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Crow: Three takeaways from Week 4 in College Football

The Big 12 is officially up for grabs

Through four weeks of the college football season, we are at the stage where conference hierarchies typically begin to emerge and pecking orders come into focus. At the very least, it should now be clear which teams are legitimate conference championship contenders and which are not. Even that cannot be said for this year’s Big 12, which feels more wide open than ever after Saturday’s results.

The presumptive favorite in the conference had previously been No. 6 Oklahoma, winners of six of the last seven Big 12 championships. That presumption came crashing down on Saturday, as the Sooners were upset by Kansas State in Norman, Oklahoma behind a dominant five-touchdown performance from Wildcats quarterback Taylor Martinez, a Nebraska transfer. Likewise, No. 22 Texas had a strong start to the season with a near-victory against Alabama, but it was ultimately defeated in overtime by rival Texas Tech. Suddenly, Kansas State and Texas Tech are both 1-0 in Big 12 play with head-to-head advantages over Oklahoma and Texas, respectively, leaving the Sooners and Longhorns with a significant amount of ground to make up.

No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Baylor are likely the current Big 12 favorites, but they face off next Saturday, and a Baylor loss would saddle them with an 0-2 conference record while teams like Kansas (who can usually be penciled in for last place prior to the start of the season) and TCU remain undefeated. The conference’s “worst” teams may be Iowa State and West Virginia, yet it would be no great shock to see either string together a few wins and find themselves in the hunt for a Big 12 title. Iowa State’s resume includes a win over a solid Iowa team, and the Cyclones’ only loss was by one-possession against Baylor. West Virginia started 0-2 with close losses against a ranked Pitt team and a should-be-ranked Kansas team. The Mountaineers have since turned their season around with a pair of victories that includes Thursday’s 33-10 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All of this is to say that it is anyone’s guess who will win the Big 12. Maybe December’s championship game will pit Oklahoma against Oklahoma State, or Baylor against Kansas State, or Kansas against TCU. There is certainly an element of excitement that comes from conferences having one or two clear favorites. The season-long buildup to a single game that could alter the entire playoff race, like Alabama-Georgia or Ohio State-Michigan, creates a special sense of heightened drama unique to a sport in which the regular season carries so much weight. If chaos is what you seek, though, look no further than the Big 12, which is sure to deliver it in abundance throughout the rest of the season.

Mixed bag for ‘basketball schools

One of the off-season’s strangest stories was the feud between two Kentucky head coaches, men’s basketball’s John Calipari and football’s Mark Stoops, that arose after Calipari referred to Kentucky as a “basketball school.” While the comment was not without validity, given the school’s illustrious history on the hardwood and comparatively dismal track record on the gridiron, taking a jab at another program within the Kentucky athletics umbrella felt unnecessary and in poor taste. Stoops quickly came to his team’s defense, noting that the football program is on the rise while its basketball counterpart has struggled as of late. Notably, Kentucky football has won ten games twice in four seasons after last doing so in 1977, while the two most recent men’s basketball seasons ended with a missed NCAA Tournament and a first-round tournament loss to Saint Peter’s.

Kentucky has taken care of business through the early stages of the football season, currently sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 7 as Stoops has made good on his word. Ironically, given the unusually high amount of discourse about what qualifies as a basketball school, the six schools widely considered to be college basketball’s “blue bloods” all entered week four with a 3-0 record. While some, like Kentucky, stayed hot, others saw their perfect start to the season come crashing down.

The Wildcats played host to Northern Illinois on Saturday and used 17 consecutive second-half points to break open a game that was tied at halftime. Kentucky star quarterback Will Levis threw four touchdown passes in a 31-23 win that did not earn any style points but kept the Wildcats in lockstep with a red-hot Tennessee team in the battle to be Georgia’s biggest SEC East challenger.

Further west, a pair of 2022 Final Four participants squared off as Kansas hosted Duke in front of a sold-out crowd in Lawrence. The Jayhawks continued their surprising resurgence in a 35-27 victory as quarterback Jalon Daniels continued to build his Heisman case, compiling over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even further west, UCLA remained perfect with a dominant 45-17 win on the road against Colorado. The Bruins have benefited from a forgiving non-conference schedule and will have their first true test when they host No. 15 Washington in a critical Pac-12 battle next Friday.

Indiana and North Carolina joined Duke in suffering their first losses of the season, both of which could be primarily attributed to defensive struggles. Indiana surrendered 38 first-half points on the way to a 45-24 loss on the road against Cincinnati. The Tar Heels hosted Notre Dame in Chapel Hill and allowed a previously struggling Irish offense to gain 576 yards as they coasted to a 45-32 win. As the season kicks into high gear, the next few weeks will reveal if the rise of the blue bloods in football is just a flash in the pan, or if this really is, to the dismay of Coach Calipari, the year of the football school.

Top teams show signs of vulnerability

A common critique of college football is that it lacks parity, that the same handful of teams compete for the national championship every year. This notion mostly holds true, and this season, teams like Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State already appear to be closing in on playoff lock status. Beyond that trio, however, the next tier of contenders has provided more questions than answers, and several top-ten teams were put to the test in week four.

No. 4 Michigan began its season with three consecutive blowout wins, though the legitimacy of their dominance was questioned due to an extremely weak nonconference slate. There now appears to be some truth to those concerns after the Wolverines were played tight by Maryland in a 34-27 win in their conference opener. Similarly, No. 5 Clemson faced its toughest opponent to date in No. 21 Wake Forest and required two overtimes to escape Winston-Salem with a 51-45 win. Clemson’s first few games established its offense as a relative weakness, but it was the defense that struggled against Wake, as Deacon quarterback Sam Hartman torched the Tigers to the tune of 337 yards and six touchdowns. Clemson showed encouraging signs of offensive improvement but will need to sort its defensive issues out in a hurry as they prepare to face No. 10 NC State this week.

Elsewhere, No. 7 USC featured one of the nation’s best offenses during the season’s first three weeks but struggled to move the ball against a subpar defense as they clawed out a 17-14 win over Oregon State. Kentucky also picked up their fourth win, using a second-half surge to beat Northern Illinois, but Oklahoma, and No. 10 Arkansas, were not as lucky. The Sooners fell at the hands of Kansas State while a potential game-winning Razorback field goal that bounced off the top of the goalpost before falling short proved costly in a 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. It is difficult to say that college football is moving toward greater parity when another Georgia-Alabama championship matchup looms; but this season promises a great deal of shakeups near the top as the race for the elusive fourth playoff spot continues.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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

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Viewpoint

A response to ‘Not a serious program’

I read Ryan Peters’ “Not a serious program” column that appeared the week after the Marshall game. As an attendee at that game, I would like to make a couple comments relative to what is happening in the stadium during games. I agree with him that ND Stadium IS NOT INTIMIDATING.  It once was. I am a 1970 graduate. I have been in the stadium many years since. I believe it was in 1967 that legendary Southern California coach, John McKay, stated that Notre Dame Stadium was the worst place to play because of the noise level. That noise was created by human voices. We didn’t have a loudspeaker blaring electronic noise between plays. We were so loud the opposing team couldn’t run plays. As another example, several years ago I was sitting in the lower level in the southeast part of the stadium mixed in amongst Pitt fans. As the teams were warming up, a number of Pitt fans were having a great time carrying on about how Pitt was going to maul us. With the “kickoff cheer” and the subsequent roar from the student body and fans in the stadium, they looked shocked and surprised. They sat down, and there was hardly a whimper out of them for the rest of the game.

What is different? I submit that the use of electronic noise and piped in “cheering” has taken the student body, the fans and the band out of the game. I was at the Marshall game and was appalled at the lack of noise support from Notre Dame fans. I don’t believe the fault lies totally with them, however. The electronic noise took them out of the game from the start. While I like the lead up to the opening kickoff with Kathy Richardson and the Dropkick Murphy’s, it needs to be timed effectively so that the student body can let the opposition know it is a force. From the opening kickoff on, it seemed that the electronic noise was piped in between every play. It not only took the student body and fan cheers out of the game, the electronic noise also stepped on the announcer and the referees. In short, it became the game.

If Notre Dame wants to have an intimidating stadium, it needs to put the noise back into the student body, the band and its fans. We were constantly reminded in the weekly run-up to a home game that we were a part of the Notre Dame “team,” and that we needed to let the opponents know we were there. We believed our participation had an effect. I think it did. Opposing teams were intimidated. Our players told us that and thanked us.

If Notre Dame wants to fix the noise in the stadium, fix the electronics.

On another matter, we had first time guests with us. I was honored and excited to show them the campus, traditions such as the “Trumpets in the Dome” and take them to the Convo to the upper-level sports history displays. Even though both activities were promoted in pre-game materials and the game program, “Trumpets under the Dome” was a whimper by the statute of Sacred Heart, and the Condo was locked down so that no athletic displays could be visited. An attendant told us it was by order of the University.  So much for that.

David A. Redle

class of 1970

Sept. 20

The views in this letter to the editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Gameday Gallery: Notre Dame vs. Cal

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From the Archives: False starts — Deceptively disappointing openings in Notre Dame football

The fanfare that characterized the beginning of the Freeman Era has all but silenced at this point. Even after capturing his first win against the California Golden Bears on Saturday, another shaky Irish performance has skeptics of Marcus Freeman continuing to question his faculty as a head coach.

But as some reporters have pointed out, subpar starts can be deceptive. This week, From the Archives looked back at coaching careers and individual seasons that started slow but ended in success. Ultimately, history shows that Irish fans should maintain hope that the loss-filled opening of the Freeman Era will be nothing more than a misleading moment en route to a triumphant future.

Lou Holtz: Overcoming early missteps

Sept. 22, 1986 | Marty Strasen | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

In Lou Holtz’s first year as coach, the Fighting Irish fell short in the first two games in heartbreaking fashion.

After a narrow 24-23 loss to No. 3 Michigan, Holtz and his squad traveled the quick 160-mile journey to East Lansing to face Michigan State.

With a chance to claim victory on a potential game-winning drive, “Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein dropped back with just more than a minute remaining in the game, and promptly fired an interception to seal the win for Michigan State.”

Sound familiar? Late in the fourth quarter against Marshall, Notre Dame’s quarterback Tyler Buchner also launched a devastating pick six that ultimately sealed the game.

Although it may have been tempting to attribute the early defeats of the ‘86 Irish squad to a few unfavorable plays, assistant sports editor Marty Strasen wrote that this accusation “would be like convicting a mass murderer for jay-walking.”

Future Heisman-winner Tim Brown is tackled by a Michigan State defender in Notre Dame’s second straight loss to open Lou Holtz’s career. / Observer Archives, Sept. 22, 1986

Stressing the team-wide failure, future Heisman-winning receiver Tim Brown shared after the loss that “Everything we did, we did to ourselves. They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect. We just couldn’t execute like we wanted to.”

The embrace of accountability spread to Holtz himself, who identified the need to emphasize proper execution: “Our football team played hard, but each time we went to the brink, we came away empty-handed.”

Notre Dame tight end Joel Williams articulated his team’s motivation moving forward: “We’re not going to give up. It’s only two games and two games don’t make a season.”

It was promising for an Irish player to respond to adversity with such maturity and focus, and this attitude was emblematic of a larger shift within the program. The Irish soon bounced back with a 41-9 thrashing of in-state rival Purdue the following week. Just two years later, Holtz and the Irish captured a national championship.

Both the strengths and challenges of Holtz’s rocky start can provide a lesson for current Notre Dame football staff and players. Within two years at the helm, Holtz won the Irish a national championship.

A Stanford defeat starts a new era of hope

Sept. 27, 2010 | Sam Stryker | Chris Allen | Matt Gamber | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

The start of the 2010 football season felt like a breath of fresh air. While the previous three seasons had been forgettable, finishing 3-9, 7-6 and 6-6 in ’07, ’08 and ’09 respectively, the hiring of new head coach Brian Kelly rejuvenated hope in both fans and players.

Yet after winning the season opener at home against Purdue, the luck of the Irish ran out. The following two weeks saw Notre Dame lose in dramatic fashion to Michigan and Michigan State. While fans were largely encouraged by the competitiveness of the games — losing the first by a margin of four and the second by three points in overtime — they were desperate for the Kelly era to get back in the win column. Then came the game against Stanford.

The battle for the Legends Trophy was sure to be a good test of the Irish, with Stanford entering the game ranked No. 16 in the nation and touting future first overall NFL draft pick Andrew Luck as quarterback.

Notre Dame struggled to score throughout the game, and their first touchdown did not come until late in the fourth quarter. It ended in a disappointing score of 37-14, dropping Notre Dame to a 1-3 record on the season and further delaying the promised rise to prominence that the Kelly era seemed to ensure. As Observer sports writer Matt Gamber put it, “The Irish just need to learn how to win.”

Coach Brian Kelly on the sideline during Notre Dame’s defeat to Stanford in 2010. / Observer Archives, Sept. 27, 2010

But Catherine Flatley shared a more patient sentiment in response to the season’s slow start.

“Obviously the loss was really disappointing, but everyone seemed to hope it would go a lot better than it did,” Flatley said. “People just do not seem thrilled relative to our expectations this year. However, I don’t know if you can judge everything Coach Kelly has done in just a few games.”

Flatley’s hesitancy to judge the new coach proved astute, as Kelly rallied the Irish to a 7-2 record over the final nine games of the season, finishing 8-5.

A slow start to his career did not indicate future misfortune, either. While many fans thought the Stanford loss would prove fatal for Kelly’s career, others remained supportive. Alex Sajben was one such hopeful fan: “I’ve lived through all the disappointment, but I stayed there [at the Stanford game] the whole game because that is what you do as fans.” Sajben would be rewarded by the rest of Kelly’s career, only seeing one losing season over the head coach’s 12-year tenure.

From a shocking loss to a chicken soup victory

Sept. 11, 1978 | Ray O’Brien | Sept. 25, 1978 | Ray O’Brien | Jan. 18, 1979 | Paul Mullaney | Researched by Avery Polking

Perhaps an appropriate parallel to the less-than-optimal start to this Notre Dame football season would be the 1978-79 team. As we’ve seen time and time again, what can be described as the “beginning of a nightmare” for Notre Dame is no indication of concluding results, especially when there’s chicken soup involved.

That haunting phrase was used to describe the early phases of the 1978 bout between Notre Dame and Missouri. With five turnovers to Missouri’s two, the Irish cited clumsiness and anxious plays as two large contributors to their 3-0 defeat to the unranked Tigers. 

An Observer headline captures the shock of Notre Dame’s loss to unranked Missouri to open the 1978 season. / Observer Archives, Sept. 11, 1978

“Only a numb feeling persisted” in the silent Notre Dame locker room immediately after the game, even though the Irish prevailed in all statistics other than turnovers. But they would have to restore their senses in time for a home game against No. 5 Michigan the following week.

Notre Dame opened the first half strong, with quarterback Joe Montana leading the Irish to a 14-7 advantage at halftime. However, the Irish regressed in the second half. Marked by a Montana fumble and interception, this half ended in a 28-14 Notre Dame loss. 

As in 2022, Notre Dame’s record dropped to 0-2 for the first time since 1963, punctuated by The Observer’s simple remark: “Notre Dame has never been 0-3.” Irish fans carried this looming assertion into the next game — and perhaps for the entire 1978 season — but its final conclusion undoubtedly blew any record-related concern off the table.

In one of the best games in the worst weather in Notre Dame football history, the Irish closed out the 1978 season with a game oft-described with various uses of the word “greatest.” 

Chicken soup consumed, quarterback Joe Montana talks with coach Dan Devine moments before throwing the game-winning touchdown in the 1979 Cotton Bowl. / Observer Archives, Jan. 18, 1979

Most notable was Joe Montana’s second-half rescue after having been debilitated by the flu, which helped the Irish score 23 points in the final seven minutes after he famously ate a bowl of chicken soup at halftime. Notre Dame beat Houston in an unprecedented Dallas ice storm at the Cotton Bowl Classic, 35-34. 

Tailback Vagas Furguson summed up not just the game, but the turnaround from earlier in the season: “We got the momentum back, and everything started clicking.”

This momentum seems to be vital for Fighting Irish football to channel, especially when the start of a season doesn’t bode well. The Irish never did fall into that 0-3 deficit, and they kept true to that in 2022.

Contact Spencer Kelly at skelly25@nd.edu

Thomas Dobbs at tdobbs@nd.edu

Cade Czarnecki at cczarne3@nd.edu

Avery Polking at apolking@nd.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zwiller: What to watch for in NFL Week 2

With the conclusion of a crazy Broncos vs. Seahawks game on Monday Night, a wild Week 1 has concluded. As we head into Week 2, I wanted to take a moment to look back on Week 1 and talk about some of the oddities.

Wide Receiving Struggles: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers

In the offseason, a few of the teams that I suspected to have lackluster pass catchers were the Patriots, the Colts and the Packers. Last weekend the Colts had 352 receiving yards, with Michael Pittman Jr. leading the way with 121 yards on 9 receptions and a touchdown.

So, the Colts move from problem to suspect. It was the Texans after all, I am not inclined to trust their defense. The Packers and Patriots, however, looked all the more suspicious.

The Packers had a total of 260 receiving yards which is fine. Until you realize that their leading pass catcher was running back AJ Dillon with just 46 yards. And yes, there was a dropped 75-yard touchdown pass that could have changed everything. But almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Granted, this might not be a long-term problem. Key Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard was out on Sunday with an ankle injury. Assuming he comes back the Packers could get right back into form and Minnesota is just this year’s New Orleans. I still think the Packers are going to end up missing Davante Adams, but only time will tell.

Unlike the Packers, the Patriots do not have an absence they can blame their lack of a passing game on. The Patriots had just 213 yards in their game against the Dolphins, and that might be a mark the Patriots hover around for the rest of the season. The offense lacks a dynamic weapon. And with quarterback Mac Jones entering his second year, I expect a bit of a slump for him and for the unit to struggle for the rest of the season.

Fumble Struggles: Baker Mayfield and Matt Ryan

One of the odder results (at least to me) was Indianapolis at Houston, a game in which Matt Ryan had a ridiculous four fumbles. While only one of them was a turnover, those fumbles did legitimately kill off some good drives for the Colts.

The first fumble was in the second quarter when Ryan fumbled on the Houston 30. It lost the Colts seven crucial yards. It caused Indy to punt. The second fumble came on the Houston 40 in the third quarter and the Texans were able to grab the ball. 

Next in the third quarter, Ryan fumbled on his own 20, recovered it himself and then the Colts punted. Ryan’s final fumble came in overtime. And while it did not kill the Indianapolis drive, it did lose them three yards, which proved critical as kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard field goal.

Baker Mayfield had an equally horrible fumble performance, racking up four against his former team, the Browns. 

His first came in the first quarter on third down, and though the play resulted in a three-yard gain, the Panthers still punted. On Carolina’s next drive, Baker fumbled again, though was able to pass for three yards. In the third quarter on third and 12, Baker fumbled, though it was recovered by Carolina. Then in the fourth, Baker fumbled in the red zone. Once again, he was able to recover, and the Panthers would kick a field goal.

By and large, these fumbles were the product of a poor center-to-quarterback snap. And in both cases, most of the blame is on the quarterbacks. While I would expect both Ryan and Mayfield to get better as the season progresses and their problems with the snap to go down, it is something worth looking out for. 

Both games could have been dramatically different. If, say, Mayfield does not fumble inside of the redzone with 1:25 left in the Panthers-Browns game. Carolina missed a chance to score a touchdown which proved critical in a 24-23 loss. If it happens again, it could cost each team another win. 

Derrick Henry

Since his injury last season, I have been suggesting that the Titans bell cow running back would likely not look the same as he did before his injury. 

In his return to the team in 2022, when the Titans hosted the Bengals, Henry had 20 carries but only produced 62 yards, though he did have a touchdown. That game was a horribly inefficient game for Henry, who averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.

And while that can be explained away by rust following a large period of recovering from an injury, his showing against the Giants is a potentially alarming indicator. For the Titans offense to work, Henry needs to be averaging a lot more per carry — at the very least 4.5, but ideally closer to five per carry like he did in 2019 and 2020.

Interceptions

Another odd offensive outlier was interceptions, with Carson Wentz throwing a pair, Derek Carr tossing three, and Joe Burrow throwing an insane four interceptions. 

Burrow’s pick-six was a good play by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. On the second one, Burrow was hit while he threw. The third was just an excellent interception by Pittsburgh star T.J. Watt. And the fourth felt like a 50-50 ball that the Steelers just came up with.

Carr’s first was an aggressive throw that was risky, and the Chargers’ defense made him pay for it. The second interception came early in the fourth quarter on a deep-down field throw into double coverage. I get why Carr threw it. The Chargers were ahead 24-13, and the Raiders needed points. But it certainly hurt. Hurting worse was Carr’s third pick, which came just a few minutes later as a low pass to Hunter Renfrow was intercepted. 

Wentz’s first interception was in the fourth quarter. A cornerback reading the play picked him off, perfectly jumping the out route. The second came the next Commanders drive, not two game minutes later, when linebacker Travon Walker picked him off as he pressured.

With some of these interceptions, they honestly feel like a fluke. I do not see Burrow having a four-interception game again this season. And I would be surprised if Carr had three again as well. Carr has never had more than 14 interceptions in a season. I think of him as a quarterback who is good about not turning the ball over. Wentz, meanwhile, is well Wentz. 

Like the fumbles from earlier, these turnovers took these teams out of the game. Or, in the case of the Commanders, put the Jags back in it. The Bengals had to work their way back into the game and could have won it because of how bad the Steelers are. And the Chargers game was put out of reach by those two late interceptions.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Tom at twziller@nd.edu

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Moller: Biggest moments from NFL week one

There were plenty of surprises and statement wins made in the first week of the NFL season. Although there is still a lot of football left to play, let’s take a look at some of the most notable happenings from the opening weekend of the NFL.

Vikings make a statement in Kevin O’Connell’s first game

The last two seasons have been full of disappointment for the Vikings, especially considering they have plenty of talent on its roster with Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen. After firing their head coach and general manager, the Vikings looked like a completely different team in the start of the Kevin O’Connell era. The Vikings’ offense was fueled by Jefferson, who put up 184 yards and caught two touchdowns. Aside from Jefferson, Cousins did a fantastic job of remaining poised in the pocket. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison proved to be a deadly 1-2 punch in the backfield with both backs averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

The best news of the day, though, came on the defensive side of the football, which was the Vikings’ demise last season. The Vikings’ front seven proved to be the difference with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith getting constant pressure on Aaron Rodgers. If the defense can continue to play well, the Vikings should have a chance to push for a division title and playoff spot.

Bengals fail to execute

The Bengals did just about everything wrong on Sunday as Joe Burrow threw a stunning four interceptions in a 23-20 loss to the Steelers. Despite the interceptions, the Bengals were set up to lose the game on the leg of kicker Evan McPherson two times. After missing a PAT to secure the win, McPherson missed his second chance to win the game as well, shanking a 29 yard field goal in overtime. The fact that the Bengals were still in this game despite the turnovers is encouraging, but the lack of execution by the reigning AFC champs is concerning to say the least.

Bears show they are no slouch

I don’t think anyone gave the Bears much of a chance against the 49ers on Sunday, but the Bears made a statement, scoring 19 straight points to win 19-10. Justin Fields looked much improved for the Bears and, despite the rainy conditions, he threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 28 yards. It’s hard to fathom the Bears finding much offensive success this season with the talent they have at receiver, but the Bears’ defense showed up on Sunday. They might have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games over the rest of the season if they want to make the playoffs.

Titans struggle mightily in loss to Giants

One of the most stunning score lines came from Nashville on Sunday, with the Titans losing to the Giants 21-20. Ryan Tannehill was definitely missing A.J. Brown as he struggled to get into a rhythm with his receiving corps. Derrick Henry finished the game with 82 yards, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, and. just last season, he failed to change the game. In fact, Henry’s longest run on the day was just 18 yards. Like the Bengals, the Titans failed to execute late as well, giving up a Giants’ touchdown and two-point conversion with just over a minute remaining, as well as missing a game winning 47-yard field goal.

Texans surprise Colts

Many expected the Colts to have a really good team this year with Matt Ryan under center. Ryan was anything but perfect for the Colts on Sunday, though, as he finished 32 out of 50 for 352 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The good news for the Colts is that Jonathan Taylor looked fantastic, rushing for 161 yards and a touchdown. Michael Pittman Jr., who finished with 121 receiving yards and a touchdown, also looks primed for a breakout season. Despite these breakout performances, the Colts failed to make a field goal in overtime and they tied with a much less talented Texans team. The talent is there for the Colts, but a season-opening tie against the Texans is not ideal.

Buccaneers thrash Cowboys

The Bucs beat the Cowboys by 16, but it could have easily been by 30. The Cowboys struggled mightily to move the ball with any authority throughout the game. To make matters worse for Dallas, Dak Prescott is now expected to miss six to eight weeks to receive surgery on his thumb. The Cowboys will likely need to trade for a quarterback if they are going to save their season, as they have an important stretch of games against the Bengals, Giants, Commanders, Rams and Eagles in the next five weeks.

The Bucs, on the other hand, looked like a Super Bowl contender on Sunday night. Despite settling for four field goals, they managed to move the ball all night, and the defense looked fantastic. Tom Brady still looked like Tom Brady, and Julio Jones looks like a great offseason addition so far. After week one, the Bucs appear to be the favorite to win the NFC.

Bills dominate Rams

The Bills dominated the Rams handily on Thursday night, winning by a score of 31-20. Josh Allen looked sensational with 297 yards passing, 56 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns. Allen looks to have a lethal 1-2 punch in receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, and this looks like a team that can finally win a Super Bowl. The defending champion Rams will look to shake off a disappointing week one loss against the Falcons in week two.

The Chiefs’ offense rolls without Tyreek Hill

The stunning departure of Tyreek Hill this offseason raised some questions about how the Chiefs’ offense would perform. And, they didn’t miss a beat on Sunday, putting up 44 points against the Cardinals for an easy victory. Patrick Mahomes was sensational, completing 30 out of 39 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns. Even without Hill, Mahomes still has plenty of options to throw to. Travis Kelce is, of course, Mahomes’ top choice, but Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling should prove to be great options for Mahomes as well. After week one, it looks like the Chiefs and Bills might be set for a showdown in the AFC Championship.

Broncos make stunning decision late, fall to Seahawks

The Broncos had a fourth down and five from the Seahawks’ 46-yard line, and rather than putting the ball in Russell Wilson’s hands, they opted to kick a 64-yard field goal. Brandon McManus sent the field goal wide left, and the Seahawks held on to win. Considering Russell Wilson’s pedigree, it’s an interesting play call to say the least, and there will be plenty of questions raised among the Broncos’ coaching staff going forward. Nevertheless, it’s a great win for the Geno Smith-led Seahawks, who will look to prove the doubters wrong.

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News

International students react to football culture, team’s defeat

First-year Gabrielle Benitez enjoys her first home game in the student section in Notre Dame Stadium / Courtesy of Gabrielle Benitez.

First-year graduate student Henry Kamugisha, originally from Uganda, was walking home after studying at the library late Friday night and was surprised to be intercepted by the Notre Dame band performing pre-football game festivities.

“I thought I had seen enough. More is attached to this football?” he said. “Then Saturday morning I woke up, getting out of my house, the whole environment had changed and I saw people everywhere.”

Kamugisha said he had never watched football before the game against Ohio State and was not immediately impressed.

“I didn’t understand anything because I was like, okay, is this relevant? It’s not relevant,” he explained.

While American students at Notre Dame often arrive on campus prepared for the intense culture of supporting the football team, international students like Kamugisha often have had no exposure to the atmosphere of college football in America.

Junior Yeowon Cho, originally from South Korea and an exchange student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, found herself confused about football’s rules.

“I’m actually going to this session called ‘Football 101’ [on Thursday night],” Cho said. 

The session, sponsored by the International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) team, invites “international students and friends” to learn about the essentials of American football and Notre Dame traditions, according to the ISSA website.

Testing expectations

First-year Ph.D. student Salvatore Riolo said he understood the rules of football before leaving Italy to study at Notre Dame due to a personal interest in the American way of life.

“I’m pretty obsessed with American culture, so even when I was in Italy, I used to watch the Super Bowl every year. So that’s why I know the rules to this kind of thing, and I was looking forward to the games,” Riolo explained.

Despite understanding football’s influence on American culture, Riolo said he was still surprised to see the size of the crowds on campus for the game against Marshall.

“I didn’t expect the amount of tourists around the campus,” he said. “People from outside and all the tailgates around, which is something very American.”

Sophomore Pedro Bolsonaro said he also knew the rules of football because he was a fan of the NFL while living in Brazil before coming to Notre Dame last year. Despite this, he said he hadn’t started following college football. 

“Last year I thought the NFL was more exciting for the better players, but throughout the year, I built that connection with the university and that kind of translated to how I see football now,” Bolsonaro said.

Cho enjoyed the home game against Marshall, despite its disappointing result.

“It was really energetic, I liked it,” Cho said. “But I had heard from my friend that they were like 99% sure that they were going to win against Marshall. I wasn’t that angry, but then it was sad to see people actually being so sad.”

Riolo said he was greatly disappointed in Notre Dame who, despite being ranked eighth in the AP college football rankings, lost to unranked Marshall.

“I thought I was going to see a very good performance. I didn’t know much about college football but I knew that Notre Dame has a very long and victorious history,” Riolo said. “I was kind of disappointed because the game wasn’t that good. The interceptions – that wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Kamugisha, having just begun learning about the sport, said he was sad to watch his new team’s defeat. “We haven’t recovered from it. I know we shall get over that, but yeah, it wasn’t good,” he said.

First-year Gabrielle Benitez, an international student originally from the Philippines who also had never watched football before coming to Notre Dame, said she felt similar.

“I don’t know why, but coming into this school, I had the notion that we’re like, undefeated and stuff,” she said. “But clearly, that wasn’t the case.”

Despite this, Kamugisha and Benitez spoke highly of the experience and sense of inclusion as new Notre Dame football fans.

“It was nice to be a part of that community that treasures the football team so much,” Benitez said.

Kamugisha said he felt supported by fellow Notre Dame fans as he watched his new favorite team and took part in gameday traditions.

“I think everyone here is supportive,” Kamugisha said. “They make you actually get taken up to love this game and to feel like, ‘yes, I belong here.’”

Contact Liam at lprice3@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

You’ve never been to a football game?

As the school year is quickly ramping up, so is the Fighting Irish football season. However, one thing that is painful to admit to many of my friends this weekend, and now to you, the reader of this column, is that I have never been to a Notre Dame football game before. I know, I know. How does a super-senior manage to never have gone to a football game, especially being just across the street from Notre Dame? The answer: I just wasn’t ever able to. I am a student who has at least two jobs at a time when on campus, way too many friends to keep track of and assignments that flood way over my head. So, excuse me if I haven’t carved out some time for game days before. The thing is, I knew that this year was going to be different. I am still unsure of how much time I have left here as a student in the 46556 ZIP code, so it was important for me to jump on any opportunity this year to be able to see a bunch of sweaty young adults revel in the magic that Notre Dame Stadium has to offer. But, to begin such a massive undertaking, there had to be a plan, and like most of my plans it did not go all too well. 

The night before the game, I wanted to go to Drummer’s Circle, a spectacle I have been lucky enough to witness before. Of course, I was unable to go because by the time I realized it was happening, it was one in the morning. So, we’re not at a great start for the weekend. Then, while walking past Siegfried Dining Hall on Holy Cross campus, I confirm with my friends that we are meeting at 11:30 a.m. for brunch; but come 11 a.m., all of us are running late. I have no eyebrows on yet, one friend already left without us, my other friend is on hour four of tailgating and we still have to buy snacks. I wanted to chug a Red Bull and fly, and I should’ve. Instead I sped through a blue-and-gold appropriate makeup look, ate a full plate of brunch and managed to remember to drink water, all in the span of 30 minutes. Impressive, I know, but I wanted to set myself up for success this game day. 

Moving along in this story, I met with one of my original group members, and then I joined a new group of girls. This was my best case-scenario. I was wearing The Shirt along with a denim mini-skirt and my “going out” trashed white Vans. I was hopeful that being with a group of girls would boost my confidence because being a 6’1 tall male-presenting person in a denim mini-skirt in God Country, Notre Dame is still nerve-wracking. Nonetheless, we ventured into Domer territory and made a couple of stops along the way. We passed by a tailgate where I ended up with a free shirt, we watched the Band Concert at Bond Hall and went for a bathroom break at South Dining Hall. Things were looking up for sure. We saw classmates, professors and successfully evaded embarrassing exes along the way. 

It was 30 minutes until game time and we made our way to Notre Dame Stadium when the anxiety started settling in. I wasn’t sitting in the student section of this game so I found myself looking for another friend of mine that graduated last year. We hugged at Library Lawn and found our way to the gate closest to our section. I walked slowly in anticipation. My shirt is a darker color by this point so I knew worrying about my outfit was a lost cause, but I worried about getting in. It was the same type of anxiety you get when going through TSA: I had no malicious intent in going to the game, but I felt guilty somehow. We got in, smiled at the event staff, wished them a good day and I was in. I almost cried. I still don’t know why I almost cried then, or when the band played, or when we got a touchdown, or when I saw our new head coach on my souvenir cup, but I tell you, dear reader, I almost cried. 

That is the thing about this football culture, specifically as a Holy Cross student going to a Notre Dame home game. It can often make students like myself, especially students of color, feel like outsiders or not part of the crowd. There was a moment when I thought to myself, “This is why people can’t believe I’ve never been to a game before.” But, I look back at yesterday’s game and, despite losing, I think about all the wins I had. I had great seats (Section 10, Row 32, Seat 6), I had one of my best friends next to me, I had The Shirt and I had a culture of tradition and pride around me. The energy was addicting and invigorating all at the same time. Now I wonder if I’ll ever find myself in a position to go back to witness the Fighting Irish on their home turf, but I know that I can cross this sequence of events off my bucket list. In the future I know three things to do: one, get a clear fanny pack; two, bring more sunscreen; three, sit in the student section for sure. So, to close, it only feels right to make a Taylor Swift reference: Today was a fairytale.”

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College; majoring in Visual Arts – Studio Track – with a minor in Elementary Education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes, and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at gibarra@hcc-nd.edu.

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

Categories
News

‘Objects in the Rearview Mirror’: The story behind the first women at the University

When Deborah Dell, known to her loved ones as Debi, arrived at the University of Notre Dame in 1972 with the first cohort of women, she entered with a sharp mind and a lot of determination. 

Now, almost exactly 50 years later, Dell is publishing a book, “Objects in the Rearview Mirror: A Social History of Coeducation under the Dome.” The story took shape over the span of 20 years and with the help of more than 150 contributors who were impacted by the decision to implement coeducation. 

The first years – inspiration and roadblocks

Sitting at the desk of her Morris Inn hotel room, Dell looked at a blank page. 

“Was I the right person to be doing this?” she wondered. 

Dell lived in Breen-Phillips Hall, Walsh Hall and Lyons Hall during her time on campus. She admitted that her circle of friends was small and stuck to themselves most of the time. 

“Books like this should be written by somebody who was important,” she explained her hesitation. 

She was in the midst of a lull in motivation. Dell said she came back to Notre Dame to get inspired. 

“I’m in the hotel room, and I’ve just been to the library to get some stuff out of the archives and I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s like I hear Father Hesburgh, saying ‘Debi, put your faith in the Holy Spirit and His mother, and stop thinking so hard and just trust.’”

Dell said she started brainstorming and researching for this book in 2000 and wrote a couple drafts with a few of her friends contributing in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Her trip to the Morris Inn was during the second draft in 2006. 

“[This book] was a long time coming. That’s an understatement,” she quipped. “I think the only book that took longer was the Bible.”

Debi and Darlene — missed connections and missing pieces

Darlene Connelly, class of 1977, was Dell’s right-hand woman during the second half of the project. She was also Dell’s neighbor on the first floor of Breen-Phillips Hall in 1977 — unbeknownst to either of them until a classmate introduced them a few years ago. 

“Darlene — we lived in the same hall, and I didn’t know her!” Dell said. “It was just the perfect timing and the perfect marriage as far as her approach to things and my approach. We just complemented each other so well.”

Connelly said she was introduced to Dell because she was also thinking of writing a book about her experiences. Connelly’s inspiration came in the form of a mentor, Fr. Tom Tallarida. 

Connelly explained that she had a long friendship with Tallarida throughout her time as an undergraduate and that she maintained contact with him as an adult. 

“We stayed in touch over the years. One year, I think it was 1992, he sent me a letter. He pleaded with me to write the real story about coeducation in those early years at Notre Dame,” she said. 

Connelly said she forgot about that plea until one Christmas when she decided to pay Tallarida a visit. A few days before her plans, Connelly said she got a letter from Tallarida’s niece that he had passed away. 

“I carried Catholic guilt,” she said. “I never got to it. I never got around to it, and I am so sorry, so sorry that I don’t know what the story was that he wanted to tell.”

Dell said Connelly not only brought her expertise to the project, but also the contributions of the women of the class of 1977. 

As Dell hosted mixers for her classmates in South Bend before home football games, word about the project got out, and men started chiming in. The men of the classes of 1976 and 1977 were soon added to the list of the writing process contributors.

Around that time, Dell said she started gathering information about the second generation of women at the University — what had changed and what had not. This was done with the help of Emily Weisbacker. 

Dell also mentioned she believed it was important to include what was going on at Notre Dame’s peer institutions and in the nation at the same time. 

“It was very important to me to also make sure that it wasn’t just the Notre Dame story. We looked at Yale and Princeton, and we looked at what was happening in the culture of the United States during the 70s,” she said. 

Dell said she finally felt ready to write the book once she had collected the experiences of the women and men of the first five years of coeducation, the second generation of women at the University and the historical context for the story.

“So now we had the women who went through it, the men who went through it and then the second generation that was benefiting. [They] were able to tell me about the things that hadn’t changed in 30 or 40 years,” she explained. “[The book] really became so much bigger than the original concept because of the delay that took place.”

Those who went without mention — early women’s athletics 

When the girls first arrived on campus, nothing was set up for them, Dell explained. Other than two hastily renovated dorms, the first few classes of women at Notre Dame had to fashion everything themselves. This included clubs, policy groups, information sharing networks and sports. 

Ron Skrabacz, class of 1976, oversaw the research and writing of the chapters on early women’s athletics. 

Skrabacz, who was only participated in interhall sports during his time on campus, was recruited to write the section because of his work as a sports writer. He wrote for the Daily Herald — a newspaper covering the Chicago suburbs — as a sports columnist for 20 years. 

Skrabacz got involved with the project when he was at Dell’s South Bend house on one Friday night before a football game. 

“Debi is a very brilliant woman, but you can put in a thimble what she knew about sports,” he joked. “She knew it was critical that sports be covered.”

Skrabacz explained that he wrote about the general atmosphere of sports during his time at the University and specifically what the women went through to start their varsity sports. 

Luckily, Skrabacz said his work would not have been possible without the research of Anne Dilenschneider and Jane Lammers. 

The two women were at a 30-year reunion of coeducation when they were shown a video about women’s athletics. Skrabacz explained that Dilenschneider and Lammers were upset that the video did not show the early years or how the women made the programs that today yield national championships.

Lammers and Dilenschneider then started researching. They made posters and sought out connections. The women complied “a boatload” of material, which they turned over to Skrabacz.

“All I did was the easy part. I took all their information, summarized it and turned it into a story,” he said. 

Other than their inclusion in the book, over 250 women who participated in the early building stages of each varsity sport will be memorialized with honorary monograms during a home football game the weekend of Oct. 21 to 23. 

Looking back and looking forward

“Objects” came out Sept. 1 and is now available for order at Barnes & Noble. There are two versions: a paperback and a special edition hardcover.

“We’re limiting the hardcover edition to 365 copies to commemorate and honor the 365 first female undergraduates,” Dell said. “The first 365 hardcover books will have a special cover that commemorates that number.”

The Hammes Bookstore is hosting two book signing events for the new release Friday, Sept. 9 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. 

A labor of love of over 20 years, Dell said she hopes the book is a tribute to the strength of the Notre Dame family through good times and bad. 

“It was a time when men and women came together and there were struggles, but we found each other. We had the ability to get through some pretty weird tough times, and that’s the value of the Notre Dame family,” she said. “[The book is] a balanced picture: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Bella Laufenberg

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu