Categories
Sports

2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Irish running back prepared to run it back

The Irish return the key pieces from their vaunted rushing attack in 2022, and they’ll look to establish more consistency to bring the offense to another level in 2023.

2022 Summary

It’s fair to say that the running back room was by some distance Notre Dame’s strongest position group in 2022. With the Irish passing offense oftentimes limited, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees leaned on the ground attack to set the tone in nearly every game over the back half of the season. And set the tone it did. The Irish exceeded 200 team rushing yards in 5 of their last 7 games while posting a 6-1 record. 

Part of what made the running back room click so well was the balance struck between different player profiles. Every back that played significant snaps brought something unique to the table that opposing defenses would have to contend with. Sophomore Audric Estime provided the power, using his 220-plus pound frame to wear down defenses and bully his way through the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations. Junior Chris Tyree brought flash, adding a dynamic playmaker to the room that Rees could deploy in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Sophomore Logan Diggs offered a nice blend of both Tyree’s speed and Estime’s strength. Diggs also led all backs in receiving yards. 

Key Departures

Nothing but good news in this department for the Irish. There was some speculation that Chris Tyree could enter the transfer portal after he saw his snap counts decrease over the back half of the season. However, the junior running back opted to stay in South Bend for another year.

Transfer Portal Additions

Unsurprising given the amount of returnees in an already-crowded running back room, Rees and running back coach Deland McCullough opted not to take any transfers at the position.

Freshman Additions

After two late decommitments, the Irish will add one freshman running back to the 2023 depth chart. Consensus top-100 recruit Jeremiyah Love profiles more in the Diggs mold of a hybrid back than a pure power or speed addition. While Love certainly doesn’t lack in the speed department — the high school track star boasts a Missouri 5A state title in the 100 meters — it’s not the only aspect of his game. All scouting reports of Love mention his receiving ability as a major aspect of his skillset. Rees will all but certainly utilize him in the passing game either next season or further down the line.

Projected two-deep

The two-deep for the running back spot is either the easiest or hardest to figure out on the 2023 roster, depending on your perspective. On one hand, the starting options are pretty much all sharpied in. Estime, Diggs and Tyree all logged over 250 snaps last season. Rees settled on Estime and Diggs as names 1a and 1b and Tyree as a change of pace option. Given the impressive results once that rotation emerged, there’s little evidence to suggest it will be tweaked heading into 2023.

What does allow for intrigue, however, is the back end of the rotation. Jadarian Price, for instance, received strong reviews throughout training camp last offseason and was a Blue-Gold game standout. Though a summer achilles injury ended his 2022 campaign before it could start, it stands to reason that if he makes a full recovery he could potentially push Tyree for playing time further down the committee depth chart. The same applies to the aforementioned Love, who at 6’0, 190 pounds, likely doesn’t have a long way to go on the physical end of being game-ready for college football. While Estime and Diggs are locked in to play big roles in 2023, how Rees and McCullough split minutes between the veteran Tyree, the wild card Price and the rookie Love remains to be seen and could be one of the most interesting things to keep an eye out for in the 2023 Blue-Gold game.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Irish O-line looks to build on in-season improvements

There were a lot of things that didn’t go right in the first half of Notre Dame’s 2022 season. Few position groups performed further below expectations than Notre Dame’s offensive line. It was one thing to see the Irish struggle to run the ball against an Ohio State team that would eventually reach the College Football Playoff. But to see the Irish held to 3.5 yards per carry by Marshall the next week raised immediate red flags about the state of Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Eventually, the Irish answered those questions. By season’s end, an Irish program known for its O-line prowess was back to handling opposing front sevens. Few Irish fans will forget how the unit flexed its muscles, literally and figuratively, in Notre Dame’s 35-14 destruction of then-No. 4 Clemson. After Notre Dame rushed for just 130 yards as a team against the Thundering Herd, sophomore running back Logan Diggs nearly topped that figure alone. The Irish galloped for 263 yards on an average of 5.6 per carry while also protecting quarterback Drew Pyne well.

That the Irish finished with respectable rankings in stats most associated with offensive line play such as rushing yards (35th) and sacks allowed (39th) given their dismal play at the start of the year speaks to how much they turned things around. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame’s O-line resurgence was All-American graduate student Jarrett Patterson, who was notably absent for the opener at Ohio State due to a right foot sprain. Patterson finished his Irish career with all kinds of accolades. Perhaps most impressively, he did not allow a single sack in nearly 1,700 pass block snaps. The Irish will certainly miss his dominance at left guard.

For as good as Patterson was, the guy to his left might have been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, sophomore Joe Alt graded out as college football’s top tackle in 2022. It’s been a meteoric rise for Alt. He’s gone from three-star recruit (according to Rivals) to starter in 2021 to downright elite last season. Alt could be the latest in a long line of Irish offensive line greats.

They’ll need him to be every bit as good in 2023 with Patterson and Notre Dame’s other starting guard, graduate student Josh Lugg, set to depart. The Irish will have senior center Zeke Correll back and sophomore Blake Fisher will look to build on his breakout 2022 season at right tackle.

Notre Dame adds five new O-linemen to the program for 2023, all from their recruiting class. That quintet includes Notre Dame’s highest rated recruit (according to 247 Sports) in tackle Charles Jagusah. Jagusah is a four-star recruit, as are tackle Sullivan Absher, who comes to South Bend from South Point High School in Belmont, NC, and interior linemen Sam Pendleton (also from North Carolina) and Joe Otting. Three-star interior lineman Christopher Terek rounds out the class.

It’s possible that some of that group sees playing time in 2023, but it would be a major surprise if any of them take over Patterson or Lugg’s starting spots. After all, the Irish also brought in several four-star linemen in last year’s recruiting class, including tackles Aamil Wagner and Billy Schrauth. More experienced options like junior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Rocco Spindler could see increased roles as well. There will definitely be some things for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to sort out in the second year of his second stint in South Bend. But given the strong foundation bookended by Alt and Fisher at tackle, Notre Dame’s O-line should be rock-solid once again. Hopefully from day one this time around.

2023 Projected Depth Chart

LT: Joe Alt, Tosh Baker

LG: Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler

C: Zeke Correll, Pat Coogan

RG: Andrew Kristofic, Aamil Wagner

RT: Blake Fisher, Michael Carmody

Contact Andrew McGuinness at amcguinn@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Gator Bowl grades: Buchner delivers rollercoaster effort amidst transfer rumors

Tyler Buchner entered the 2022 season with a lot of hype. With the offensive line and run game struggling, Buchner’s inexperience as a passer shone through in a rough, 0-2 start to the season. In the second loss, Buchner suffered an injury that sidelined him until Friday’s bowl game.

The sophomore took the field for his third career start amidst raging rumors that Notre Dame is trying to land Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman. That would put Buchner into another quarterback battle in 2023. With a lot of pressure to showcase the talent that earned him the QB1 spot to start the year, Buchner delivered a wildly up-and-down performance in Notre Dame’s 45-38 win. He accounted for 335 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Here’s a drive-by-drive look at Buchner’s Gator Bowl effort.

Drive 1: Three plays, two yards, punt

Best play: Incomplete pass on first down

Worst play: Incomplete pass on third down

Buchner didn’t exactly start hot, delivering two off-target throws on his first two attempts. The first was certainly catchable, but it was a bit of a rocket from just yards away towards a crossing Lorenzo Styles. It went in the box score as a Styles drop. It was, but it was also off-target. The third-down throw was far worse. On third and eight, Buchner had sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas open for the first down, but he just led his target too far across the field, ending the drive with a three-and-out.

Grade: D

Drive 2: 10 plays, 50 yards, TD

Best Play: 15-yard touchdown run

Worst Play: Incomplete pass to Holden Staes

In a grind-it-out touchdown drive, Buchner was inconsistent, but he made plays where it counted. On 2nd and 15, he threw a bullet pass to freshman tight end Holden Staes. It went slightly high. Similar to the incompletion to Styles, it was catchable, but it was an off-target effort.

However, Buchner responded with a third-down completion to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans for 18 yards to keep the drive alive. Four plays later, Buchner appeared to call an audible on third and nine from the 15-yard line, and he danced through the middle and into the end zone on a quarterback draw. It was a reminder of the dual-threat ability that Buchner brings to the table, which becomes more lethal in the red zone, particularly with the Irish’s strong run game.

Grade: B+

Drive 3: Five plays, 19 yards, pick-six

Best Play: Shovel pass to Braden Lenzy, 13 yards

Worst Play: Pick-six

This was a disaster of a drive, as Buchner did very little besides shoveling a second-down pass to graduate student receiver Braden Lenzy. After a pair of runs, Buchner looked to dump it to sophomore running back Logan Diggs, but the pass was deflected at the line. It popped in the air and was returned for a touchdown. There was some miscommunication with Diggs’ motion; he collided with offensive guard Josh Lugg, who also allowed his blocking assignment to get elevated and deflect the pass. Out of three interceptions, this one was the least on Buchner, but it still was a massive mistake in the moment, putting the Irish down 21-7.

Grade: F

Drive 4: 11 plays, 56 yards, field goal

Best play: 14-yard pass on 3rd and 12 to Jayden Thomas

Worst play: 12-yard sack on 3rd and goal

Buchner rebounded well from the pick-six, completing two of three passes for 28 yards on the ensuing drive for the Irish. He added a 21-yard rush that got them into field goal range. His most impressive play was easily on a 3rd and 12 conversion from the South Carolina 44. Buchner rolled right and got drilled as he unleashed a throw to Thomas. The pass hit the sophomore receiver in stride where only he could catch it, allowing Thomas to convert the first down. From a difficulty standpoint, it was arguably Buchner’s most impressive throw all day.

A few plays later, Buchner nearly undid all his work by scrambling around on a third and goal. He dropped back and scrambled right and eventually took a massive 12-yard sack. By not getting rid of the ball, Buchner turned a 24-yard field goal attempt into a 36-yarder. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe drilled the kick anyways, but Buchner nearly made a disaster of a solid drive by trying to play the hero.

Grade: B-

Drive 5: One play, 75 yards, touchdown

Best Play: 75-yard touchdown pass to Logan Diggs

It is hard to fault Buchner for anything on this drive, but it is also hard to give him a ton of credit. Most of the work on this one-play drive came from Diggs. The running back motioned out of the backfield, and Buchner hit him in the chest and in stride. Diggs, with a little blocking help, did the rest of the work.

Grade: A

Drive 6: Three plays, -8 yards, punt

Best Play: 8-yard screen pass to Audric Estime

Worst Play: 9-yard sack on third down

This was an absolute disaster of a drive, although it wasn’t really on Buchner. It started with a shovel pass that was absolutely blown up for a seven-yard loss. After that, Buchner completed the second-down play call as well as he could have, dishing off a screen pass that gained seven yards and made it a manageable third down.

On third down, Buchner faced basically immediate pressure as All-American left tackle Joe Alt got beaten off the snap. Buchner evaded an immediate sack but got drilled soon after by an unblocked blitzing linebacker. Maybe Buchner could have just gotten rid of the ball after the first sack attempt. It wouldn’t have changed much, except where the Irish punted from.

Grade: C+

Drive 7: Three plays, one yard, punt

Best Play: Incomplete deep pass on third down

Worst Play: Incomplete slant on second down

After a one-yard run to start the second half, Buchner looked to pass twice, both times firing toward freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather. The second-down pass was a low slant, falling in the ‘catchable but off-target’ department. Merriweather ran a slant near the sticks, but he had to fall to reach Buchner’s low throw and couldn’t collect the pass. That led to a third and nine, and Buchner targeted Merriweather once more, this time on a deep post. It was a well-placed ball, just out in front of the freshman. However, Buchner’s target seemed to lose the ball in the lights and never attempted to make a play on the ball. It ended up as a ‘what could have happened’ moment.

Grade: C

Drive 8: Five plays, 68 yards, touchdown

Best play: 25-yard pass to Jayden Thomas

Worst play: 1-yard run on first down

This was a case study in how valuable Tyler Buchner can be for this Notre Dame offense. First down called for a designed run which went for one yard. But after that, it was all smooth sailing. Estime’s 19-yard run set up one of Buchner’s best throws of the evening. He found Jayden Thomas on a deep out route by the left sideline, dropping the ball in a bucket for his classmate. It was a 25-yard gain that put the Irish at the South Carolina 23. Then, Estime ran for 12, and Buchner kept for 11 yards to finish off a blistering five-play, 68-yard touchdown drive.

Grade: A

Drive 9: Three plays, six yards, interception

Best play: 6-yard run

Worst play: Interception

Buchner showed why he could be so dangerous, and then he demonstrated the inexperience and recklessness that has the Irish exploring the transfer portal. After two runs for six yards, the Irish faced third down. Buchner scrambled to avoid pressure. Although he was virtually out of any options to convert the first down, Buchner tried to make some magic happen. He flipped the ball toward Jayden Thomas, but the ball was behind the receiver. It popped up in the air and into South Carolina hands for an interception. Down 31-24 already, Notre Dame faced a potentially devastating momentum swing.

Grade: F

Drive 10: Eight plays, 31 yards, punt

Best Play: 12-yard pass on third down

Worst Play: Incomplete pass on 2nd & 7

Buchner offered a solid response to his second interception, moving the Irish into South Carolina territory before a punt. After the offense gained 13 yards in three plays, Buchner turfed a second-down pass under heavy pressure. It was a harmless incompletion that kept the drive alive. With the third-down opportunity, Buchner delivered a strike on a slant to Lenzy, good for 12 yards and a first down.

Two plays later, however, the Irish faced another third down and the Gamecocks blitzed. Buchner faced instant pressure and did well to not take a sack, but he could only find Thomas for one yard, leading to a punt.

Grade: B+

Drive 11: One play, 44 yards, touchdown

Best Play: 44-yard touchdown pass

Another candidate for one of Buchner’s best throws of the evening, this 44-yard bomb to Lenzy tied the game up for the first time since the first quarter. Sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans picked up a blitz, but Buchner still threw under duress. He managed to hit Lenzy in stride on a deep crossing route for the score.

Grade: A+

Drive 12: Seven plays*, 73 yards, touchdown

Best play: 8-yard run on 2nd down

Worst play: Incomplete pass on third down

This drive was seven plays, with the asterisk denoting a fake punt that extended the drive while Buchner wasn’t on the field. Prior to the punt, Buchner underthrew a deep post route into tight coverage. It was an interesting play call on 3rd and 4, and Buchner threw to his first read. A perfect throw might have been completed, but it was a small margin for error.

After the fake, Buchner threw incomplete on a broken play but ran for eight yards to set up a short third down. From there, Diggs did the work with a 39-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 38-31 lead. Buchner did quite little on this drive, but he also didn’t do a ton wrong. And ultimately, Notre Dame scored, with the help of a little trickery.

Grade: C

Drive 13: Six plays, 53 yards, pick-six

Best play: 17-yard run on first down

Worst play: Pick-six

It was almost a masterclass. A fantastic, game-sealing drive to give the Irish a 45-31 lead and basically clinch a Gator Bowl victory. And then it turned to disaster.

Buchner started the drive with a 17-yard run, putting the South Carolina defense on its heels. A few plays later, Buchner called his own number on a three-yard quarterback sneak to convert a first down. But, after a 26-yard run by Estime, Buchner erased the offensive progress. The play call was for a first-down slant pass over the middle for Evans. Buchner pump-faked a screen to get one linebacker to clear the throwing lane. The throw may have been open for a split second, but Buchner took an extra drop step before releasing. It allowed the weakside linebacker to diagnose the play, and he dropped back to make the interception, returning it for a game-tying touchdown.

Grade: F

Drive 14: 12 plays, 80 yards, touchdown

Best play: 16-yard touchdown pass

Worst play: 1-yard run

Buchner displayed impressive resilience in a strong response after his second pick-six. In 12 plays, Buchner passed three times for 30 yards and ran once for four yards. Beyond that, he was happy to let his running backs do the work, and that they did. However, the drive included a 3rd and 1 conversion as Buchner read a quarterback sneak well and brought it around the right tackle for a four-yard gain.

A few plays later, sitting on the edge of field goal range, Buchner calmly completed a pitch-and-catch third-down conversion to junior running back Chris Tyree, who motioned out of the backfield. That allowed the Irish to drain some more clock, which they gladly did on a pair of runs of one and two yards.

That left a 3rd and seven from the 16-yard line, and many assumed the Irish would run the ball and force South Carolina to take a timeout before attempting a field goal. The Irish lined up in their preferred run concept, duo, but the call was a play-action pass. After faking the handoff, Buchner kept his eyes to the right, towards a streaking Thomas. Suddenly, he pivoted back left and found Evans wide open. The play call worked well, and Buchner executed it to perfection on his final snap of the day.

Grade: A+

Final Grades

Over 14 drives, Buchner displayed the highs and lows that come with raw talent and very little experience. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees gave his sophomore quarterback a chance to both sling it and use his legs. In those 14 drives, Buchner earned 4 ‘A’ grades and 3 ‘F’s. It was truly a wild performance from start to finish.

In 2022, the Irish had a quarterback who generally played safe, but his ceiling limited the Irish in a few critical moments. There’s no doubt, after he accounted for five touchdowns in the Gator Bowl, that Buchner raises that ceiling, but the floor, for now, appears to be much lower. Or it looked as much in Friday’s three-interception effort. That’s a lot of risk to carry into a 2023 season with a lot of returning talent and Playoff aspirations. If Buchner was looking to deliver a performance that proved the Irish don’t need to consider the transfer portal, he failed to do so. But he did deliver the Irish their first bowl win over a ranked opponent since 2017, and he showcased a talent level that, once polished, could be the best the Irish have had at the position in years.

Final Grade: B-

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

‘The third and fourth quarters are our quarters’: Irish run game executes monster second half to beat South Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, the Irish run game paved the way to victory with 264 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. 

Sophomore running back Logan Diggs finished the day with 89 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. He also added 81 receiving yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree also found success in the run game, finishing the day with 95 and 21 rushing yards, respectively. 

Diggs scored his receiving touchdown off of a short pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. Diggs then raced down the sideline, beating the pursuit of multiple Gamecock players to the end zone. Diggs’ explosive touchdown cut the Gamecocks’ lead to seven and kept the Irish within striking distance at halftime. 

Diggs described what went through his head during his touchdown. 

“As soon as I got out of my release, I knew it was good. I have trust in Tyler that he’s going to put it where it needs to be. At that point I have to trust myself and trust my speed to capitalize, and I did, and it’s a blessing,” Diggs said.

Although the Irish only had 54 rushing yards in the first half, the second half saw the Irish rush for 210 rushing yards.

Diggs knew that the run game would have success after halftime. 

“We always know the third and fourth quarters are our quarters,” Diggs said. “We had to be patient in the first half, but once your back is against the wall, that’s the type of games that we want.”

Offensive line steps up to provide crucial blocks

Diggs praised the offensive line for the team’s second-half success on the ground. 

“When we were in that huddle and you see the O-line and they’re fixing their gloves and tightening their hands, you just know. I have the utmost trust in them and [offensive line] coach Harry [Hiestand] and their preparation,” Diggs said. “All I do is adjust my reads and trust my coaches and go out there and execute. They put us in a great position to continue to run the ball.

Buchner himself had a great day on the ground, rushing for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Buchner also credited his success in the run game to the offensive line.

“The big guys played their tails off. It’s great standing there in the huddle when they’re strapping their gloves and they’re ready to go. Having that look in their eyes gives you more confidence as quarterback that we’re going to be able to run the ball,” Buchner said.

Head coach Marcus Freeman loves the mentality of his offensive linemen late in the game.

“They want the pressure on. They want to run the ball in those critical moments, and hats off to them,” Freeman said. “They’re an excellent group. They’ve done an excellent job all season.”

In addition to praising his running backs and offensive line, Buchner praised the blocking of his tight ends and wide receivers as well.

“The boys up front were rolling today. Our backs had an unbelievable day,” Buchner said. “The tight ends and the wideouts had a huge role in the run game today, and I don’t know if people realize that. [Graduate student Matt] Salerno, [sophomore] Deion [Colzie], [sophomore Jayden] Thomas, [sophomore Lorenzo] Styles Jr…. those guys blocked their tails off all day long. Those are things that go unnoticed.”

Freeman touted his team’s ability to run the football against a South Carolina defense that was expecting them to run the ball.

“When you have the ability to run the ball when the other team knows you’re going to run it, that’s when you know things are rolling. They knew we were going to run the ball,” Freeman said.

On the game-winning touchdown drive, the Irish focused heavily on running the football, but they ultimately scored on a pass play to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans on a critical third down.

Freeman credited the run game with opening up the game-winning touchdown pass to Evans.

“I think it’s a credit to how we were running the ball,” Freeman said. “In that short yardage situation, to be able to leak Mitch out, that’s a tough play for a defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball.”

Looking ahead

The success of the run game in the Gator Bowl bodes well for the Irish run game next season with the Irish returning their top three running backs in Diggs, Estime and Tyree. The Irish also return three of their starting offensive lineman next season with sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, senior center Zeke Correll, and sophomore right tackle Blake Fisher all expected to return. The Irish will need to replace graduate student right guard Josh Lugg and graduate student left guard Jarrett Patterson.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

‘What a great feeling’: Irish take home first bowl win of the Freeman era, 45-38

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last year, the Irish came out of the gate with a 21-point lead in the Fiesta Bowl but lost in the second half to Oklahoma State, 37-35. After making it back to a bowl game this year, the Irish were behind South Carolina at the half, 24-17, but turned the game around to win 45-38. This matchup became the highest-scoring game in Gator Bowl history.

“It’s never how you foresee it on the front end. In all the days you can sit here before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go, it wasn’t like that. But the ending was, and that’s what we’ll remember,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “To send [the seniors] off the right way, no matter how we could achieve it, that’s what matters. So I’m happy we got it done.” 

The Gamecocks came out swinging and scored quickly. After several quick flips, the Irish defense looked to be making their first stop, but gave up a pass underneath to tight end Nate Adkins for 24 yards. Quarterback Spencer Rattler then hit Xavier Legette in the flat, who ran in for a score from the Irish 14.

The Irish offense took the field to roaring South Carolina fans and could not answer, going three-and-out and punting to the Carolina 32.

The Irish quickly got another chance though, this time from their own 50. Rattler found Ahmarean Brown on Carolina’s 43, but — looking to evade Irish graduate cornerback Tariq Bracy — Brown dropped the ball. Junior safety Ramon Henderson pumped the breaks to spin around and dive on it. Diggs then took the ball seven yards before a completed pass to Tyree and a sneak from quarterback Tyler Buchner grabbed the first Irish first down.

Facing third and 15 after an illegal motion, Buchner found sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans over the middle for 18 yards and a first down. This was Evans’ first reception of the season after taking a secondary role to All-American Michael Mayer all year. After that, sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas was left wide open on the right side of the field to grab another first down for the Irish. Buchner fired a second-down pass attempt to Tobias Merriweather just out of the freshman’s reach, so on the next snap, the quarterback took it in himself. The Irish went 50 yards in 10 plays and three minutes and 37 seconds. 

Adkins caught another long pass up the middle for a first down at the Irish 42, this time from wide receiver Dakereon Joyner. Rattler found Adkins immediately after that for nine yards. Joyner received another wildcat snap and gained eight yards to the Irish 25. On third and eight, Rattler tried to find Legette in the end zone, but Xavier Watts broke up the pass.

However, the Gamecocks fooled the Irish on fourth down. Holder Kai Kroeger executed what head coach Shane Beamer called a fake field goal, despite Gamecocks kicker Mitch Jeter not even being on the field. Kroeger took the snap from the Irish 23, looked off a wide receiver and passed to long-snapper Hunter Rogers in the end zone. 

On Notre Dame’s third drive, they again didn’t get very far. After a Braden Lenzy first down, Buchner attempted a pass, but it was tipped at the line. South Carolina’s DQ Smith snatched it out of the air and took it to the house, leaving 44 seconds in the quarter. It was Buchner’s third career pick-six and left the Irish trailing, 21-7.

Buchner would finish the game 18-33 with three passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. He ultimately threw for 274 yards but also tacked on three interceptions.

After the Irish waited the quarter out, Diggs picked up six yards to start the second. Buchner found Thomas for a first down, bringing the Irish to the Carolina 46. Tyree then brought the Irish to their own 40 for another first. Buchner found Thomas again for a first down at the Carolina 30. Buchner then took off around the outside for a 21-yard run to bring the Irish to the nine-yard line. He missed another pass though, this time for receiver Deion Colzie and on third and goal, the sophomore quarterback took a sack along the Carolina sideline. To put up more points, graduate student Blake Grupe drilled the first field goal of the game with 8:36 left in the half to make the score 21-10. 

On the next Carolina drive, several stops from Bertrand and junior defensive end Riley Mills brought the Carolina offense to two third downs, but they converted on both. Mills and Bertrand would make themselves known throughout the game. Bertrand accounted for eight tackles, half a tackle for loss and one QB hurry. Mills racked up only four tackles but broke behind the line several times for a sack and one and a half tackles for loss. On the second down of that Carolina drive, Rattler found Joyner for 26 yards. Two incomplete passes into the end zone from Rattler forced the Gamecocks to kick. Jeter sent the ball through the uprights for three points and a 24-10 advantage. 

On the first play of the Irish drive from their own 20, Logan Diggs caught a short pass from Buchner and took off. Diggs got around to the outside and, with insurance from a late block from Styles, found the end zone. After the kick, the Irish held 17. 

On the next drive, the Irish forced the first Gamecock punt of the day. But they were also forced to punt from within their own five. 

Although the punt from Jon Sot was returned to about the Irish 40, a blindside block committed by Joyner and an ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct foul on South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer walked the Gamecocks back to their own 20 to start their final drive of the half.

While it looked for a while like the Gamecocks would march right down one more time to the Irish end zone, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison intercepted a deep shot from Rattler for his sixth pick of the season. The Irish would kneel for the first time Friday night to end the half. 

To open the second half, the Irish and the Gamecocks exchanged three and outs. With 12:49 left in the third, Matt Salerno fair caught the Carolina punt at the Irish 32. Audric Estime was stuffed on the first play of the drive, but on the second he broke out to the Carolina 48 for 20 yards. From there, the Irish took three plays to reach the end zone. Buchner found Thomas for 25 yards and a first down at the 23. Estime ran once more after that to bring the Irish to the Gamecocks 11. To finish the drive off, Buchner took it to the house himself. Notre Dame tied it up with the first score of the half, 24-24. 

The Irish couldn’t tackle Legette on the kickoff return, so the Gamecocks started their responding drive from their own 33. It took a third-down pass finding Adkins again for the Gamecocks to convert. The tight end caught this pass for 17 yards. On second and 11 from the Irish 42, Rattler hit Legette in the end zone for a score. Carolina led the Irish 31-24 with 8:31 left in the quarter. 

From their own 20, the Irish sent Logan Diggs in twice, bringing up third and four. From the line of scrimmage, Tyler Buchner tried to flip it to Thomas, but the pass ended up behind the receiver and bounced between Gamecocks before Nick Barrett rolled to catch it. With 6:37 left in the third, the Irish defense didn’t let the Gamecocks convert. From their own 12, the Irish took over again, but to no benefit. They got close to midfield before punting for a touchback. 

Despite the exchange, the Irish defense held tight. Bertrand rocketed into Rattler’s face on third and ten to force an incomplete pass and then a punt from the Gamecocks. After a delay of game penalty, the Gamecocks only punted to their own 44. Buchner took the pass in the shotgun and found Lenzy coming across on a deep crossing route. With his speed, Lenzy turned the corner inside the pylon for another one-play drive from the Irish. 

Lenzy’s score tied up the game, 31-31. The Irish defense again made a third and ten stop. Botelho logged his second sack of the day to force the Gamecock punt, which Salerno caught at the Carolina 26.

Diggs rushed twice for a total of six yards. On third and four, Buchner tried to find Colzie down the sideline, but Gamecocks defender Marcellus Style broke it up. The Irish took the fourth and four opportunity to fake a punt of their own. Sophomore tight end Davis Sherwood dumped it to Lenzy, who then looped around the right side for an Irish first down at the Gamecock 47.  On third and two, Diggs broke through the middle and took it 39 yards to the house. The Irish took the lead for the first time then with 12:41 left in the game. 

Another touchback started Carolina at its own 25. The Gamecocks punted for a fourth time and gave the Irish the ball back with 11:09 to go. 

The Irish marched downfield in response. Eventually, Estime brought the Irish inside the Gamecocks’ seven-yard line with a 26-yard rush, but the Irish would fail to score. Instead, Buchner would try to force a pass to Mitchell Evans, but Carolina defender O’Donnell Fortune intercepted it for a 100-yard touchdown run. This tied the game up at 38 apiece, but the Irish weren’t done just yet.

“We were looking for a specific look, and we thought we had it,” Freeman said regarding the pick-six. “Didn’t have the exact look we were looking for, and the guy made a great play … Ultimately should not have thrown it, should not have called it.”

Tyree got tripped at the 20-yard line on the kick return, so the Irish started their drive from there. After marching fairly quickly downfield, the Irish found themselves with another third and five. Buchner hit Tyree for a first down at the Carolina 19. On third and seven, Buchner found a wide-open Mitchell Evans, who walked into the end zone for the second Notre Dame lead of the game. The Irish drive left a minute and 38 seconds in the game. 

“This is what real life is about. The ability to respond to some of those situations that happened to you,” Freeman said. “But the greatest thing about it was to be able to, again, use that situation as another example in the future, and the ability for that offense to have that happen, look at them on the sidelines and say, ‘In about … two minutes, you’re going to go right back out there,’ and for them to march down the field and score — that’s what it’s all about.”

The Irish kicked off for the last time, which Brown returned to midfield, but another blocking penalty brought the Gamecocks back to their own 13. Rattler scrambled for first down and more, and with a personal foul on freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed, the Gamecocks were on the Irish 36. Junior cornerback Clarence Lewis broke up Rattler’s first down pass. Then, Mills pressured Rattler again to force intentional grounding. The loss of down penalty forced South Carolina into a third and 21. Rattler threw out of bounds under pressure. The Gamecocks then backed up 15 more yards for unsportsmanlike conduct: fourth and 36.  

Rattler fired up a long shot for Wells Jr. who jumped up, covered by Bracy and freshman Jaden Mickey. Bracy attempted to make the catch, but it bounced off his hands and Mickey swatted it out of the air, killing the Gamecocks’ drive. 

In victory formation, Buchner knelt once to end the game, marking a win for the Irish. It’s their first bowl win over a ranked opponent since 2017.

“What a great feeling,” Freeman said. “As I told these guys in the locker room, the opportunity to finish as a champion, there’s no greater feeling. I’m so proud of the way they continued to battle today, which is a representation of what they’ve done all season long. I know I said this before but we were on that bumpy road. But they continued to trust their coaches, to trust their leaders, and this is a great way to finish off this 2022 season … I’m extremely proud of this team, the leaders, the seniors. To send that group off the right way, it’s very pleasing.”

Categories
Sports

How it happened: Five key moments of Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl victory

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Notre Dame battled South Carolina in a back-and-forth Gator Bowl that saw the Irish erase an early 14-point deficit to secure a victory and finish the season 9-4. Here are the five key moments from the Irish’s Gator Bowl win.

Gamecocks take control of game with trick play and pick-six

After both teams scored early in the contest, South Carolina turned up the heat in the first quarter. 

After Notre Dame tied the game at 7-7, the Gamecocks wasted no time responding to the Irish on the ensuing drive after a facemask penalty on senior linebacker Marist Liufau set up the Gamecocks with a first down at their own 40-yard line. The Gamecocks turned to some trickery on the following play. Wide receiver Dakereon Joyner threw to Nate Adkins over the middle for an 18-yard gain. A few plays later, the Gamecocks were set up with a first down at the Irish 25-yard line. 

It looked like the Gamecocks would get into the endzone easily again, but the Irish defense stiffened up. On first down, senior linebacker Jack Kiser stuffed running back Rashod Amos for a loss of two. After a short pass on second down, junior Xavier Watts broke up a pass from Rattler to force the Gamecocks to bring their field goal unit on. The Gamecocks then caught the Irish off guard with a direct snap to punter/holder Kai Kroeger who found long-snapper Hunter Rogers over the middle for a touchdown.

The Irish needed an answer on the ensuing drive, and the drive started off well for the Irish with graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy gaining a first down on a sweep play. After two short runs set up a critical third down, disaster struck for the Irish. Buchner’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Alex Huntley, and it fell into the hands of DQ Smith. Smith then took the ball the other way for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks a commanding 21-7 lead.

Irish claw their way back, tying the game early in third quarter

Following the pick-six, the Irish were in desperate need of a score. A short pass to Thomas and a first down run by Tyree set the Irish up near midfield. It looked like the drive was going to stall a few plays later, but Buchner found Thomas for a first down on a crossing route while taking a major hit in the pocket after the throw. Buchner’s 21-yard run then set the Irish up first-and-goal, but the drive ultimately stalled, forcing the Irish to kick a field goal and cut the lead to 21-10.

The Gamecocks answered the Irish field goal with a field goal of their own to take a 24-10 lead with just over five minutes to play in the second quarter. On the following Irish drive, though, it only took the Irish one play to respond. Buchner found Diggs motioning out of the backfield, and it was a foot race from there. Diggs sprinted down the sidelines, outrunning the pursuing defense to complete a 75-yard touchdown that brought the Irish to within seven points.

After both teams failed to score at the end of the first half and on their first possessions of the second half, the Irish took advantage of their second opportunity. Sophomore running back Audric Estime got the drive going with a 19-yard run that put the ball in Gamecocks’ territory. On the following play, Buchner found Thomas near the sidelines for a 25-yard completion, setting the Irish up at the Gamecocks’ 23-yard line. Another Estime run set the Irish up at the 11-yard line before Buchner ran the ball in for his second touchdown of the game. The five-play, 68-yard drive tied the game at 24-24 with 10:28 to play in the third quarter.

Irish claim first lead

The Gamecocks answered the Irish on their ensuing drive to retake the lead. On a crucial third and one from their own 42-yard line, Rattler connected with Adkins on a short shovel pass that went for 17 yards, setting the Gamecocks up in Irish territory. Two plays later, Rattler threw a deep ball to Xavier Legette, who made a sensational diving catch in the endzone to give the Gamecocks a 31-24 lead.

Looking to quickly answer the Gamecocks’ touchdown, the Irish faltered with Buchner throwing an interception to Nick Barrett. The Irish defense kept Notre Dame within a score, though, forcing the Gamecocks to a three-and-out. Although the Irish were forced to punt on the ensuing drive, the defense stepped up again, forcing the Gamecocks into another three-and-out. A poor punt set the Irish up at the Gamecocks’ 44-yard line, and on the first play of the drive, Buchner found Lenzy deep over the middle for a touchdown to tie the game with 31 seconds to play in the third quarter.

After stopping the Gamecocks again, the Irish got the ball back at their own 27-yard line. It looked like the Irish drive had stalled again, but the Irish turned to some trickery on a fourth-and-four from their own 33-yard line. With the Irish in punt formation, the ball was snapped to sophomore tight end Davis Sherwood, who dished the ball to Lenzy on a sweep. Lenzy broke free, converting the fourth down and gaining 20 yards on the play. Three plays later, a 39-yard touchdown run from Diggs gave the Irish their first lead of the game with 12:41 left to play.

Buchner pick-six ties the score 

With a 38-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Irish looked like they were close to putting the Gamecocks away. A Buchner 17-yard run at the beginning of the drive set the Irish up in Gamecocks’ territory. A few plays later, Estime exploded through the gap for a gain of 26 yards to set the Irish up at the Carolina seven-yard line. On the ensuing play, Buchner looked for Evans over the middle, but his pass was intercepted by O’Donnell Fortune. Fortune eluded multiple Irish players on the goal line, and he ran down the sidelines for a 100-yard interception return. That interception was good for the longest in Gator Bowl history, and it tied the game at 38 apiece with just under eight minutes to play. 

Buchner orchestrates game-winning drive

Logan Diggs started the drive off for the Irish with a 17-yard run to set Notre Dame up at its own 37-yard line. A few plays later, a Buchner quarterback sneak for four yards on third down gave the Irish a first down at midfield. After a short completion to Evans, a 12-yard run by Estime gave the Irish a first down at the Gamecocks’ 33-yard line. After short runs by Tyree, the Irish faced a third-and-five with 2:49 to play. Buchner faced heavy pressure on the play, but he found Tyree out of the backfield for nine yards to give the Irish a first down at the Gamecocks’ 19-yard line. Estime then carried the ball on the next two plays for short gains to set up a third-and-seven for the Irish with just 1:45 to play. Buchner faked the handoff to Estime and found a wide open Evans for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Irish up 45-38. The Gamecocks looked to answer late, and they put together a late drive, getting all the way to the Irish 34-yard line. A couple of penalties eventually derailed the drive, leading to the  Gamecocks turning the ball over on downs. The Irish then needed one kneel down to secure a 45-38 victory.

Categories
Sports

Moller: Freeman can use Gator Bowl to gain momentum into next season

As more and more college players decide to sit out bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft or enter the transfer portal, bowl games have lost their significance to an extent. In Friday’s Gator Bowl between the Irish and the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Irish will be without junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey. Both All-Americans opted out to pursue the NFL draft. The Irish will also be without junior quarterback Drew Pyne. Pyne started the last ten games for the Irish but decided to transfer to Arizona State. On the flip side, the Gamecocks will likely be without some important wide receivers and tight ends and pieces in the secondary. 

So with all of these key players out on both sides, what does the Gator Bowl mean for head coach Marcus Freeman and the Irish?

After falling short of some lofty preseason goals, winning the Gator Bowl in itself might not mean too much for the Irish. However, this is an opportunity for Marcus Freeman to gain more experience as a head coach and build momentum into next season.

Building momentum into next season starts with sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. The dual threat will start in the Gator Bowl for the first time since week two. He suffered an AC sprain to his non-throwing shoulder in Notre Dame’s loss to Marshall. Expected to lead the Irish this season, Buchner never got a chance to prove himself after two modest performances in his only two starts.

Despite a very disappointing season for Buchner, he will have the chance to prove himself in a low-stakes game this Friday. Buchner really didn’t get a chance to show off his abilities in seven quarters of action this season. Conservative game plans only allowed him to attempt 50 passes. Buchner completed 28 of those passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Without a key offensive weapon in Michael Mayer, there will be a lot of pressure on Buchner to perform at a high level if the Irish are to beat the Gamecocks. Although Buchner will have some high-quality running backs to rely on, the playbook will likely be more open for Buchner in the bowl game. With rumors swirling around that the Irish are pursuing a quarterback in the transfer portal, Buchner’s performance in the bowl game is very important for him if he wants to secure his starting spot for next season. 

In Mayer’s absence, the Irish will need a plethora of players to step up at the wide receiver position. Mayer accounted for roughly one-third of all Irish receiving yards on the season. There will be a major void that needs to be filled in the bowl game and next season. Although graduate student Braden Lenzy will be around for the bowl game, he isn’t expected to return next year. That leaves it up to a young, inexperienced Irish receiving corps. 

To build momentum into next year, the Irish should prioritize getting sophomores Lorenzo Styles Jr., Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas involved in the offense. All three receivers have shown flashes of their potential this season, but none of them have contributed to the offense on a consistent basis. Freshman Tobias Merriweather is another receiver that should see plenty of the field in Jacksonville. Although Merriweather only has one catch on the year, that catch was a 41-yard touchdown reception that showed just how explosive he can be. At tight end, it’s worth seeing what sophomore Mitchell Evans and freshman Holden Staes bring to the table.

The bowl game might also provide more clarity on the Irish run game going forward. The Irish stuck with a three-man backfield during the regular season. Junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime each recorded over 400 yards on the ground. With the backfield becoming potentially more crowded next year with the return of freshman Jadarian Price from injury, there could be some major splits in playing time among running backs. The Irish can use Friday’s game to figure out which back they trust most going forward. Audric Estime appeared to be the Irish’s best option on short-down situations towards the end of the season, but Tyree and Diggs proved themselves as reliable options as well. If one of these three players can step up on Friday, that could help them secure more playing time in next year’s season opener. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have the chance to prove themselves against a South Carolina team that is led by quarterback Spencer Rattler. Although Rattler has proved to be inconsistent at times this year, he is one of the most talented players in college football and he will prove to be a challenge for an Irish defense that recently struggled to contain USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Rattler is nowhere near as talented as Williams, but the Irish defense will have a chance to redeem themselves from their poor performance in Los Angeles to close out the year. 

All in all, the Gator Bowl is a low-risk game for the Irish. They really have nothing to lose considering the players that are going to be missing, so they should prioritize opening up the playbook on offense and seeing what players can make big plays. If the Irish are going to perform well on Friday without some of their top players on both sides of the football, they are going to need some new faces to step up. And those players that step up might prove to be key pieces to next year’s Irish team. 

Additionally, this game gives Marcus Freeman another head coaching game under his belt. There have been lots of ups and downs in Freeman’s inaugural season, and the Gator Bowl has the potential to be the perfect segue into Freeman’s second year as head coach.

Categories
Sports

‘You can really see that love we have for each other’: Irish ride stellar start on senior day

As Notre Dame struggled through its first month of the season, the biggest criticism of the team was the lack of an identity. First-year head coach Marcus Freeman has talked about this all season, and perhaps nothing stood out more today.

A resurgent run game that emerged in October started to change things. But there’s more to it. And, ironically for a team that struggled so much at the start of the year, that extra push has come early in games. In its first seven games, the Irish did not score a single first-quarter touchdown. They have outscored opponents in the opening 15 minutes 61-13 since, developing the type of consistency they sorely lacked in September when almost everything was up in the air.

That just makes it that much sweeter that everything about senior day just felt right for Notre Dame.

“What these seniors did for this program will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the near future,” Freeman said.

From the opening ceremonies to junior running back Logan Diggs’ 51-yard run on the first play, Notre Dame’s 27th meeting against Boston College, which ended in a 44-0 blowout, could not have started any better.

The Irish fizzled out after the early Diggs run, settling for a 26-yard field goal on their opening drive. But their next big play was not far behind. On BC’s third offensive play, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison used a stellar read to notch his third interception in as many games. Blessed with a short field, the Irish would once again rely on Diggs. All five of Notre Dame’s plays on their 20-yard scoring drive were handoffs to Diggs. That included the 3rd-and-goal rush from the one yard line that Diggs turned into his third touchdown of the year.

“We were challenged earlier in the week that this was gonna be a game where we were gonna run the ball. Going out there to play as a unit and run the ball like we did — it’s just so much fun, and to be able to send our seniors out with a win like that — nothing better,” said sophomore left tackle Joe Alt.

The Irish would quickly extend their lead after forcing a three-and-out. This time, they did most of their damage through the air. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne kept the drive from stalling with an impressive scramble and 23-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie on third and eight. After finding Diggs on a crafty wheel route for 28 more, Pyne finished things off by finding graduate student Matt Salerno on a play-action fake.

“He is [the ultimate teammate],” Freeman said about the former walk-on. “To get his first touchdown — he deserves it.”

Boston College pulled off an impressive third and eight pitch-and-catch of their own immediately after. Eagles QB Emmett Morehead found star wideout Zay Flowers with a 38-yard dime for BC’s first big play. However, a deep shot on the very next play had a much different ending — but not a new one. A leaping Morrison secured his second pick of the day in the end zone to halt the Eagles’ momentum.

“It felt like I was a kid out there,” said Morrison. “This is a moment that you don’t get this every single weekend, so when it does happen, you just gotta actually appreciate it and just live it in for a little bit.”

The Irish turned the interception into a 10-play, 57-yard drive, finishing with a 41-yard field goal from graduate student Blake Grupe. For the second straight drive, the Eagles would immediately follow an impressive third down play with a turnover. After keeping their drive alive with an impressive catch by running back Alex Broome, graduate student Jack Kiser stripped Morehead. Senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey scooped up the ball for ND’s third takeaway in the game’s first 20 minutes.

“We’ve all been really prepared,” said junior safety Xavier Watts about the defense’s emergence throughout the season. “Just trying to take it to the next level.”

The Irish offense continued to take things to the next level themselves. A false start on a fourth and one prevented Notre Dame from putting the game further out of reach. But another Grupe field goal stretched their advantage to 23. Sure enough, the Irish defense delivered another knockout blow in the very next series. Senior cornerback Cam Hart knocked away a backward pass on a third and one. And senior linebacker Marist Liufau was right there to pounce on it.

Liufau returned the ball to the end zone, but because the play was originally ruled incomplete, only the recovery stood. The Irish offense made sure they would get that touchdown, though. A 26-yard rush by Diggs set up sophomore running back Audric Estime’s seven-yard scamper and tacked on seven more points, giving Notre Dame its largest lead of the season. Sophomore running back Chris Tyree joined the party on Notre Dame’s next drive. He ran for 26 yards on its first play. Three snaps later, he finished it himself with a 12-yard rush right up the gut.

Even when they weren’t forcing turnovers, the Irish defense dominated. And while much of the focus was on how Notre Dame started the first half, the way they ended it was even more significant — a sack by Foskey, the 25th of his career to pass Justin Tuck ‘05 for the most in school history.

One week after upsetting then No. 16 NC State, the Eagles offered little resistance to the Irish in any facet. As the snow turned from swirling to suffocating, with visibility the only thing lower than Boston College’s point total, they had virtually no chance of getting back in the game. Estime added his second touchdown of the game 9:06 into the third quarter. Other than junior tight end Michael Mayer becoming the third player in school history to total 2,000 yards, both sides largely played out the string the rest of the way.

This season is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic in Notre Dame’s recent history. Saturday, on the other hand, provided the type of comforting reassurance rarely afforded to the Irish this year. Notre Dame already proved it can look like the type of high-end program necessary to win the biggest of games. Their 35-14 win over then No. 4 Clemson proved as much. However, they’ll never get the chance of playing under the sport’s brightest lights if they can handle the lower-profile tests on their schedule.

“Great teams are able to play to a standard … not to an opponent. Great teams, championship teams, they set a standard saying this is the way we’re gonna work. There’s no other option,” Freeman said. “It’s something we’ll continue to strive to be.”

“It’s how you respond, to me, that really dictates the future. And that’s the challenge I always have with these guys. It’s never what you foresee on the front end, but it’s how you respond.”

Saturday’s victory was the latest chapter in Notre Dame’s impressive second-half of a response. It doesn’t mean they’ll never play down under Freeman again, but given they end the year with the Trojans and a TBD opponent in what should be a respectable bowl game when the Irish prepare for their next game without loads of national pageantry, they know they can thrive, not just survive.

Categories
Sports

Key moments of the game: Notre Dame versus Boston College

No. 18 Notre Dame dominated the Boston College Eagles this afternoon in their home finale and senior day, securing the win in a  44-0 blowout. Here are five key moments of the game that contributed to the Irish’s victory in the 27th meeting of the two teams. 

Ben Morrison Interceptions 

Freshman cornerback Ben Morrison was a star against the Eagles and helped get things rolling for the Irish. Less than three minutes into the game, Morrison intercepted the ball on the BC 20. The Irish then secured the first touchdown of the game. But Morrison had more to give. Just when the Eagles had a substantial drive in the final two minutes of the first, QB Emmett Morehead’s pass was intercepted by Morrison in the end zone. In the third quarter of gameplay, Morrison did it again; this time, in a snow squall. His five career interceptions are the most for an Irish freshman since former Irish safety Kyle Hamilton had four in 2019, and the most yearly for an Irish player ever since Manti Te’o intercepted seven in 2012, placing Morrison in a suitable spot for a freshman All-American honor. The true freshman is just getting started.

Run Irish Run

The Irish saw the most success today in the run game. Granted, the weather may not have given them much of a choice. But the Irish backs still showed up in a big way. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne threw for 122 yards and one touchdown in the first half (156 total), but was 10/19 for completion (13-25 overall). These bad misses on several passes coupled with Pyne’s lack of effectiveness in the red zone did not hinder the Irish today, but must be noted. The Irish demonstrated efficiency within possession, as all seven of their drives in the first half resulted in points (three field goals, four touchdowns). Three of these touchdowns were a product of rushing the ball, as was the prior first down. 214 of Notre Dame’s 336 first-half yards came on the ground. Meanwhile, Boston College rushed for just one yard in the first 30 minutes.

Running backs dominate gameplay

The running back trio of sophomore Logan Diggs, sophomore Audric Estime, and junior Chris Tyree dominated consistently throughout gameplay, carrying the Irish to a 37-0 lead at halftime. Diggs had a stellar performance, kicking things off for the Irish with a 51-yard rushing first down in the first play of the game. Diggs would later run it in for a touchdown 4:55 into the first quarter. By then, Diggs already had 75 yards on the ground on seven carries, eclipsing Notre Dame’s rushing production last weekend (66 yards) in their 35-32 win over Navy. “Diggs on the carry” echoed repeatedly throughout Notre Dame stadium as the sophomore amassed over 122 yards in the game. Estime also contributed greatly with a touchdown in the second quarter,  and Tyree followed suit well. Estime had another touchdown in the third, earning 71 total yards at the end of the game. Tyree clocked out at 50. 

Turnovers and sacks wither down the Eagles

Turnovers were key for the Irish this game to show the Eagles which team was boss in the first half. Three interceptions from Morrison, a fumble recovery by senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey, and a fumble recovery on a backward pass from senior linebacker Marist Liufau gave the Irish momentum and withered down the already lethargic Eagles. Foskey’s sack in the final seconds of the first quarter earned him the all-time sack record at ND, passing former Irish Justin Tuck’s record of 24.5 sacks with 25 of his own. Junior Xavier Watts also contributed a sack at the end of the third, with Justin Ademilola right behind him.

Irish keep morale in difficult weather conditions 

The biting weather that produced a feels-like temperature of 11 degrees at kickoff did not deter the Irish from having their highest-scoring game of the season. Explosive plays early contributed to an Irish 37-0 shutout by the end of the first half, which continued for a final score of 44-0. Boston College was looking like they had quit and wanted to leave early on, but this only increased as time progressed. When the snow picked up in the second half, leaving little visibility, the Irish did not waver. Irish players danced and stirred up the crowd as the flakes covered the field, and gameplay went on. A mix of the senior day sentimentality and some true Irish grit gave the Irish a well deserved, confidence-instilling blowout to round out things at home.

Categories
Sports

Keys to victory versus Boston College

The Irish are coming off of their first four game win streak of the season, and they will look to extend their late season surge with a win against Boston College on senior day. Here are the keys to an Irish victory this Saturday against the Eagles.

1. Play four quarters of football

At times this season, the Irish have looked like one of the best teams in the country. At other times, however, the Irish have looked incompetent on both sides of the ball. This was apparent in last week’s win over Navy, where the Irish jumped out to a 35-13 lead at halftime, but then had to hold on for a 35-32 win. 

The first half of that game saw junior quarterback Drew Pyne and the Irish offense firing on all cylinders, as Pyne threw for four touchdown passes and had his way with the Midshipmen defense. In the second half, however, the Irish offense ceased to exist, totaling just two net yards the entire half. Pyne also looked like a completely different quarterback, as he took five sacks and threw an interception.

This inconsistent play has been common for the Irish this season. For example, the Irish hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter until the seventh game of the season. This inconsistent play also led to a loss against Stanford this season because the Irish had failed to score in the first half of the game.

This Saturday, the Irish need to play sixty minutes of football if they want to avoid an upset against the upset-hungry Eagles, who are coming off of a stunning ranked win against North Carolina State. If the Irish have a lapse in play again, then they might very well find themselves on the losing end of yet another upset.

2. Run the football

This has been a theme in keys to victory for the Irish, but it is still essential as ever that the Irish establish the run game and stick to it throughout the entire course of the game. In the second half of the Navy game, the Irish were too one dimensional in the passing game, which led to a completely ineffective half on the offensive side of the football. 

Boston College ranks 82nd in the FBS in rushing defense, and they are allowing a healthy 4.12 yards per carry. In the Irish win two weeks ago against Clemson, the Irish showed that they could run the football against a high quality rushing defense team. The Irish need to commit to running the football again on Saturday against an inferior Eagles’ defense that has struggled to stop the run all season. The Irish have established a dangerous trio of running backs in sophomore Logan Diggs, sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree, and they should rely heavily on all three of them to lead the way for the Irish on offense come Saturday.

Another reason the Irish may have to rely on the run game is the weather forecast for Saturday’s game. With the expected high hovering around 28 F with winds expected, it will make it even more difficult for the Irish to find success in the passing game. 

3. Continue to find success on special teams

One of the strong suits of this Notre Dame team has been the special team units, specifically the punt block team. Through ten games this season, the Irish have recorded seven blocked punts, which is first in the FBS. In the win against Clemson two weeks ago, the blocked punt generated a special teams touchdown, and last week, the Irish scored just one play after the blocked punt. It seems like every time the Irish block a punt, the offense pounces on their opportunity to put points on the board. In a game where the score might be lower because of the weather, the Irish could use yet another blocked punt to spark the offense. 

Aside from blocking punts, the Irish have excelled in the punting game this season. Graduate student punter Jon Sot has been more than reliable for the Irish this season, and he is averaging 40.86 net yards per punt this season. Although the Irish will try to avoid punting the ball this weekend, in situations where they have to, they will lean on Sot again to set the Eagles’ offense up with poor field position.