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The Observer predicts Cal vs. Notre Dame

Emily DeFazio, Associate Sports Editor

I am not sure where to begin in predicting Saturday’s outcome; I have few words left after having to eat so many of them last week. The Irish would have to win out in order for my 10-2 season prediction to be correct, and with USC and Clemson still left to take on, I have my doubts.

The offense was already struggling, and the loss of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner is a tough pill to swallow. I have mixed feelings about junior quarterback Drew Pyne stepping in. It is certainly his time to shine, but he will have to do just that. Interceptions like Saturday cannot happen moving forward. However, this is an opportunity for Rees to structure a solid game plan that involves more than just the run game. Pyne has proven he can pass the ball well, and he should be allowed to do so.

I am counting on those sporadic moments of greatness he posted on the field last year to grow now that he is securely in the QB1 position. Utilize juniors Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman for some tight end touchdowns Saturday. Should the offense rally under this new leadership, and the defensive line tighten up their play, I see the Irish coming away with their first win of the season. Albeit a close one.

ND 24, Cal 17

Nate Moller, Senior Sports Writer

Notre Dame Stadium is usually one of my favorite places in the world. But it was far from it last Saturday. The Irish looked truly awful throughout most of the game. With Freeman being 0-3 as a head coach, this game feels like a must-win. Without Buchner at quarterback, that will make getting a win much more difficult. Cal is by no means a strong power five team. But they have shown that they can close out games, which is something Notre Dame has yet to do. Running back Jaydn Ott has averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry this season. Stopping his production will be key for the Irish.

If the Irish are going to win this game, the offensive and defensive lines need to be much better than the mess that was Marshall. If Pyne doesn’t have time to pass and the run game can not be established, the Irish could be in trouble yet again. I think this is going to be a sloppy game. And while it may not be a good win, I do expect Notre Dame to find a way to get into the win column. A late Michael Mayer touchdown gives the Irish just enough offense to edge out the Golden Bears.

Notre Dame 14, Cal 13

Liam Coolican, Associate Sports Editor

If you’re looking for someone to blame for the Irish’s struggles, look no further. Not only did I predict the team would go 11-1 and make the CFP, I also wrote last week that “Notre Dame doesn’t lose trap games.” The good news is, my predictions, much like Notre Dame’s fortunes, can’t get much worse. Drew Pyne clearly wasn’t ready to come into the game last week, but he showed flashes of brilliance last year and I believe he can be a solid, if not spectacular, quarterback at this level. However, the Irish do have to adjust their offense substantially to play to Pyne’s strengths rather than Buchner’s in just a week’s time.

It might be another slow start for the Irish as the offense takes time to get used to Pyne under center. But the defense will keep them in the game against a lackluster Cal offense. Notre Dame should be more fired up and better prepared than they were a week ago. Pyne will get rolling in the second half, and the defense will come up with a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. It may take a late score, but the Irish will pull this one out.

Notre Dame 24, Cal 17

Mannion McGinley, Assistant Managing Editor

The Irish have started the season 0-2 for the first time since 2011. Seeing as that’s as many losses as I predicted on the season as a whole, the Irish are not where I expected them to be. Losing Buchner on top of that was just salt in the wound. There’s potential in the change up though, especially this week. Cal may be 2-0, but the Irish need the win and this is the space to get it. Plummer is a quarterback the Irish D-line knows, and knows well. They need to get to him just as they did when he played for Purdue.

In terms of Irish offense, it’s not perfect. But Pyne’s structure may be the answer to ending the passing touchdown drought. Both UC Davis and UNLV were able to score through the air on Cal. This should mean the Irish can as well. The defense gets the takeaway they’ve been striving for. And while it’ll be tight, some of the pieces finally come together. At the risk of losing any credibility, Irish win. 

Notre Dame 21, Cal 17

Madeline Ladd, Associate Sports Editor

To be honest, I’m not sure what to say here after the devastation last week. Coupled with the loss of Buchner, there are a lot of question marks going into this weekend. However, though Notre Dame is down, they are not out. They will certainly be coming into the weekend hungry, and the changes made on offense may prove to be beneficial.

But Cal’s defense is no joke. The Notre Dame offense, now led by Pyne, will need to get it together in order to come out with the victory. I predict that Pyne will be efficient and throw for two TD’s. I see junior running back Chris Tyree with more action on the ground as well. The defensive line will control the weaker Cal offensive line, not fading in the second half as they have in the previous two games. This is a game well within the Irish’s wheelhouse and I think they can pull off the win. But it certainly won’t be pretty.

Notre Dame 17, Cal 13

Aidan Thomas, Sports Editor

Gross. I predicted Notre Dame to go 10-2 this season, which, I guess, is technically still in play. However when you lose a game that I personally ranked seventh-hardest on the schedule and start 0-2, that 10-2 dream is on very thin ice — but still alive.

The Irish currently have no semblance of an offense. They’ve scored just 31 points, blowing a bevy of opportunities over the first couple of weeks. Untimely penalties, missed open deep shots, interceptions and no running game have thwarted the Irish offense at nearly every turn. Now they turn to longtime backup Pyne to make things right.

He must do so against a Cal defense that is stiff against the pass but has experienced struggles against the run. The lead back for each Cal opponents this year averages 7.1 yards per carry. The Irish need to assert themselves in the trenches and dominate a below-average Cal offense. Notre Dame must win ugly this year. Hopefully, that trend starts on Saturday.

Notre Dame 24 Cal 13

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DeFazio: The unsung hero of Columbus

“There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

As head coach Marcus Freeman himself said, Saturday night was no moral victory for Notre Dame. No matter how long the Irish kept the Buckeyes at bay, according to the scoreboard, the Irish lost. Plain and simple. Those three points that edged the team ahead until the end of the third do not matter when that final score reads 10-21.

“We didn’t win.”

However, this sentiment does not mean that the season opener was meaningless. Yes, Freeman and his team learned that they needed to execute late in the game. Just like the 2022 Fiesta Bowl, the Irish fell apart in the third quarter, rendering them unable to turn the game back around in the end. Notre Dame learned this, but I learned something else watching them on that field Saturday night: the Irish have an unsung hero in their ranks. And that hero is sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s passing game.

Buchner is known for being a runner. In his debut season, he recorded 336 rushing yards without playing every game in full. Yet in Columbus, it was his arm that pushed the Irish cause forward. His 18 rushing yards pale in comparison to the 177 he gained from passing.

He started the match with a bullet of a 54-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles, Jr., initiating a drive that would make Notre Dame first on the board. But even then, every successive play of that sequence was a rush, ending with the need to call in the field goal unit as opposed to racing for the end zone. Despite the strong opening play and the three points that eventually came from it, it is this scoring drive that is the true testament to what this offense could be should Buchner be allowed to utilize his passing game in a greater capacity.

The momentum for the offense came when Buchner connected with graduate student wide receiver Matt Salerno for a highlight reel catch. This play was quickly followed by a 22-yard pass to junior tight end Kevin Bauman, which was paired with a rush by Chris Tyree–a new role for the running back, and perhaps one with untapped potential–and another pass to Michael Mayer to put the Irish at the one. From there, sophomore running back Audric Estime rose over the throng to plow ahead that final yard into the end zone, putting Notre Dame in the lead they would maintain until the end of the third quarter. Based solely on the number of yards for each play of that drive, it was not the rushing game that put the Irish in a scoring position, but big passes from Buchner that enabled the touchdown.

Buchner may be a runner, but his showing at OSU demonstrated he should not be limited to that facet of his game. Sometimes, it just makes sense to plant your feet and throw as opposed to scrambling around the defenders; and clearly, Buchner has the talent to not put those passes to waste.

That is not to say that Buchner should completely neglect his run game. On the contrary, his speed is useful in the quarterback position and can be employed when need be. Instead, the Irish should not be afraid to experiment. 

Attempting to plow through the defensive line only got the team so far. Rushing yards only accounted for 30% of the total yardage on the night, and yet run plays were the ones most consistently called. And as a third down efficiency of 23.1% can speak to, the Irish need to tweak the offensive game plan.

The Irish should focus on developing a choreography of passes and runs. They need to use every tool they have in their arsenal as opposed to consistently rushing the field. Doing so would keep the defense on their toes and would maximize every asset of the Irish offense.

Use Buchner’s pass game. Use Tyree and his speed at receiver instead of running back. Try it out, and see what happens. There may be no moral victories for the Irish, but these changes could lead to plenty of true ones in the future.

Emily DeFazio

Contact Emily at edefazio@nd.edu

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Irish fail to execute late, fall to Buckeyes in season opener

The fifth-ranked Irish battled hard in the season opener against the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, but Notre Dame failed to score in the second half and Ohio State battled back to secure a 21-10 victory on Saturday night in Columbus.

The Irish started off the night in a big way with a 54-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles down the sideline. An Ohio State penalty set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 16-yard line, but the Irish drive faltered after three straight running plays. The Irish managed to get on the board, though, with graduate student kicker Blake Grupe nailing a 33-yard field goal to give the Irish an early lead.

After stopping the Buckeyes at midfield on their opening drive, the Irish got the ball back at their own five-yard line. They got backed up even more, though, after a two-yard loss from sophomore running back Audric Estime and a false start penalty. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner managed to give the Irish some breathing room on second down, but the Irish failed to convert on the third and were forced to punt.

On the ensuing drive, a pass interference penalty for senior cornerback Cam Hart set the Buckeyes up at the Irish 35-yard line. A few plays later, Buckeyes’ quarterback C.J. Stroud found wide receiver Emeka Egbuka on a pass to the flat, who eluded the Irish defense to score the game’s first touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 7-3 lead with just over five minutes to play in the first quarter.

A few possessions later, the Irish put together their most impressive drive of the game. A circus catch from graduate student wide receiver Matt Salerno on a third and short kickstarted the drive and set the Irish up in Buckeye territory. The terrific catch put the Irish in great shape and earned Buchner’s praise after the game.

“He’s one of our best receivers and he made a huge play,” Buchner said. “And I was thankful that he came down with it.”

The Irish continued to move the ball after Salerno’s catch with Buchner, finding junior tight Kevin Bauman on the ensuing play to set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line. After two run plays, the Irish converted another big third down on a pass to junior tight end Michael Mayer to set up a first and goal from the one-yard line. After an Ohio State timeout, Estime leaped over the pile to score the first touchdown of the season for Notre Dame and give the Irish a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

After a few empty possessions for both teams, Ohio State wasted no time moving the ball down the field on their final drive of the first half. C.J. Stroud got the drive going, completing pass after pass to get the Buckeyes into Irish territory. Running back TreVeyon Henderson had an impressive 16-yard run as well to set the Buckeyes up at the Irish 25-yard line. The Buckeyes’ drive stalled a few plays later, however, and a missed 39-yard field goal allowed the Irish to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

Ohio State’s frustration on offense continued to build at the start of the second half after the Buckeyes went three and out on their opening drive. They also failed to score on their second drive of the half, as well.

The Irish offense couldn’t capitalize on their first two possessions, though, allowing the Buckeyes to stay within three. Head coach Marcus Freeman acknowledged that his team’s strategy was to limit the Buckeyes’ possessions and milk the clock as much as possible offensively.

“We wanted to control the clock, limit their offensive possessions, and run the football,” Freeman said. “It was a 10-7 game until seconds left in the third quarter, so we knew we weren’t going to try to outscore them.”

But a turning point came late in the third quarter when the Buckeyes marched down the field for a 70-yard touchdown drive. Stroud started the drive off by showing off his play-making abilities on the opening play, eluding multiple pass rushers and then finding Emeka Egbuka for a 16-yard completion on the run. After a false start penalty, Stroud then found wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. on the following play for another 11 yards.

Set up at the Irish 48-yard line, the Buckeyes continued to move deeper into Irish territory. A personal foul call backed the Buckeyes up into a second and long situation. However, the Buckeyes overcame the penalty. Stroud found wide receiver Xavier Johnson down the middle for a go-ahead 24-yard touchdown pass.

The Irish desperately needed an answer on the ensuing drive, and it looked like they were off to a good start, as Buchner found graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy for a 32-yard play to open the drive. On the following play, junior running back Chris Tyree ran for 14 yards to set the Irish up at the Ohio State 41-yard line. But a crucial offensive pass interference call against Salerno backed the Irish up, eventually forcing Notre Dame to punt.

After getting the ball back, the Buckeyes put the Irish away for good, courtesy of a 95-yard touchdown drive powered by the run game. Running back Miyan Williams carried the ball on the final five plays of the drive. His two-yard rushing touchdown with just under five minutes to play in the game all but solidified an Ohio State victory.

“They had four rushing big plays in the fourth quarter,” Freeman said. “That is a heartbreaker for a defense when you are giving up big plays to an offense that is running the ball. We have to be able to finish and execute.”

An Irish three and out on their next possession further cemented that reality. The Irish punted, and Ohio State ran the clock out to secure the season opening victory over Notre Dame. While the Irish fought hard, Freeman was ultimately disappointed in his team’s execution and inability to respond offensively late in the game.

“We didn’t finish the game. We didn’t execute,” Freeman said. “I think we learned that we have a good football team, but we have to learn how to finish. We battled for two and a half quarters, but then they scored 17 seconds before the end of the third quarter and we don’t respond. And then they go and score again in the fourth quarter, and that’s the game.”

The Irish will return to action in the home opener next week against Marshall, and Freeman is excited to get back to work and get the first win of the season next week.

“We have a lot to learn from this game,” Freeman said. “The beauty of this thing is we don’t have to wait 245 days. We have seven days for another opportunity, so we have to get back to work.”

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Key moments from season opener against Ohio State

The Irish went toe-to-toe with the Ohio State Buckeyes in their season opener on Saturday night in Columbus, but the Ohio State offense clicked late to secure a 21-10 victory. Let’s look at some of the key moments that dictated the course of the game and gave the Buckeyes a season-opening victory.

Irish open with huge play

The Irish started the opening drive of the game from their own 15-yard line, and this set the tone early for the Irish. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner had some pressure on the play, but he made a sensational pass to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. on the sideline. Styles then eluded multiple Buckeye defenders — gaining 54 yards and a penalty on the play — and set the Irish up at the Ohio State 16-yard line.

Although the Irish drive would stall moments later, the play set up a field goal from graduate student kicker Blake Grupe to give the Irish the first points of the game. It showed the Irish had the potential for a big play at any moment and that they weren’t going down without a fight in Columbus.

Salerno’s circus catch sets up first Irish touchdown of the season

Aside from the big play to open the game, the Irish struggled to move the ball with any authority throughout the beginning of the first quarter. That changed with the 87-yard drive that the Irish put together towards the end of the first quarter that was capped off by sophomore running back Audric Estime’s one-yard touchdown run at the beginning of the second.

Arguably the biggest play of the drive happened on a critical third and two when Buchner found graduate student Matt Salerno downfield for a sensational 31-yard reception. Salerno bobbled the ball twice with a defender all over him, and he managed to make a highlight-reel catch as he was falling to the ground.

Immediately following the catch, Buchner found tight end Kevin Bauman over the middle for a 22-yard reception that set the Irish up at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line. A couple plays later, Buchner found junior tight end Michael Mayer to convert on a huge third down to set the Irish up with first and goal from the one-yard line.

After a Buckeyes’ timeout, Estime leaped over the pile to score the first Irish touchdown of the game and give the Irish a 10-7 lead.

Buckeyes falter on final drive of first half

With the Irish holding a 10-7 lead with the first half winding down, the Buckeyes had one last chance to gain some momentum ahead of the second half. C.J. Stroud led the Buckeyes quickly into Irish territory, completing pass after pass. Running back TreVeyon Henderson then got the Buckeyes deeper into Irish territory with a sensational 16-yard run that pushed them down to the 25-yard line.

It looked like the Buckeyes were going to score a touchdown and grab a lead heading into the locker room, but the Irish defense held firm. With the Buckeyes facing a critical third down and six, Stroud threw a pass slightly behind wide receiver Emeka Egbuka. Egbuka nearly made a fantastic catch, but he was unable to hold on and the Buckeyes had to bring out the field goal unit on the fourth down.

With the Buckeyes desperately needing some points heading into the half, Noah Ruggles failed to convert for the Buckeyes, missing the 39-yard field goal. In what turned out to be a disappointing first half for the Buckeyes, the missed field goal deflated the crowd to some extent and allowed Notre Dame to maintain the lead into the locker room.

Buckeyes regain lead late in third quarter

With the Buckeyes struggling to get much going offensively in the second half, the 10-play, 70-yard drive at the end of the third quarter turned things around. The drive started off with Stroud showing off his play-making abilities, eluding multiple pass rushers in the back field. Stroud then found Egbuka on the run for a 16-yard completion. On the following play, Stroud exposed the Irish defense yet again, finding wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. on the sideline for an 11-yard completion to put the ball in Irish territory.

The Buckeyes continued to move the football further into Irish territory, but a personal foul penalty backed the Buckeyes up into a second and 21 situation. Stroud managed to get about half of the yardage back on second down on a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Xavier Johnson over the middle. Stroud then made the biggest play of the game, finding Johnson again over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes the lead at the end of the third quarter.

Buckeyes put Irish away with run game

After stopping the Irish on the ensuing drive, the Buckeyes scored another touchdown to put the Irish away late in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes relied on their running game heavily on this 95-yard drive, picking up most of their yardage from running back Miyan Williams. After getting to the Buckeye 40-yard line, Williams took over and ran right up the middle for an 11-yard gain to get into Irish territory.

After a short completion from Stroud, Williams carried the ball on the next five plays, and he eventually found the endzone on a two-yard run. That touchdown gave the Buckeyes an 11-point lead and effectively made the game out of reach for the Irish. After Notre Dame punted on their ensuing drive, the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock and secure a 21-10 victory.