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Ladd: Offense rewrites their narrative in the Bible Brawl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Golden, Rees coordinate plan for major changes 

After a devastating defeat against unranked Marshall, the Irish are looking to regroup and revitalize this weekend at home against Cal. The loss of sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner due to injury threw an even bigger wrench for the Irish. Both the defense and offense came out flat in last week’s game. And there is a dire need for improvement on both sides of the ball. 

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive coordinator Al Golden shared similar sentiments about their mindsets and where they hope to go. Taking accountability and standing behind Marcus Freeman and the team, both coaches are determined to fix the mistakes of the last two weeks.

‘It all starts with me’

The Notre Dame offense has consistently fallen short this season. Shortcomings and red flags seen during the Ohio State game were only exemplified in the disappointing performance against Marshall. Buchner’s inaccuracy on deep passes coupled with the lack of holes created by the offensive line made it difficult for the Irish to move the chains. With Buchner out, however, junior quarterback Drew Pyne could be the switch the Irish need. Experienced and ready to assume Buchner’s role as starting quarterback, Pyne brings a different perspective to the table.

“Drew’s care factor is about as high as anyone you can be around,” Rees said. “I told Drew, we are in a tough spot right now and we need you here. Drew knows the playbook and has respect for his teammates. He’s prepared himself for this for a long time.”

Though this new change will certainly shake things up on offense, Rees foresees it as a way to pivot and create enhanced offensive play. 

“There’s certainly things that Tyler does at a high level that we’ll adjust to or pivot from,” Rees said. “We have a lot of faith and trust in Drew, and we are building that in Steve Angeli right now. Our job is to make sure these two guys are ready to go and play in a football game.”

Rees recognizes that the success of the offense stems from him, and he takes ownership of the team’s performance. Rees’ play calling has been largely conservative, so it will be interesting to see what he does this weekend.

“It all starts with me,” Rees said. “I have to be better, I have to do more to make sure everybody knows what is expected and what needs to be done. We are extremely driven to make sure that we will fix what we need to.”

Rees “believe[s] there can be expansion in the playbook” and must put players in a place that is advantageous to the offense. Running back Chris Tyree, said to be a key asset for the Notre Dame offense this year, has seen little action on the field. 

“We have to continue to find ways to get the guys who will make our offense more explosive and get more touches,” Rees said. “Tyree certainly falls under that category.” 

Despite all the negatives on the offense, there were some good moments. Rees emphasized the importance of recognizing these positives to stay motivated and replicate them while replacing the negatives. 

“There are positives and you gotta find them,” Rees said. “We need to make sure that everyone is doing their job and improving.”

‘We have to do a better job tackling, number one’

The Irish expected their defense to be a huge strength. But so far, their performance has been less than stellar. Missed tackles. No turnovers. Collapsing at the end of long drives at the end of the game. All of these problems have plagued the Irish defense. Though they were able to keep the points down, the defense needs to step up. Golden recognizes this, feeling “disappointed by not discouraged” by the early results, getting straight to the point.

“We have to do a better job tackling, number one,” Golden said. “And our fourth quarter execution has to improve. That’s on me, I have to do a better job putting them in a position to execute in the fourth quarter, and we have to do a better job tackling as a unit in general.”

Golden’s ownership of the team’s shortcomings is similar to that of Rees, highlighting the accountability of both coordinators.

“We can mix it up and do a better job,” Golden said “We’ve limited explosives and have kept the points down. But what we haven’t done is turn the field on a takeaway. So takeaways, more hits and sacks on the quarterbacks are things we can do a better job of.”

These elements, especially an increasing emphasis on tackling, could make all the difference for the Irish defense. However, despite the chaos, Golden recognized the three defensive captains as providing a constant for the Irish defense the past two weeks.

“(Isaiah) Foskey has shown leadership and a late in-game energy. We have to keep finding the matchup for him and help him get pressure on the quarterback,” Golden said. “JD Bertrand’s been very good in terms of setting the front and communication. Bo Bauer’s obviously doing a great job on special teams. Very pleased with all three of these guys but at the same time disappointed, because they’ve worked very hard and aren’t getting the results that they deserve. They gotta keep fighting and good things will happen.”

Preparing for Saturday

Golden, Rees, and the rest of the coaching staff are looking at everything from “the top down.” Though the Irish have not started strong, there is no denying they are trying hard to turn things around. Not taking things for granted and recognizing the importance of each play, Rees says, is the name of the game this weekend.

“Anytime you play this game the margins between wins and losses are very small,” Rees said. “You can have a number of losses that get masked because you won the game. We must not take things for granted. Play in and play out, it matters how everyone does their job.”

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu