best freshmen in the country at his position last year. Preseason AP All-American graduate student Jarrett Patterson will line up next to Alt, which should lock up the left side of the line. Alt and Patterson are joined by senior Zeke Correll, graduate student Josh Lugg and sophomore Blake Fisher, who all possess plenty of talent and experience to pave the way for a successful run game.

The Irish need to generate some long, slow drives that eat up the clock and keep the Ohio State offense off the field. Buchner himself is very effective on the ground, so look for him to contribute to this run game scheme as well. The Buckeyes have a strong defensive line, so this will be a huge matchup to keep an eye on Saturday night.

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu

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Irish secondary prepares for prolific Buckeye offense

If Notre Dame has any hope of upsetting Ohio State in Columbus this weekend, they will have to start by slowing down the Buckeyes dynamic passing attack. Despite losing star receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in the first round of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes still boast likely Heisman contenders quarterback C.J. Stroud and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

All eyes will be on Notre Dame’s secondary, especially junior cornerback Cam Hart, who is likely to be spending most of the contest matched up across from Smith-Njigba. Hart burst onto the scene last year, earning a starting job and recording 42 tackles, nine pass deflections, and two interceptions.

He brings good length and ball skills to the position, as he arrived at Notre Dame as a receiver before switching to defense before his first year, and matches up well size-wise with Smith-Njigba. Limiting the damage will be key, but that’s easier said than done. Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns in last year’s Rose Bowl victory for the Buckeyes.

“I think of it like any other game,” Hart said after a practice last week. “I know a lot of people want to put hype into it, and that for players can be very dangerous, so I just try to stay level-headed, and it’s football at the end of the day, so I just go out and play.” 

Hart missed much of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason and was absent for several days of fall camp. But he appears to be fully healthy heading into the season.

The Irish won’t just depend on his performance though. The other cornerbacks, notably junior Clarence Lewis and graduate student TaRiq Bracy will also have to perform at the highest level Saturday. Lewis, in particular, will be looking to bounce back after a rough outing in the Fiesta Bowl defeat to Oklahoma State last year.

Ohio State’s other receiving threats don’t have much experience but aren’t lacking in talent. Julian Fleming was the top receiver and No. 3 overall player in the class of 2020 per 247 Sports. Marvin Harrison Jr. — the son of pro football hall-of-famer Marvin Harrison Sr. — was also a highly touted prospect. The Buckeyes receivers will certainly give the Irish cornerbacks all they can handle.

Of course, the corners won’t handle the entire burden of attempting to stop the Buckeyes offense — the safeties will play a significant role as well. Somehow, the Irish have found a solid replacement for Kyle Hamilton, bringing in Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph. Teammates and coaches have raved about Joseph since the moment he stepped on campus. The expectations are high — he was named a preseason All-American, in addition to the responsibility that Notre Dame has put on his shoulders. But he looks to be more than capable of living up to these lofty goals.

“He’s a perfect fit,” safeties coach Chris O’Leary said. “When you look it, like what kind of guys fit, they have to fit our culture, and that’s not just on the field, that’s work ethic, that’s how they operate in the classroom, that’s how they operate off the field, so he checks all those boxes, and then when you cross the lines he’s a smart, instinctual football player, and all those things fit perfectly within our culture and our team.” 

Coming from the Big 10, Joseph has already played Ohio State twice.

“It definitely makes a difference,” he said. “I’ve game-planned for them before, something that everyone here hasn’t done.”

O’Leary praised the group for being so detail-oriented.

“Whether it’s pre-snap, seeing what the offense is giving us, having a plan for motion and change of formation and those types of things, just the confidence in that area, and they’re playing faster,” he said.

The safeties are a veteran group, led by Joseph and graduate students Houston Griffith and D.J. Brown.

“The three older guys, Brandon, Houston and D.J. have done an amazing job, not only with our group, but with the secondary, of making sure that we’re all tied together, we’re all on the same page,” O’Leary said. “They all lead by example with their work ethic, and they’ve all taken it to the next level as far as vocal leadership and taking command.”

While the group certainly does bring a great deal of experience, they have had to adjust to the scheme of new defensive coordinator Al Golden.

“It’s a whole new defense, there’s a whole different look,” Griffith said. “We’ve got different fronts, different coverages. We’re playing multiple covers sometimes.”

Griffith said communication is essential to the success of the entire defense.

In addition to the experience that the secondary brings, some young players have greatly impressed in fall camp as well. Freshmen corners Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey have particularly stood out.

It is clear that the Irish have a lot of talent in the secondary. But as a group, they are still learning to play together, and under a new scheme. Irish fans will hope they can do enough to slow down Ohio State’s prolific offense Saturday night.

Liam Coolican


Contact Liam at loolica@nd.edu.