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Key moments from Notre Dame’s first win in the Freeman era

Slow start for both teams

The game started slowly with seven consecutive three-and-out possessions for the Notre Dame and Cal offenses. For the Irish, this meant 10 total yards in their opening four possessions. For the Golden Bears, it was 14 yards through their first three.

On their fourth possession, Cal was finally able to get something going. They put together an 11-play, 58-yard drive punctuated by a 17-yard throw and catch to convert on third down. However, they stalled at the 27-yard line and sent out the field goal unit. Cal kicker Dario Longhetto promptly doinked the 45-yard attempt off the left upright and the game remained tied at zero.

Pyne fumbles, Cal takes advantage

After escaping unscathed following Cal’s missed field goal, Notre Dame took over at their own 27, still without a first down. Pyne connected with Lorenzo Styles Jr. to open the drive and the first quarter came to an end.

But on the first play of the second quarter, Pyne couldn’t get a handle on Zeke Correll’s snap and fumbled it, with Cal linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo recovering. The turnover gave Cal excellent field position and, four plays later, they scored the game’s opening touchdown and took a 7-0 lead.

Notre Dame replies as Chris Tyree takes over

With 16 total yards, zero first downs and a seven-point deficit to make up, Notre Dame turned to junior running back Chris Tyree, and he answered the bell. Notre Dame put together a 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive where Tyree accounted for 44 of the team’s 60 yards, plus a 16-yard kickoff return before the drive began.

This included the 21-yard touchdown reception where Tyree got open out of the backfield and scored untouched. The score came after Notre Dame was bailed out by an offside penalty on Blake Grupe’s missed 45-yard field goal attempt.

The Golden Bears offense were able to move the ball well again before stalling on third and goal, where an excellent open-field tackle from DJ Brown kept Cal out of the end zone. Regardless, a 34-yard field goal made it 10-7 before the half.

Estime scores, Plummer matches him

Notre Dame’s defense forced a quick three and out to start the third quarter, and Pyne and the offense got back to work.

This time, it was Audric Estime who handled the ball often and a 14-yard carry quickly got the offense into Cal territory. They stalled at the 28, though, where a Drew Pyne incompletion seemed to force a field goal attempt. However, the flags came flying, and Cal linebacker Blake Antzoulatos was called for targeting and ejected from the game. The call gave the Irish 15 yards and a first down.

From there, Estime carried the ball four straight times until he dove over the goal line to give Notre Dame a 14-10 lead.

Cal replied with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead. The Irish seemed to have got the stop on third and goal but with the ball inches short, Cal went for it, and Jack Plummer was able to score on the QB sneak and make it 17-14.

Notre Dame ties it then takes the lead in fourth quarter

On the following drive, the Notre Dame offense got going again. It included a big 19-yard completion from Pyne to Styles for a first down. However, after a few touches for Tyree and an incompletion, the drive stalled. Grupe came out and nailed a 47-yard field goal to tie the game.

The defense then came up huge with Jacob Lacey sacking Plummer for the second time in the game. That play led to another three-and-out for the Golden Bears who punted it back to Notre Dame.

Back on the field, the Notre Dame offense kept their momentum and scored for a third consecutive drive. This time it was set up by a 36-yard completion to Estime, who got inside the 10 on the play. From there, Pyne found Michael Mayer on the slant route to give Notre Dame the 24-17 lead.

 Defense steps up late

With a one-score lead, the onus now fell on the Irish defense to step up late in the game. Fourth quarter execution had been an issue for the Notre Dame defense in the first two games, but you wouldn’t know it watching them on Saturday.

With the ball back in Plummer’s hands, Notre Dame needed a stop to take control in the contest, and that’s exactly what they got. After giving up a conversion on fourth and eight that made Irish fans think “here we go again,” the defense were able to force a turnover on downs. After three consecutive incompletions, Isaiah Foskey got home and sacked Plummer for a loss of eight yards and a turnover on downs. 

After a short Irish possession, a Jon Sot punt pinned the Golden Bears inside the 10 and it was the same story as the previous drive: two Plummer incompletions before he was sacked. This time it was Jayson Ademilola and Foskey who combined to force the punt from Cal. 

After a little clock management from the offense and a Sot touchback, it was all on the defense once again. This time, it seemed it might only take one play. Plummer dropped back to pass and threw the ball straight at Clarence Lewis, who intercepted to seemingly seal the win. However, under further review, the interception was overturned, and Notre Dame captain linebacker JD Bertrand was ejected for targeting. The penalty means that Bertrand will miss the next game against North Carolina. 

It also meant that Cal’s drive was alive. After some progress down the field, it seemed once again that the Irish might’ve sealed it with a turnover. This time, Justin Ademilola got some pressure on Plummer, who fumbled the ball. Ta’riq Bracy recovered and scored on the play, sending Notre Dame Stadium into delirium. 

Once again, the turnover was negated upon further review. This time, the referees ruled that Plummer was down by contact, meaning the play resulted in a six-yard sack for Justin Ademilola instead. With one final play, Plummer threw a hail mary to the goal line, which was juggled between several players until it hit the turf. Finally, the Irish could celebrate. 

FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 24, California 17

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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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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.