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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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Thomas: Freeman’s offensive approach looks nearsighted as bigger tests loom

Notre Dame scored 44 points last weekend, and they followed it up with 41 points at No. 16 Syracuse. That’s certainly an improvement on the last time they scored 40+ points. That came against North Carolina, at which point the Irish followed with a combined 42 points against BYU and Stanford, two struggling teams with a combined 7-10 record.

But is it sustainable? Marcus Freeman said some of the right things after the win against Syracuse. He wants to establish an offensive identity, and he feels the Irish have done that. Certainly, 56 carries for 246 yards feels like an established identity. But when asked about inconsistencies in the passing game, Freeman dismissed those concerns. He even felt a little defensive, saying, “We scored, what, 41 points?” The first-year head coach checked the box score as if to verify his numbers. He went on to note that if they can score 41 points the way they just did, that’s what they’ll do.

“I’m not looking for a certain number of passes or a certain number of rushes,” Freeman said in the final comments of his postgame press conference.

I mean, that’s good and all, but is it a little narrow-minded, particularly when you consider the Irish’s next opponent? Unbeaten and fifth-ranked Clemson.

Going into this past two-game stretch, the Irish knew one or two things about their inconsistent offense. One, they had arguably the best tight end in the country and probably the best tight end in the program’s vaunted history at the position. Two, they had an improving offensive line and a talented trio of running backs.

Against UNLV, the Irish had a chance to maybe try and find something else. The outmatched Rebels didn’t really belong on the same field with the Irish. Yes, leaning into your identity is good, but did Notre Dame really need to ride Michael Mayer as much as they did in that contest? Could they not have given more than one target to freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather? Or a couple more to Lorenzo Styles Jr, Braden Lenzy, Deion Colzie or Jayden Thomas? It just felt like a missed opportunity to develop more of a well-rounded offense against a defense that wasn’t going to do much against anything that week.

Fast forward a week later, and it still feels like more of the same. Granted, Syracuse was a tougher game, and the Irish were underdogs. So leaning into your strengths, the downhill running attack, is good. But you can’t ignore what was another shoddy performance from Drew Pyne. He’s now started six games for the Irish. In his last three, he is 36-74 for a combined 472 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s under 50% completion for an average of 157.3 yards per game. That’s not good, and ignoring that isn’t going to solve much.

I’m not much for incredibly negative columns. And I try not to be one of the doomsday message board posters who act like this is the worst Notre Dame team of the century. Certainly, the Irish deserve props for a ranked win on the road. This isn’t meant to find only the negatives in an overall solid performance. But even with that mentality, Freeman’s mentality and comments feel a little ignorant of the challenges to come.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say Notre Dame is not going to be able to run the ball 56 times against Clemson. Game script isn’t going to allow that. And against a far bigger Clemson defensive line, the Irish probably aren’t going to be averaging nearly five yards a carry. Pyne is going to need to throw the ball. And he’s probably going to need to find players not named Michael Mayer.

Pyne did link up with Colzie three times on Saturday, a nice confidence booster for the sophomore heading into a massive game. But Pyne also went 2-7 for eight yards when trying to connect with Merriweather (one target), Thomas or Styles (three targets each).

Merriweather remains an odd situation. He proved he can be a solid downfield weapon with his 41-yard touchdown against Stanford. That may be his best asset throughout his years in South Bend. For an Irish offense whose longest play of the season came back on their first offensive play from scrimmage, it’s a desperately needed dimension. However, since that go-ahead touchdown, Merriweather has received all of two targets in the past nine quarters.

I like Freeman a lot, and I still think he was the right hire for Notre Dame. Long term, with his recruiting ability, he could still be the guy that breaks the title drought for the Irish. But you have to hope he’s more concerned with the passing game than he lets on to the media. And you have to be a little disappointed with the lack of development it’s shown.

An overreliance on Mayer can be excused early with a plethora of unproven wide receivers. But now, those receivers remain relatively unproven not just because of youth, but because they’re just not getting targeted. To say you’re not concerned with a 9-19 passing performance feels a little nearsighted. Because if Pyne completes under 50% of his passes against Clemson — the fourth straight game he’d be at or under 50% — the Tigers might win by 30. If he finds himself under 210 yards passing for the fourth straight game, the Irish are probably facing a blowout loss in primetime. Not to mention a 2-3 record at home after having lost there just once since 2018.

Celebrate every win, for sure. This column isn’t to say Notre Dame shouldn’t feel good about beating a top-20 team on the road. Winning is difficult, and Notre Dame has somewhat righted the ship with five wins in six games (despite the one loss being absolutely mind-boggling). But a lack of development throughout the offense and Freeman’s comments regarding the passing struggles are reason for concern as Clemson — and eventually, a top-10 USC team — approach. Without a passing game, beating No. 16 is probably this team’s ceiling. And Freeman was not brought on to beat the 16th-best team in the country. It might be a harsh word, but it feels immature offensively to bristle at the question regarding the faltering passing attack simply because you scored 41 points.

You scored 41 points because Syracuse can’t stop the run, and they haven’t been able to do it all year. Far worse rushing tacks have also victimized the Orange on the ground. The 246 rushing yards were certainly great, but it was likely more an indictment of Syracuse’s poor tackling and undersized defensive line than anything else. Clemson is going to bring a monstrous line to South Bend and more talent on both sides of the ball. You can’t be one-dimensional and beat the Tigers.

Notre Dame has an identity in its offensive line and ground game. But to maximize your ceiling and challenge elite teams in the modern era, you also need a passing game. Freeman seems almost alarmingly unconcerned about the lack of Notre Dame’s aerial attack. It’s okay to both enjoy this win over a ranked opponent and be critical of an underwhelming and at times flat-out bad quarterback performance. Freeman seemed unwilling to admit that the latter could present an issue down the stretch, at least outwardly.

One can only hope that despite this, there is internal understanding of the growth that needs to happen offensively. Because if not, Notre Dame might be celebrating wins over No. 16 as their biggest wins for a lot longer than this fanbase wants.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu

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Irish run over, through and around No. 16 Syracuse, thrash Orange, 41-24

SYRACUSE, New York — In what is nothing short of an unpredictable season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue to play their best football against better opponents and away from Notre Dame Stadium. This time it was made evident in the Irish’s commanding 41-24 win over the No. 16 Syracuse Orange Saturday afternoon. 

Irish dominance at the close of the first half and opening of the second half helped them establish a 24-7 lead. Syracuse’s backup quarterback, Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, forced into the game after an injury to Garrett Shrader, sparked the Orange to 10 straight points. But, with a chance to drive and tie the game, Del Rio-Wilson tossed a backbreaking interception. Notre Dame responded with a touchdown drive to take back its two-score lead. A blocked punt set up a one-play touchdown drive that iced the result, giving Notre Dame a 38-17 lead. The two teams traded scores, with an Irish field goal marking the final points of the day and making up for the 41-24 final score. 

Ultimately, Notre Dame’s ground game was the storyline. Sophomore running backs Audric Estime (124 yards) and Logan Diggs (87 yards) combined for 40 carries and 211 yards. That came a week after Diggs ran for 130 yards against UNLV in his breakout performance of the year. It was Estime’s second 100+-yard performance of his season. 

“Logan [Diggs] is my brother. We’re always trying to push each other every day. We have that bond, it’s unbreakable. We always feed off each other,” Estime said.

Estime scored twice, and Diggs added a touchdown of his own. The Irish didn’t need much out of the passing game, completing just nine passes. They did see a small breakout performance from Deion Colzie who notched three receptions for 44 yards. Junior tight end Michael Mayer continued his record-setting career with three catches for 54 yards. The second of those three catches vaulted the junior to No. 1 all-time in Notre Dame tight end career receiving yards. 

Defensively, the Irish were a dominant force outside a brief stretch in the third quarter. Senior transfer safety Brandon Joseph and senior linebacker Marist Liufau collected interceptions for the Irish, both at key moments. Junior linebacker Jordan Botelho had two sacks and a quarterback hit as part of a four-sack defensive effort from the Irish. Senior linebacker J.D. Bertrand put forth another strong effort, with five tackles, including one for loss, two quarterback hits and a big tipped pass on fourth down. 

Irish use defense, ground game to take early lead

Notre Dame got off to the fastest start imaginable. They deferred the kick and still needed just seven seconds to make their mark on the scoreboard. Senior transfer safety Brandon Joseph stepped in front of a Shrader slant pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. 

“I was just doing my job, dropping down in the zone,” Joseph said on the pick. “The quarterback was staring at me and just threw it at me.” Joseph also noted it was the first pick-six of his career and that he gave the ball to his dad. 

A couple of penalties, one on the touchdown celebration and one on the ensuing kickoff, gifted the Orange 30 yards, however. Syracuse capitalized on the short field with a touchdown drive to tie the game. Improved defense on both sides kept that the score at the end of the first quarter. 

Notre Dame ran the ball well in the first quarter but couldn’t quite put the finishing touches on drives. A heavy dose of Diggs and Estime brought the Irish to the brink of the red zone. Notre Dame gave Estime the first two carries of the game after he fumbled for the third time in four games last weekend. The Irish continued to trust the sophomore, and he responded in a big way. 

“That helped for sure. Getting the first carries means a lot for me,” Estime said. “It shows the trust that the [coaches] have in me. That was a big confidence booster.” 

However, after the early rushing success, junior running back Chris Tyree was thrown for a three-yard loss. His ten-yard reception set up a manageable third down, but Notre Dame could not convert. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. On its second drive, Notre Dame got into Syracuse territory. Three Estime runs for 24 yards pushed the ball to the Syracuse 39. However, on 2nd and 4, the Irish had a false start and then repeated the offense one play later. That forced them into a 3rd and 11, and the Irish could not convert. 

“We had been prepared for [the noise at the JMA Wireless Dome],” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “They really hadn’t stopped us in the first half. [The message to the team] was like just ‘calm down’, don’t beat yourselves, go out there and execute.” 

The Irish did just that. After another defensive stop, the Irish turned back to the run game, keeping it on the ground on nine of the 11 plays on their next drive. Diggs did a bulk of the work, breaking off a 16-yard run as part of his 31 yards on that drive. The sophomore from Louisiana also punched in the score, putting the Irish ahead for good, 14-7. The drive set the tone for a contest in which Notre Dame ran the ball 56 times on 75 offensive snaps. 

“That’s been the plan since… probably Cal. That’s our identity,” Freeman noted. “When we get the opportunity to throw it, we’ll throw it.” 

Freeman brushed off concern about a middling performance from Pyne (9-19, 116 yards, one touchdown, one interception). 

“We scored… 41 points. If we can score 41 points doing it the way we just did, we’re going to continue to do that. We’re not looking to have a certain amount passes… we’re looking to score points.” 

Defense dominates after early touchdown

That certainly wasn’t an issue as the day went on, although it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Notre Dame. A three-and-out and interception punctuated a pair of fruitless drives following the touchdown. However, the Irish defense found a zone after Syracuse’s initial score, holding the Orange to 35 yards on 20 offensive plays after their first scoring drive. Shrader started the day 4-5 for 36 yards and finished the half by completing one of his final nine passes for negative one yard.

The Irish also limited the contributions of Sean Tucker, the Orange’s bell cow in the backfield. They held Tucker to 97 total yards, including 65 rushing yards on 3.8 yards per attempt. More importantly for the Irish, a lot of Tucker’s running was inefficient. Efficiency is measured by gaining 50% of the yards to gain on first down, 70% on second down and 100% on third and fourth down; Tucker delivered an efficient play on just three of 12 first-half touches. Comparatively, the Irish were efficient on 59% of their running plays, excluding quarterback scrambles. 

Syracuse gifted the Irish a huge chance late in the first half, opting to go for a 4th and 9 from the Notre Dame 39. Bertrand tipped the pass and forced the turnover on downs. The Irish turned to the Pyne-Mayer connection, and the duo responded with two straight completions for 48 yards. The first, for 37 yards, gave Mayer the aforementioned record. After that, Pyne found sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas for a touchdown and a 21-7 halftime advantage. 

Quarterback change puts Irish on their heels

For a moment, the game looked like it would turn into an utter blowout. The Irish added a field goal early in the third quarter, and Syracuse turned to its backup quarterback due to an unspecified injury to Shrader. The Orange didn’t gain a first down in their first drive under Florida transfer Carlos Del Rio-Wilson. However, a 30-yard completion sparked the second drive, and Syracuse was able to get into field goal range.

Kicker Andre Szmyt was nails from 54 yards out, making it a 24-10 game. After that, the Irish ran twice for one yard and threw an incomplete. Suddenly, their offensive strength looked off-kilter. And Syracuse proceeded to rip through the Irish defense for 67 yards on five plays. Completions of 23 and 30 yards set up a Tucker 4-yard waltz into the end zone. Del Rio-Wilson ultimately threw for 190 yards in the second half on 11-122 passing. 

The Irish offense again failed to pick up a first down, giving Syracuse a chance to tie. However, senior defensive tackle Howard Cross tipped a Del Rio-Wilson pass, and Liufau tracked the deflection, diving backward to secure the interception. 

“We’re a defense that puts a lot of emphasis on turnovers… For him to get that pick and get the ball back to the offense, it was huge,” Joseph said. “The turning point of that game.” 

Irish ice the game

The Notre Dame offense took advantage of its defense’s efforts, turning back to the run game. Tyree ran the ball five straight times, gaining 17 yards in the process. Pyne then completed his lone pass of the second half, for 11 yards to Colzie on third down. A pass interference call then set up Estime for his first touchdown of the afternoon, an 11-yard burst up the middle. 

The Irish then allowed one total yard on the ensuing drive by Syracuse, seemingly figuring out Del Rio-Wilson. 

“We were really trying to pressure the backup quarterback, and he started to throw the ball really well. So we backed off on the pressure,” Freeman said regarding schematic adjustments after the Syracuse surge. 

The Irish then drilled the nail into the coffin with a punt block via junior cornerback Clarence Lewis. It was their fifth punt block of the season, including their fourth in the past three weeks, a highwater mark this century for the Irish. Estime needed just one play to convert a two-yard touchdown, and the Irish led 38-17. 

From there, the final minutes of the game were ceremonial. Syracuse drove down one more time for a meaningless touchdown. They attempted an onside kick that was collected with ease by Mayer. The Irish used Estime’s 28-yard run to take advantage of the short field. They couldn’t punch in a fourth rushing touchdown, but they did set up Grupe with a chip-shot 20-yard field goal. Syracuse’s final offensive drive saw them lose seven yards on first down, courtesy of Botelho’s second sack. They didn’t move the chains, allowing Notre Dame to kneel out the clock. 

The Irish pick up their second-ranked win of the year. They previously beat BYU when the Cougars, now 4-5, were ranked inside the top 20. They also have a win over UNC, who was unranked when the Irish played them but entered today at No. 21 in the AP Poll. The Irish have won five of their past six, and have a chance to stun everyone to maybe move back into the Top 25, with unbeaten No. 5 Clemson visiting South Bend next week. The Tigers beat Syracuse 27-21 last week. Kickoff for next week’s game is set for 7:30 p.m. EST.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Thomas: How the Irish can build for the future without sacrificing 2022

Hopes of a national championship, a playoff berth, or even a New Year’s Six bowl game have evaporated for Notre Dame this season. The first two ended when the Irish dropped their second straight game to open the season, a stunning loss to Marshall. The latter ended upon Notre Dame’s embarrassing 16-14 defeat to the Stanford Cardinal. 

So what’s left to play for? And how can Notre Dame build for the future while not trying to give away wins? As much as tanking is a part of professional sports, it doesn’t exist in college. You only get four years with players — if you’re lucky. If you are an elite-level program, your top players stay for just three years. To simply give up on winning to play some younger players could instantly lose a locker room.

Notre Dame’s culture is praised by current players and alumni alike. And if Marcus Freeman jeopardizes that to start planning for 2023, it would be a catastrophic mistake. So here’s a look at some of the dos and don’ts over the last five or six games of this season (bowl eligibility pending).

DON’T: Start Steve Angeli

I like freshman quarterback Steve Angeli. He was a fun player to watch in the spring game last semester. His performance there is largely why so many are rooting for him to usurp Drew Pyne as the starter. Realistically, Angeli is not going to be some kind of instant upgrade to Pyne, nor does he give the Irish a better chance at winning games at the current moment.

Give me another ten minutes on this deadline I’m writing on right now, and I could probably find a nice long list of quarterbacks that had a good spring game and disastrous seasons. Let’s not assume Angeli is some savior because he had a couple of spring-game touchdowns.

Pyne has proven he has starting quarterback-caliber talent. He played very well against UNC and BYU. He was serviceable against Cal and UNLV. We didn’t get a full glimpse of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner this year. And there’s no guarantee the Irish go to the transfer portal for a quarterback next year. Pyne remains part of this team’s future under center, and he’s a key leader in the locker room. To bench him so the Irish can “see what they have” would be a quick way to lose the locker room.

It’d be nice to see the Irish get some big leads against inferior opponents down the stretch (Navy, Boston College), so Angeli can get some game reps in. But he shouldn’t be starting. No matter how much I want to write “Peanut Butter Angeli” as a headline.

DO: Get everyone not named Michael Mayer more action in the passing game

Last week should have been a prime opportunity for this. But rather than expand the offense, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees demonstrated what we already knew about the Irish. Junior tight end Michael Mayer can dominate most teams and, in single coverage, he’s a total mismatch. The problem? Not only will teams like Syracuse, Clemson, and USC likely find ways to make life harder for Mayer, the Irish won’t have Mayer next year. Finding additional threats in the passing game will benefit the Irish in the short term and the long term.

The list is extensive. Do you want sophomore Lorenzo Styles to be your No. 1 receiver for the next year or two? Start getting him more than three or four targets a game. The drops are bad right now, but the lack of a consistent workload is also hampering his development. Same with sophomore Jayden Thomas.

And your guess is as good as mine when it comes to why freshman Tobias Merriweather is barely seeing the field. He played a bit under a third of the offensive snaps last week, which was a welcomed bump from past contests. The Irish have to see what they have past Mayer, or else the wide receiving corps is going to remain a crippling part of this roster moving into 2023. Get tight ends sophomore Mitchell Evans and freshman Holden Staes some reps in the passing game and not just in the quarterback sneak game. The Irish will need both to be a threat next year.

DON’T: Give up on Estime, Styles, etc

At the beginning of the year, a lot of the Irish’s hopes were contingent on unproven talent having big years. Topping that list were sophomores Styles and running back Audric Estime. Both have had some issues this year. Styles has had some brutal drops this season. Last week, on a 3rd and two, he was wide open on a return arrow route and dropped a pass that was a likely first-down conversion. Last week, Styles got wide open on a 3rd and 10 route. Pyne hit him in the numbers, but the sophomore dropped it.

Estime has looked great at times, but he’s fumbled the ball three times in the past four games. One of those fumbles came on a potential game-winning drive versus Stanford.

It’s easy to advocate for the younger guys getting more touches. But the younger guys are also definitively part of the offensive problem. That being said, the ceiling is still really high. Styles is getting open, which is half the battle. Estime is still an absolute ox of a running back, and he has solid numbers overall. Mistakes and growing pains are going to happen when you heavily rely on unproven talent. The Irish can’t let that affect their game plan.

Staes had a tough drop last week. Sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie has had a forgettable season to this point. Merriweather has hardly even tapped into his potential. Notre Dame has young talent to work with, but they have to be patient. The Irish have seen issues with poor development at key skill positions haunt them in 2022. They have to stick to their guns and continue getting their young guys the necessary reps. The Irish need them now, and they’ll need them even more next year. 

DO: Start utilizing more linebacker depth

Notre Dame’s linebacker room is an interesting piece. They’ve struggled at times this year, but they’ve also made some big plays. It remains to be seen how many of those players will take their extra year or two of eligibility and stay at Notre Dame. 

The Irish reeled in some impressive linebackers last year. Freshman Junior Tuihalamaka and freshman Jaylen Sneed should see at least some rotational snaps. They could become key pieces of the defensive rotation next year. Last week, senior J.D. Bertrand played 62 snaps. That’s a ton, and the Irish have some depth to spell Bertrand and some others in that position group. The Irish rotate their defensive line relatively liberally, and it would be nice to see the linebackers at least embrace some of that moving forward.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu