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‘Call duo until you can’t speak’: How the Irish used selfless football to forge their identity

“If I’m not down in time, call duo until you can’t speak.” 

The quote from Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees made waves around social media this week. Rees said it to Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker after the third-year offensive coordinator decided to come down from his box to the sideline and celebrate the Irish’s 35-14 win over then-No. 4 Clemson.

“Duo” is a run-game scheme that has been the “crux” of Notre Dame’s offense for years, according to Rees. Among other things, it relies heavily on tight-end blocking and great reads by the running backs. While Rees’ quote about calling duo until Parker couldn’t speak was referring to the final minutes of the game, it served as a microcosm for the Irish offense. It certainly was on Saturday when the Irish ran ragged over Clemson. But it has been a focal point in recent weeks, as Notre Dame collected their biggest wins of the season on back-to-back Saturdays.

There was a lot of doubt this could happen. After rushing for over 200 yards against hapless UNLV, there was some questions as to why the Irish didn’t try to explore new avenues of their offense against a middling opponent. Against Syracuse, the Irish terrorized another weak run defense for 200+ rushing yards. After the game, when questioned about the continued struggles of the passing game, head coach Marcus Freeman seemed concerningly unbothered. “We scored, what, 41 points … I’m not looking for a certain number of passes or rushes.”

It was easy to say that after beating up on an undersized Syracuse defensive line. But Clemson was a different beast. Surely, the Irish couldn’t just pound the rock 40+ times to beat the unbeaten Tigers. 

Counterpoint: “Call duo until you can’t speak.”

Sure enough, the Irish did just that. Neither Notre Dame’s coaches, nor their players, were shaken by a 3-3 start and an inconsistent offense. They knew their identity and continued to work to establish it. And for the third straight week, the Irish rushed for over 200 yards, this time against one of the best rush defenses in the country.  “It was all about physicality,” Rees said. “They have a lot of really good players, but teams don’t see our style every week.”

Irish players lean into unselfish roles to build identity

Up and down the Irish roster, players demonstrate an unselfish commitment to fulfilling their role, no matter how unspectacular it may be. The running back trio recognizes that the workload may vary greatly from week to week depending on the opponent, game script and a number of other factors. Against Clemson, sophomore Audric Estime saw 27 snaps. Classmate Logan Diggs was on the field for 24 snaps. And junior Chris Tyree played 19 snaps. They recorded 18, 17 and 9 touches, respectively.

At different times, the backs have discussed the relationship that forms a tight bond in that running back room. “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 after the Syracuse win. 

The week before, Diggs was the bell cow against UNLV, getting 28 carries after Estime fumbled for the third time in four games. “All I can do is continue to be my brother’s keeper,” Diggs said after the win. “Today I was a real teammate and told him … ‘If you want to play, you’ve got to hold onto the ball’ …We have that mutual respect. I could tell him anything, and he could tell me anything.”

And Estime demonstrated his resiliency and selflessness in response. After being essentially benched against UNLV, the sophomore bounced back to the tune of 38 carries for 227 yards and three touchdowns over the past two weeks.

Tyree has become more or less the third man in the rotation. But he continues to play a big role at pivotal moments. Five of his seven carries came on Notre Dame’s two long-scoring drives of 75+ yards. He notched a pair of chain-moving receptions for the Irish, as well. Against Syracuse, five of Tyree’s eight carries came on five straight plays to kickstart a key second-half scoring drive. He also came through in a key first-half moment when the play call was a play-action fake to him. Syracuse keyed on the run and leveled Tyree with a monster hit. However, Pyne pulled the handoff and found junior tight end Michael Mayer for a key first-down conversion. The Irish eventually punched in the touchdown.

Diggs spoke after the UNLV game on the team-first mentality with the running backs. “You’ve just got to go into every game knowing it’s one job. Everybody got the same job when we get in. When Audric get in, standard remain the same. When Chris get in, standard remain the same … I get in, standard remains the same.”

Team-first mentality expands past running backs

That team-first mentality doesn’t end in the running back room. The Irish tight ends and wide receivers are bought in on this offensive style, demonstrating team-first offense. The duo scheme that the Irish lean on so heavily calls for their tight ends to block. Of course, their best receiving weapon is Mayer. But sometimes, the game script calls for the All-American to get down and dirty with the offensive line and block. And Mayer will do that gladly. He’ll reel in 11 catches, like he did against BYU, when needed. But he’ll also settle for four catches and springing the Irish backs with an impressive run-blocking game, as he did versus Clemson.

Notre Dame’s No. 2 tight end, sophomore Mitchell Evans, has yet to really be unlocked in the passing game. In fact, his offensive touches lately come via “Mitch-a-palooza”, the quarterback sneak the Irish use with Evans under center on short yardage situations. When he’s not doing that, Evans is developing into a fearsome blocker. 

“I think [Evans] has made an impact in our running game more than people acknowledge,” Rees said. “Mitch’s ability to be in there and own the point of attack has been huge. It’s a huge plus for our ability to run that game.”

And then, there are the wide receivers. Much is made about the lack of depth and the lack of impact from this position group. In a game where the Irish only completed nine passes, they ask their wide receivers to do a lot more than run routes. On this particular play, sophomore Jayden Thomas and graduate student Braden Lenzy dominated their match-ups in run-blocking and keyed a big run.

Thomas notched three catches, making him the only Irish wide receiver to garner a touch against Clemson. But Notre Dame has embraced a team-first mentality across their offense. And the whole team is willing to get dirty and physically overpower their opponent.

So yes, the Irish passing offense isn’t the most exciting, and it’s more limited than what you traditionally see from a successful offense. But the Irish aren’t trying to be what they’re not. So as they look to extend their winning streak and move up in the rankings, look for more selfless, team-first football from this offense. Rees and the Irish aren’t keeping it a secret. They want to physically dominate their opponent. And, like with calling “duo”, they’re going to embrace that identity until they can’t speak.

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

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Herko: Will the next Michael Mayer please stand up?

After the abysmal Marshall game that culminated in Tyler Buchner’s shoulder injury, no one would blame any Notre Dame fans who decided to check to see when basketball season started. Buchner’s replacement, junior Drew Pyne has been up and down for sure, but there has definitely been some great improvement since his interception in the fourth quarter on that terrible day. But, how much of this improvement is a result of increased reps at practice that comes from being the starting quarterback versus having the benefit of a future first round draft pick in Michael Mayer on call whenever Pyne gets into trouble?

Mayer is certainly the star player on this inconsistent Irish offense, but with him on his way to the NFL, who will the Irish rely on next year? If Pyne is to be the starter next year, which would make sense because he has far more game experience than Buchner now, this is the time he should be building better chemistry with his younger wide receivers and tight ends to see real cohesive play next season. 

For every game except his first as a starter against Cal, Mayer has been on the receiving end of the majority of Pyne’s passes. At North Carolina, just under a third of Pyne’s total passes were to Mayer, while the four underclassman receivers combined for 14 catches. 

Against BYU, Mayer caught 11 of Pyne’s 22 passes for 116 of his 262 total passing yards, including two touchdowns. Only nine passes were completed to freshman and sophomore receivers and running backs with Jayden Thomas and Lorenzo Styles leading the pack.

Hosting Stanford, five of 13 passes were caught by Mayer and six others were caught by the underclassman. And in the Irish’s win against UNLV, Mayer caught six of Pyne’s 14 passes. Four passes combined were completed to sophomore Lorenzo Styles and redshirt freshman Jayden Thomas, which totaled all of the passes completed to underclassmen. 

The first problem is Pyne is just not throwing enough. Whether this is by design or is the result of a lot of broken plays, Pyne needs to learn that good things happen faster when you put the ball in the air. If the lack of throwing is commentary on Pyne’s playing abilities, practice more throws during practice reps; We should not be looking to Navy’s offensive schemes as a role model. 

Additionally, lots of short passes especially on later downs will not cut it. Defenses that Notre Dame plays are starting to key in on these patterns. To free up areas closer to the offensive line for runs and shorter passes, these defenses have to respect the deep ball. And they just don’t right now because they occur so infrequently. 

This is not to say that Notre Dame needs to become predictable or aggressively throw downfield on every play — just that the play call and execution need to match the situation. For example, toward the end of the second quarter during the UNLV game, the offense turned it over on downs after two incomplete passes. It was 3rd and 3 (and then 4th and 3) on the UNLV seven-yard line. Pyne threw for the end zone both times when it may have been easier to run or look for a shorter pass. 

Or last week against Stanford, when the Irish completed a five-yard pass on 4th and 7 at the end of the game. This offense can play well –  they just need to make logical decisions based on the looks the defense is showing them. 

Besides the fact that Pyne is just not throwing enough for Notre Dame to be successful against halfway decent teams, he and his younger receivers need to build greater trust between them if there is going to be any chance for good games against Clemson, Syracuse and USC.  Or, even more importantly, for a better season next year. Those teams will be stacked enough on defense that may be able to double team Mayer for large portions of the games, to force Pyne to throw elsewhere. Styles, Staes, Thomas and Merriweather all have flashed at different points this season. The young star power is there in the receiving core. Drew Pyne has to utilize them if Notre Dame football wants to keep winning football games. 

The only way that trust between the offensive skill players is going to form is if it shows up in the stat book. Everyone loves Michael Mayer, but Pyne needs to figure out who his next Michael Mayer is going to be. 

Contact Annika at aherko@nd.edu.

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

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Notre Dame vs. UNLV: 5 key moments and trends from the Irish victory

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the UNLV Rebels 44-21. They led 23-7 after the first quarter, and the game was never closer than 16 points after that point.

Here are five key moments and trends from the Irish victory. 

Notre Dame offense gets off to fast start 

Notre Dame needed a strong start today, and in its first possession of the game, junior quarterback Drew Pyne and the offense drove down the field. Sophomore running back Audric Estime punched it in for the Irish on a 12-yard run. The drive started off inconsistent but was rescued by two long passes. One was caught by junior tight end Michael Mayer along the sideline for 23 yards. The other was a third-down reception hauled in by sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas, down the middle for 37 yards.  

After big run, Irish defense locks down

UNLV’s first score of the game came on the heels of a 74-yard sprint by running back Courtney Reese. Two plays later after Reese was tackled at the one-yard line by senior linebacker J.D. Bertrand, quarterback Cameron Friel’s pitch to running back Jordan Young-Humprey became a touchdown for the Rebels. Reese’s run was the biggest play of the game for either team and accounted for more than half of UNLV’s yards at halftime. 

Special teams sparks Irish to big halftime lead

At the end of UNLV’s next possession, Isaiah Foskey blocked UNLV’s punt and Notre Dame took over at the UNLV 20. Mayer and Pyne connected for a slash route through the endzone for the Irish’s second touchdown. The Notre Dame special teams unit was clearly reading the punter very well as Foskey and linebacker Prince Collie both made contact with the football for the second blocked punt of the game for the Irish. After an apparent touchdown pass to Mayer in the endzone was overturned, the Irish settled for a field goal. A 12-yard Brandon Joseph punt return set up their final touchdown of the half, putting Notre Dame up 30-7. 

Ugly tackling mars decent defensive performance

Both of UNLV’s quarterbacks struggled to complete passes all day, with accuracy being one of the bigger issues. Courtney Reese had the two really big plays for the Rebels with the 74-yard run and then a 47-yard gain up the middle, both resulting in touchdowns. Tackling was ugly for Notre Dame. There were numerous times that a decent gain could have been prevented by more focused tackling. Better teams will turn these decent gains into really large ones. 

Unbalanced playbook continues to haunt Irish

Running the ball is great but Notre Dame’s playbook is severely unbalanced. Pyne completed only 12 of 26 passes today against a pretty bad UNLV defense. Getting open didn’t seem to be a big problem for receivers. Instead, there was miscommunication downfield and drops that speak volumes about the lack of chemistry between Pyne and his receivers not named Michael Mayer. Better teams will and have been able to key on Mayer to make Pyne throw elsewhere, and the offense may not respond well to how more talented defenses decide to position themselves. 

The Irish take on Syracuse on the road next week on Saturday, October 29. Game time is TBD.

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Ladd: Offense rewrites their narrative in the Bible Brawl

The Irish played their cards right as they kept their perfect Shamrock Series streak alive with a 28-20 victory against No. 16 BYU out in Sin City. Though the Irish were favored by four, this was no walk in the park against a ranked team. Just getting this was huge for the Irish. But more importantly, the execution during the game demonstrated that the Irish offense CAN close. The early loss of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner at Marshall only added fuel to that fire in a game – to put it bluntly – that was chaotic and quite abysmal. 

A mediocre Cal performance did not help the Irish offense’s case much. And their inability to carry out the run game became a point of worry for Irish fans. It was unclear earlier in the season if junior Drew Pyne would perform as expected as a starter.. This weekend’s performance though ended that concern.

Before this weekend, a UNC victory showed signs that the Irish offense could gain momentum and put it all together. I was not sold though, as UNC’s defense is one of the weakest of all Power 5 teams. To me, the matchup versus BYU was a real test of what the offense can do. Pyne looked comfortable in the pocket yesterday, despite playing in front of a very vocal crowd of 62,742 in one of the NFL’s sleekest stadiums.

We’ve come a long way from Tommy Rees shouting expletives to a befuddled Drew Pyne on the phone at the Cal game. I felt proud of the offense last night as they did what they had to do and showed us the potential they were hiding. 

The offense started well early by controlling the line of scrimmage and despite struggles in the second half, they were able to pull off a win. An obvious point of notice was the Vegas quality show junior tight end Michael Mayer put on. Though I will not exhaust the topic, I thought the early use of Mayer was a smart game plan. He was able to make big plays early on in the game and is now the leading tight end in receptions for the Irish.

It goes without saying that the Pyne-Mayer duo certainly stole the show, and I was continually impressed by Mayer’s ability to “be there” and make some serious plays. A role model and leader for the team, Mayer’s hard work shines through on the field. I’m excited to see how he continues to be an asset for the Irish as the season progresses.

Another notable point for the offense was the number of other players who were able to step up and make plays. Aside from Mayer, Pyne connected with seven other receivers, including Jayden Thomas who was able to get his shining moment. The stellar 30-yard touchdown catch from Thomas was a difference-maker in the game and the first of his career. 

Freshman tight end Holden Staes also contributed, making his first career catch on a critical third-down conversion. Sophomore running backs Audric Estime and Logan Diggs were also active on the field. Estime finished with 110 total yards, 97 on the ground and 13 through the air, good enough for his third straight game with 100+ yards from scrimmage. Diggs finished with a team-high 17 carries, which he turned into 93 yards.

All in all, everyone really showed up last night, which is what is most important. I saw an Irish offense ready for action and looking to help their leader, a poised and decisive Drew Pyne. The O-line also contributed substantially, providing time for Pyne to get comfortable. I enjoyed this quote by Freeman via the post-game press conference. 

“It’s too often the quarterback gets too much blame and too much praise, right? We need guys to make the quarterback look good. And to see Jayden (Thomas) make some of those big catches that he made the day was huge for the confidence of our wideouts room, but also the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around. And so, it was really good to see that.”

Pyne demonstrated his growth and ability to perform as the leader of the offense. Compared to his performances earlier this season, it was clear he took ownership of the position and knew exactly what job he needed to do. He excelled on third down in this game, which I think was a large part of the team’s success. Pyne showed excellent decisiveness and accuracy in the majority of his looks in the game. 

There is always room for improvement, however. In the second half of the game, BYU’s defense seemingly knew exactly where Pyne would go with the ball. Focusing heavily on Mayer almost began to hurt him, and the fourth quarter interception was especially problematic. Nevertheless, this is a learning experience for him. There is plenty of teaching tape for him to work on with Rees.

Though it is early, Pyne is on track for a historic year. His current completion percentage (72.5%) and passer efficiency rating (167.3) would represent single-season records for the Irish. The former is currently held by Ian Book, while the latter is shared by Jimmy Clausen and Bob Williams.

Will Pyne be able to keep this up? I do not know. But if he continues to play the way he did this weekend while perfecting mistakes, I think it is quite possible.

All in all, I think it was a stellar performance from the Notre Dame offense. At least, compared to what we have seen at the beginning of the season. Pyne’s poise and increasing confidence, paired with the help he received from the wideouts, was key in the victory over the Cougars. It will be interesting to see who continues to rise up and assist in making those plays. It takes everyone engaged and on the same page to create a cohesive and dominant offense. This was definitely the most we have seen of that from the Irish thus far. 

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame-BYU: Postgame

Marcus Freeman celebrates his third win as the team’s head coach in Notre Dame’s 28-20 victory over the BYU Cougars.

Cashing out in Vegas: Irish topple No. 16 BYU

Jayden Thomas steps up Irish when it matters

Michael Mayer sets Notre Dame tight end receptions record

Instant Analysis: Five key moments from the Irish’s Shamrock Series win

Gameday Gallery: Notre Dame vs. BYU

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Cashing out in Vegas: Notre Dame brings home a hard-fought win against No. 16 BYU

It was a monumental night for the Fighting Irish out in Las Vegas as they took down No. 16 BYU 28-20 in front of a 62,742 crowd at the NFL’s Allegiant Stadium. The Irish have never lost a Shamrock Series game, and they continued this perfect streak in last night’s 11th matchup. Referring to the night as a “great win for the program,” Dick Corbett head coach Marcus Freeman was proud his team was able to be part of such a special Notre Dame tradition in an electric Allegiant Stadium atmosphere.  

“The amount of fans, the noise, you know, this truly felt like a home game,” Freeman said. “It was a great environment. It’s credit to what this university, what this network, what this football program, what the brand of Notre Dame is about. This win was special.”

A competitive first half from Notre Dame’s offense and defense led to an easy 18-6 lead going into the second half. However, the Irish allowed the Cougars to get back into the game due to some lapses on defense. In what seemed to be the luck of the Irish, though, everything was able to click for Notre Dame when it mattered most. The defense made crucial stops in the last moments of the game, and the team was able to finish strong and “find a way to execute,” as Freeman said. 

Irish dominate first half 

The competition got off to an exciting start after Notre Dame’s graduate student CB TaRiq Bracy intercepted a severely underthrown pass from Cougar QB Jaren Hall off the first play of the game. Off this turnover, the Irish were able to get on the board first with a successful field goal. They would continue to hold the lead the entire game against the Cougars. 

Another highlight from the first half included the absolute dominance showcased by Michael Mayer. The senior tight end amassed 118 yards throughout the game and was responsible for two out of three Irish touchdowns. Mayer also made Irish history, as he surpassed Tyler Eifert’s record for most receptions by a tight end in program history. One of Mayer’s touchdown grabs marked his record-setting 141st. It was clear there was some serious chemistry between junior quarterback Drew Pyne and Mayer, as the duo ran the offense through the night. 

“Having such a great ally and being able to find Mike a couple of times today was unbelievable and it adds so much to our offense,” Pyne said. “He’s an unbelievable player and my best friend and now it’s really cool to be out there with Mike.” 

Pyne himself also brought plenty to the table for the Irish, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He leaned on Mayer and was able to avoid turnovers, except for one interception on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Focusing on the game play-by-play instead of big picture, Pyne prioritizes accuracy as his defining factor. 

“I can’t even tell you a ballpark of how many yards I threw for,” Pyne said. “I don’t really think about that. It’s just play-by-play. I think accuracy has always been a part of my game that kind of separates me. That’s something that I really have focused on since I was a little kid.”

Pyne was able to spread the ball around the offense, most notably sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas. Thomas’ 30 yard reception from Pyne granted the Irish a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter. This was Thomas’ first career touchdown, and Freeman was pleased to see this play out. 

“We need guys to make the quarterback look good,” Freeman said. “To see Jayden make some of those big catches that he made today was huge for the confidence of our wideouts’ room, but also the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around.”

Notre Dame went for two, but Pyne’s pass to Mayer was high and incomplete. Nevertheless, ending 18-6 in the first half and dominating statistically showed what the Irish could do on both sides of the ball. The offense finally felt cohesive on all ends, and Pyne certainly demonstrated he was comfortable in the pocket. 

Irish execute in second half despite mistakes

The Cougars came out with a vengeance in the second half of play, whereas the Irish defense appeared to lose momentum. Halfway through the third, Hall was able to throw a 53 yard touchdown to Kody Epps after a failed deep safety blitz by the Irish. Not only that, but another Irish mistake allowed a 28-yard BYU touchdown resulting from a 10 play drive. This made things tight in the fourth quarter, but Freeman emphasized the importance of not panicking. 

“I was telling them, calm down, calm down,” Freeman said. “We got to go back and just do our jobs.”

And do their jobs they did. A fourth down stop by Jayson Ademilola toward the end of the game was the difference-maker for the Irish. Couple that with a consistent run game by Diggs and Estime to run the clock down, and the Irish’s 28-20 victory was secured. 

“We had to get the stop fourth and one,” Freeman said. “We challenged them on the sidelines, and it was a timeout right before that fourth and one. That was a huge play.”

Ending on a high note was extremely satisfying for the Notre Dame defense. Nevertheless, they still must regroup and analyze the mistakes that were made. The offense showed what they could do with some big plays, but had other plays that could have been executed for a more fruitful outcome. Still, a victory is a victory and Notre Dame brings back to South Bend yet another Shamrock Series win.

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Jayden Thomas steps up for Irish when it matters

After some key departures at wide receiver last season and a couple of injuries, there were a lot of question marks surrounding Notre Dame’s wide receivers this season. In Saturday night’s win over No. 16 BYU, it was sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas that stepped up for the Irish. Thomas finished the night with 74 yards, which included a highlight reel touchdown catch at the end of the first half.

On a crucial third and three with the Irish already up 12-6, junior quarterback Drew Pyne heaved the ball up to Thomas at the goal line. Thomas had to work his way back to the football, and he made a stellar catch with a defender in his face to complete the 30-yard reception. Thomas had to pin the ball against the defender to complete the catch, which was his first touchdown reception of his career. That play capped a 10-play, 79-yard drive for the Irish that took just over five minutes.

Pyne acknowledged that he under threw the ball on that play, and he was ecstatic when Thomas still made a play on the ball.

“Jayden went up there and made a play. I under threw it, and he went up there and made an unbelievable play,” Pyne said.

Thomas had another key catch early in the fourth quarter. BYU had a lot of momentum after scoring two touchdowns to move within five of the Irish, and the Irish offense desperately needed momentum. On the first play of the Irish drive, Thomas answered the call with a 32-yard reception over the middle to get the Irish back on track.

Pyne credited Thomas’ success on Saturday to his work ethic.

“He has worked really hard,” Pyne said. “He worked really hard, and he deserves that.”

Pyne said he knows that Thomas will be a huge part of the Irish offense the rest of the season.

“I’m so proud of him, and we are going to need him to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s going to play a big role for us in the future,” Pyne said. “All of our receivers I really trust and I am so happy for him.”

Head coach Marcus Freeman discussed how Thomas’ emergence as a reliable wide receiver has benefited the team.

“To see Jayden make some of those catches that he made today was huge for the confidence of our wideouts room and for the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around. It was really good to see that,” Freeman said.

The Irish receivers made some outstanding catches on Saturday night, and Freeman understands the importance of these catches going forward.

“Credit to those wideouts they made some big catches. Those are catches that we need. We need guys that make the quarterback look good. It’s too often that the quarterback gets too much blame and too much praise,” Freeman said.

Freeman praised offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ preparation and game plan on Saturday, which allowed Thomas to be successful.

“To get the results, you have to prepare the right way,” Freeman said. “That’s what I love most about what Coach Rees and that offensive staff has done. They have really challenged themselves to practice at a higher level and perform at a higher level.”

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Notre Dame topples BYU in Bible Brawl: 5 key moments

Allegiant Stadium was electric and energy-filled tonight from both BYU and Notre Dame as 62,742 fans witnessed a close match of college football in the 2022 Shamrock Series. Ultimately, the Irish saw victory over the Cougars, 28-20. They never lost the lead, but the win was not always certain. It would not be a Notre Dame game without a borderline heart attack in the second half, and this game certainly fit the bill. The Irish offense did their job consistently well, except in the red zone where Tommy Rees’ questionable play-calling left points off the board. The defense fell short in the second half and cost the team a substantial lead, but the Irish were able to pull it together and perform when it mattered most. Notre Dame showed what they could do on offense — something Irish fans have been waiting to see. The defense was frustratingly inconsistent but created the 4th down stop when needed.

A TaRiq Bracy interception starts things off right for the Irish

Notre Dame won the toss and deferred to the second half, but BYU certainly did not have the ball long. Right out of the gate on first-and-10, Irish graduate student cornerback TaRiq Bracy picked off a massively underthrown ball by Cougar’s quarterback Jaren Hall. BYU has seemingly owned the turnover battle this season, but Bracy humbled them early in the game. 

Bracy’s turnover marks the Irish’s first interception of the season and a big moment for the Irish defense. This allowed the Irish to gain possession and make it 3-0 with a field goal. Bracy apparently injured his hamstring at the end of the game and his status for next week is unknown at this point, but he significantly contributed tonight.

Michael Mayer leads Irish offense in record-breaking performance 

“Drew Pyne’s pass complete to Michael Mayer” echoed repeatedly this Saturday night in Allegiant Stadium. Consistently present to receive junior quarterback Pyne’s passes,  Mayer helped the Irish rack up big yardage throughout the entire game and stole the show in Vegas.  

In the second quarter, Mayer’s sixth catch of the game — a touchdown and the 141st reception of his career — allowed him to surpass former Irish All-American Tyler Eifert atop Notre Dame’s career reception list for tight ends. This momentous moment for Mayer was certainly well deserved Saturday night as he racked up 118 yards and amassed two touchdowns. Mayer was a key component of the Irish’s successful performance tonight.

Jayden Thomas’ stellar 30 yd touchdown catch grants Irish steady lead

Cheers erupted at the end of the second quarter as sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas received a 30-yard pass from Pyne and ran for an Irish touchdown. This was the first touchdown of the Georgia native’s career and helped the Irish gain a steady lead against the Cougars. The spiral by Pyne and stellar catch by Thomas in the final minute of the quarter certainly made this one of the top plays of the game. With the score at 18-6, the Irish were sitting in a comfortable spot heading into the second half. That is, until the Cougars had something to say about it.

A sheer struggle from the Notre Dame defense in the second half allows BYU back in the game 

Though Notre Dame’s offense has typically been characterized as the weaker link this season, the defense almost cost the Irish their lead. The Cougars came out of the gate hot in the second half, and the Irish defense lacked the momentum to deal with this. The defense performed decently in the first half, only letting in one touchdown for the Cougars in an otherwise solid performance. An interception by Bracy had things looking bright, but this quickly shifted around in the second half. 

Notre Dame’s poor tackling performance and lack of communication by the secondary allowed BYU to get back into the game after trailing by double digits. Giving up chunk plays in the second half, a trend that has consistently repeated itself this season, allowed BYU to rally.  What should have been a 3-and-out for the Notre Dame defense turned into an 87-yard, 10-play scoring drive for BYU. As the momentum shifted,  BYU fans got louder, and the Irish defense sank lower. Luckily, the Notre Dame defense had a huge 4th-down stop to save the day and secure the Irish victory. 

Pynes’s play continues to develop consistency and effectiveness

Tommy Rees will surely be more content this week after quarterback Drew Pyne continued to build upon the consistency he began showing during his first start against Cal and expanded upon in the Irish’s matchup against UNC. Pyne threw for 262 yards with three touchdowns and was an efficient 22-28 with only one interception, which was tipped at the line.  He spread the ball around to seven different Irish receivers and remained cool and confident under pressure.

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Sports

Thomas: Seven Irish players who need to step up after the bye week

After a sluggish start, the Notre Dame football team has begun to turn things around. A gritty, if closer than desired, win over Cal pushed the Irish into the win column. A week later, head coach Marcus Freeman and Co. went on the road as underdogs and decimated UNC. Now, after a week off, the boys in the blue and gold, or should we say white and gold, head to Vegas. The game feels like a make-or-break moment in this season.

If the Irish win and move to 3-2, there’s every reason to believe they’ll be back in the Top 25. Additionally, they have a couple of almost guaranteed wins approaching on the schedule. A real chance at being 6-2 and in the top 15 heading into the Clemson matchup emerges. From there, ending in the 8-10 win range feels almost certain, and with a solid bowl game.

With a loss? Well, Notre Dame would fall to 2-3. With Clemson, USC and a thus-far unbeaten Syracuse squad remaining on the schedule, topping seven wins feels even more unlikely. 

So no doubt the Irish are at a critical point in their season. While it’s not at the halfway point just yet, here’s a look at five Irish players (plus two honorable mention) who need to step it up as the Irish try to continue their renaissance. 

Honorable Mention: freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather and tight end Eli Raridon

The honorable mentions go to the true freshmen due to a lack of opportunity. Merriweather has barely seen the field, although comments from the coaching staff seem to imply he’s tracking towards an increased snap count. He’s a tall and speedy wide receiver that could give the Irish a much-needed boost in the passing game. 

Raridon was just elevated into a bigger role last week with the season-ending injury to junior Kevin Bauman. The 6’7 tight end emerged in Week 1 as an absolute force in the run-blocking game. It’s not too controversial to say he was an immediate upgrade in that department. However, what remains to be seen is how he can impact the passing game. Raridon is a matchup nightmare, particularly when opposing defenses are also concerned with guarding junior All-American tight end Michael Mayer. Deploying both of those guys on pass routes could be a sight to see. 

5. Senior corner back Cam Hart

Cam Hart took a big step forward against UNC, and he’s been serviceable throughout the year. But starting across a true freshman, Hart needs to lockdown and be less prone to the big plays that have victimized him through four weeks. He hasn’t necessarily been bad, but a step up from Hart could elevate this secondary to a new level. 

4. Sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas

Jayden Thomas received a lot of hype this season, and he feels like a major breakout candidate. However, so far, Thomas has played a lot of snaps and made minimal impact. Despite starting and playing the majority of offensive snaps, Thomas is sitting on three receptions for 32 yards in four games. That needs to improve from a player that has the talent to become the WR2 in this offense. 

3. Senior linebacker JD Bertrand

Part of this is on Bertrand, and part of it isn’t. For the second straight game, Bertrand will miss the first half of the game after a second-half targeting penalty in the prior contest. The first one was a pretty clear-cut targeting call, and it was really a mental mistake from the senior captain. The second call was far more questionable, and Notre Dame appealed the decision, albeit unsuccessfully. But beyond the targeting calls, Bertrand hasn’t been the impact player the Irish need at linebacker.

That unit has been the weak spot of the defensive corps, although they took a step forward against the Tar Heels. Bertand himself has 18 tackles, which ties for fourth on the team. However, he really hasn’t created much in the way of disruption, with zero tackles for loss, sacks, pass breakups, forced fumbles or interceptions. The Irish need some more dynamic play from their linebackers, and that starts with their senior captain. 

2. Graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy

Three years ago, Lenzy was the former track star that the Irish plugged into gadget plays. Lenzy utilized his speed well, and he figured to be a weapon at wide receiver. Injuries marred his development at times, but now fully healthy, Lenzy has looked almost lost at times on the field. Whether it’s poorly timed drops, a failure to get open or anything else, Lenzy has simply not made an impact. He’s touched the ball eight times in four games for 76 all-purpose yards. Between him and Thomas, they need to solidify the wide receiver corps for the Irish. 

1. Sophomore offensive line Blake Fisher

The offensive line has improved greatly since the start of the year, but right tackle Blake Fisher has continued to struggle. He’s consistently been one of the weak links on the line, and he has missed blocks in key moments that have hurt the Irish. Think back to Week 1, with the Irish up 10-7 at the start of the second half. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner had sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles open down the sideline but rushed the throw as Fisher got beat around the edge. The Irish missed on the potential touchdown, and didn’t score again. Fisher has monster size and potential and he needs to translate that into on-field production in the coming weeks.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.