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ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape

Whoever, you are, wherever you are, breathe. Feel better?

After an insane four weeks of Notre Dame, there is a lull in the season courtesy of an early bye week. The Irish are at an unexpected 2-2 record, and with this bye comes a chance for both fans and the team to collect their breath and prepare for the following slate of games. 

Moreover, with the collective pause comes time for ZeLO to look forward to the rest of the season — a bigger-picture view. But first, a minor update on the performance of ZeLO thus far. 

In the past four weeks, ZeLO had fallen behind, trailing by FPI by 17 games. Granted, that is small in the scheme of nearly 300 games, but FPI is firmly in the lead. This weekend, however, that changed (a bit). 

On Saturday, ZeLO beat ESPN in a head-to-head pick ’em competition. ZeLO picked 54-12 (.818) to FPI’s 51-15 (.773).

Is that a minor victory? Absolutely, FPI is currently 14 whole games ahead of ZeLO and has an incredible Brier Points margin. But it is a good sign. ZeLO is learning and reacting to stats and results as they come in, and this week’s result shows that. 

And so, with that announcement, it is time to look at ZeLO’s projections for the rest of the season.

Notre Dame

Last week I wrote that ZeLO had picked UNC to beat Notre Dame by a thin margin, primarily because of the high-powered Carolina offense. I did add that UNC looked like a paper ram because of their weak strength of schedule. 

And that was precisely what happened: ND exploited a poor UNC defense and lit up the scoreboard on offense. 

That data point was a massive change for Notre Dame, and it took the Fighting Irish from a team that was at best .500 to a solid 7-win team. It is probably not what you are looking for if you are among the Irish faithful, but it is at the very least good news. ND is 2-2, so they still have plenty of time to prove me wrong, but they need to show their growth against UNC is sustainable and not a flash in the pan against a poor defense. 

SEC

In August, the four SEC East teams I highlighted were Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky, with the Wildcats more of a wildcard team with high upside. Kentucky seized on that upside and is now third in the SEC East as a high eight-win team and a few simulations where they even turn in nine wins. Tennessee has crossed the double-digit threshold, but Georgia is still expected to make it to the title game. 

Not a ton has changed in the West, though it is worth noting that Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers are now a team to be reckoned with and are currently tracking as a high seven, low eight-win team. Otherwise, Roll Tide. 

B10

The B10 East has stayed relatively static, though Michigan has closed the gap with Ohio State and the two teams should decide who wins the division (and the conference) when they face off in November. Penn State is surging, though, and has an outside chance to be the East representative come conference championship week. 

ZeLO had initially picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win the West. But that prediction seems less likely by the day. Now, the Golden Gophers seem like the strongest candidate, thanks to their thrashing of Michigan State.

ACC

In the preseason, the Clemson Tigers seemed like a lock to win the Atlantic. And while the Tigers are still favored, the NC State Wolf Pack certainly have a chance to take the throne from them. We will find out this weekend if they can. The FSU Seminoles are considered a strong team, too. But they have yet to enter the same tier as NC State and Clemson.

The Coastal, the less clear division, now has a clear favorite. Because of North Carolina’s atrocious defense and Miami’s … overall play, Pitt is now the clear favorite to win the division and has a projected two-game lead on Miami and UNC.

Pac-12

I will go ahead and throw out the unique prediction of Arizona State being a contender for the Pac-12. Just a perk of beta testing a brand-new model, I suppose. But do not worry, because ZeLO is back with an even hotter take. Washington and USC will face off for the Conference Crown. At least the Huskies are ranked (unlike Arizona State in the preseason).

B12

As my colleague Joseph Tunney wrote earlier this week, Oklahoma State at Baylor has the potential to be one of the most critical games in the B12 conference schedule. Right now, ZeLO has Baylor and Oklahoma State as two of the three favorites to reach the conference championship, with the third being Oklahoma. This matchup can potentially shape the Conference Championship game later this season. 

G5

As of right now, the AAC Title game looks to be a showdown between Cincinnati and UCF. Though the Tulane Green Wave -— yes, Tulane -— has an outside chance to make it, too 

I am sure everyone reading this loves the Sun Belt Conference. But why would you not? Do you not just love a group of spunky underdogs? In the Sun Belt, the two strong contenders to come out of the East are Coastal Carolina and James Madison, who was recently promoted to the FFCS. In the West, it’s South Alabama.

Conference USA has a handful of teams with the potential to make the conference title game. However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the UAB Blazers are the leading contenders.

In the Mountain West, Air Force still looks like the team to win the Mountain Division, though Boise State has had quite the fallout. In the West division, it looks like it should be Fresno State or San Diego State (I have absolutely nothing on that one).

The only strong-seeming team in the MAC East is Miami (OH), so at least there should be one successful Miami team this season. Toledo seems like the surest bet in the West, with Central Michigan and NIU looking like potential outside threats.

Unlike last time, I am going to offer a CFP prediction (though it will be brief — covering ten conferences and ND is kind of tricky in 1,100 words). 

Conference Champs

Alabama beats Georgia

Ohio State beats Minnesota 

Clemson beats Pitt

Washington beats USC (yes, this is real, what can I say)

Baylor beats Oklahoma

College Football Playoff

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@nd.edu.

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Crow: Three takeaways from Week 4 in College Football

The Big 12 is officially up for grabs

Through four weeks of the college football season, we are at the stage where conference hierarchies typically begin to emerge and pecking orders come into focus. At the very least, it should now be clear which teams are legitimate conference championship contenders and which are not. Even that cannot be said for this year’s Big 12, which feels more wide open than ever after Saturday’s results.

The presumptive favorite in the conference had previously been No. 6 Oklahoma, winners of six of the last seven Big 12 championships. That presumption came crashing down on Saturday, as the Sooners were upset by Kansas State in Norman, Oklahoma behind a dominant five-touchdown performance from Wildcats quarterback Taylor Martinez, a Nebraska transfer. Likewise, No. 22 Texas had a strong start to the season with a near-victory against Alabama, but it was ultimately defeated in overtime by rival Texas Tech. Suddenly, Kansas State and Texas Tech are both 1-0 in Big 12 play with head-to-head advantages over Oklahoma and Texas, respectively, leaving the Sooners and Longhorns with a significant amount of ground to make up.

No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Baylor are likely the current Big 12 favorites, but they face off next Saturday, and a Baylor loss would saddle them with an 0-2 conference record while teams like Kansas (who can usually be penciled in for last place prior to the start of the season) and TCU remain undefeated. The conference’s “worst” teams may be Iowa State and West Virginia, yet it would be no great shock to see either string together a few wins and find themselves in the hunt for a Big 12 title. Iowa State’s resume includes a win over a solid Iowa team, and the Cyclones’ only loss was by one-possession against Baylor. West Virginia started 0-2 with close losses against a ranked Pitt team and a should-be-ranked Kansas team. The Mountaineers have since turned their season around with a pair of victories that includes Thursday’s 33-10 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All of this is to say that it is anyone’s guess who will win the Big 12. Maybe December’s championship game will pit Oklahoma against Oklahoma State, or Baylor against Kansas State, or Kansas against TCU. There is certainly an element of excitement that comes from conferences having one or two clear favorites. The season-long buildup to a single game that could alter the entire playoff race, like Alabama-Georgia or Ohio State-Michigan, creates a special sense of heightened drama unique to a sport in which the regular season carries so much weight. If chaos is what you seek, though, look no further than the Big 12, which is sure to deliver it in abundance throughout the rest of the season.

Mixed bag for ‘basketball schools

One of the off-season’s strangest stories was the feud between two Kentucky head coaches, men’s basketball’s John Calipari and football’s Mark Stoops, that arose after Calipari referred to Kentucky as a “basketball school.” While the comment was not without validity, given the school’s illustrious history on the hardwood and comparatively dismal track record on the gridiron, taking a jab at another program within the Kentucky athletics umbrella felt unnecessary and in poor taste. Stoops quickly came to his team’s defense, noting that the football program is on the rise while its basketball counterpart has struggled as of late. Notably, Kentucky football has won ten games twice in four seasons after last doing so in 1977, while the two most recent men’s basketball seasons ended with a missed NCAA Tournament and a first-round tournament loss to Saint Peter’s.

Kentucky has taken care of business through the early stages of the football season, currently sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 7 as Stoops has made good on his word. Ironically, given the unusually high amount of discourse about what qualifies as a basketball school, the six schools widely considered to be college basketball’s “blue bloods” all entered week four with a 3-0 record. While some, like Kentucky, stayed hot, others saw their perfect start to the season come crashing down.

The Wildcats played host to Northern Illinois on Saturday and used 17 consecutive second-half points to break open a game that was tied at halftime. Kentucky star quarterback Will Levis threw four touchdown passes in a 31-23 win that did not earn any style points but kept the Wildcats in lockstep with a red-hot Tennessee team in the battle to be Georgia’s biggest SEC East challenger.

Further west, a pair of 2022 Final Four participants squared off as Kansas hosted Duke in front of a sold-out crowd in Lawrence. The Jayhawks continued their surprising resurgence in a 35-27 victory as quarterback Jalon Daniels continued to build his Heisman case, compiling over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even further west, UCLA remained perfect with a dominant 45-17 win on the road against Colorado. The Bruins have benefited from a forgiving non-conference schedule and will have their first true test when they host No. 15 Washington in a critical Pac-12 battle next Friday.

Indiana and North Carolina joined Duke in suffering their first losses of the season, both of which could be primarily attributed to defensive struggles. Indiana surrendered 38 first-half points on the way to a 45-24 loss on the road against Cincinnati. The Tar Heels hosted Notre Dame in Chapel Hill and allowed a previously struggling Irish offense to gain 576 yards as they coasted to a 45-32 win. As the season kicks into high gear, the next few weeks will reveal if the rise of the blue bloods in football is just a flash in the pan, or if this really is, to the dismay of Coach Calipari, the year of the football school.

Top teams show signs of vulnerability

A common critique of college football is that it lacks parity, that the same handful of teams compete for the national championship every year. This notion mostly holds true, and this season, teams like Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State already appear to be closing in on playoff lock status. Beyond that trio, however, the next tier of contenders has provided more questions than answers, and several top-ten teams were put to the test in week four.

No. 4 Michigan began its season with three consecutive blowout wins, though the legitimacy of their dominance was questioned due to an extremely weak nonconference slate. There now appears to be some truth to those concerns after the Wolverines were played tight by Maryland in a 34-27 win in their conference opener. Similarly, No. 5 Clemson faced its toughest opponent to date in No. 21 Wake Forest and required two overtimes to escape Winston-Salem with a 51-45 win. Clemson’s first few games established its offense as a relative weakness, but it was the defense that struggled against Wake, as Deacon quarterback Sam Hartman torched the Tigers to the tune of 337 yards and six touchdowns. Clemson showed encouraging signs of offensive improvement but will need to sort its defensive issues out in a hurry as they prepare to face No. 10 NC State this week.

Elsewhere, No. 7 USC featured one of the nation’s best offenses during the season’s first three weeks but struggled to move the ball against a subpar defense as they clawed out a 17-14 win over Oregon State. Kentucky also picked up their fourth win, using a second-half surge to beat Northern Illinois, but Oklahoma, and No. 10 Arkansas, were not as lucky. The Sooners fell at the hands of Kansas State while a potential game-winning Razorback field goal that bounced off the top of the goalpost before falling short proved costly in a 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. It is difficult to say that college football is moving toward greater parity when another Georgia-Alabama championship matchup looms; but this season promises a great deal of shakeups near the top as the race for the elusive fourth playoff spot continues.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this sports authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

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McGinley: This weekend, the Irish define themselves

Last weekend, the Irish fell 21-10 to the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Irish also started a brand new quarterback, under a brand new coach, with a brand new O-line coach. 

Last weekend, the Irish beat the spread, scored first and led for most of the game all while the defense took on the three-headed hydra that is the Buckeye offense under C.J. Stroud. 

Last weekend was a different game.

Now, the Irish home opener is upon us, and Notre Dame has a different set of goals to accomplish as they take on Marshall.

This weekend, the Irish define themselves.

Outside of pulling off a win, Notre Dame’s goals Sept. 3 had two major facets, at least from where I sat. First, keep the Buckeyes at bay. The Irish were headed into a massive stadium. They knew it would be loud, and it was. They knew it would be hostile, and it was. They knew they’d be the underdogs in a space like that, and they were.

Still, the Irish defense came bounding out of the tunnel for a sack, forced Stroud out of the pocket repeatedly and only allowed one touchdown in the first half. (The lowest first-half score the Buckeyes have seen under head coach Ryan Day.) They could have kept that pace too had the offense not been in a conservative mindset in the second half. The defense was on the field for quite some time and still only let up three touchdowns overall.

This weekend, however, the defensive goal unequivocally has to be to join in on the scoring. With a defensive-minded head coach and Al Golden in the coordinator chair, the Irish were ready. You wouldn’t have known in Ohio that the Irish lost their star safety and their starting nose guard from the year before if you didn’t know you were supposed to miss them. And that was against the number three team in the country. 

Now, the Irish will take on the Thundering Herd, and you can expect the defense to be everywhere. Even the cornerback room — arguably the most questionable unit on the defensive side of the ball — has stepped up to the challenge. Last weekend was a test of how good they are. Now, it’s time for a joy ride. Marshall is a strong enough opponent that it’s an important test run for just how dominant the defense can be, not just how long it can hold its own.

The second goal last weekend was for the Irish to look like they belonged on that field. Throughout the 12 years of the Kelly era, fans of college football have told a broader narrative that once the Irish made it to the big stage, they couldn’t hold their own. While there’s a lot more nuance to that discussion, the fact of the matter is the scores were never close. Whether the talent just wasn’t there for the Irish, they weren’t coached the same way or it was just a sheer mindset issue, the outcomes were often blowouts.

Last weekend, however, they led until the third, were only down by four until the fourth quarter and only lost by 11 points. The Irish were by no means out of that game at any point. A couple conservative calls from Tommy Rees came in the form of protection for Tyler Buchner behind Hiestead’s offensive line, all on the field for the first time. While they could have been game changers had they gone for it — as Freeman ultimately said he wanted to — Rees made the right decision. There’s a just as likely possibility that a brand new quarterback makes a mistake downfield under pressure towards the end of a long, loud, hostile game as there is that he makes the game-winning touchdown throw. The difference? This way, Rees took the game — and mentally, the season — off Buchner’s shoulders. He gave Buchner the opportunities to do what he came to do without putting a tinted filter on his entire season. 

Does this mean Rees doesn’t trust Buchner? Absolutely not. Rees read the room — or the stadium for that matter. He allowed the entire team a chance to prove themselves, not just Buchner. Jon Sot is a great example of this. He did his part as well as anyone, pinning the Buckeyes deep in their own half on several punts. Had Buchner taken a desperate shot downfield and it went poorly, that’s an entirely different mindset coming off the field, one no one needs to start their collegiate career with. The shots he did take, although they didn’t all land, looked promising. This is the weekend to put those to the test. Marshall can be a threat if the Irish let them. But if Buchner takes control under guidance from Rees, this game will be a great space to shore up comfort levels on the field before the season grows more difficult week to week.

While that 1 in the loss column is going to hurt all season, 11 points is no detrimental loss, especially when they came so late in the game. And, some of the concessions the Irish made then will not be on the table this weekend. Freeman already made it well known. He wants to be aggressive this weekend, so you won’t see that conservative play calling — nor should you. It’s time to define Notre Dame Football for the season. The Irish will enter Notre Dame Stadium ready to rack up the points on both sides of the ball and they’re fully capable of it.

Mannion McGinley


Contact Mannion and mmcginl3@nd.edu

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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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Observer on the ground: Ohio State

We left South Bend at about 2 p.m. on Friday and made the four and a half hour trek down to Columbus. The route was anything but scenic; we saw plenty of cornfields and ended up on some backcountry roads through the middle of nowhere Ohio. The mass migration from South Bend to Columbus was noticeable, and we saw multiple Notre Dame friends drive by us on the way down.

After stopping at the hotel, we drove down to High Street, a popular area near Ohio State full of restaurants and night life. After struggling to park in a parking garage that was far too narrow for two-way traffic, we set out to find a place to eat.

The anticipation and excitement of Columbus for Saturday night was apparent the moment we set foot in the High Street area. The area was bustling with people going out for dinner on Friday night, and we saw plenty of Irish fans walking around as well. We found a small Mediterranean place, and although the workers were hesitant to serve us because of our Notre Dame attire, we enjoyed our meal and went on our way.

We decided to go back to the hotel after dinner to regroup before heading back to the High Street area to check out the nightlife. When we returned to High Street just a couple of hours later, it was an entirely different feel. The area was now bustling with college students and the alumni and adults that filled the streets during dinner hour were nowhere to be seen.

After debating which bar to go to, we ended up at a place called Standard Hall. When we walked in, it was busy but not overcrowded and it seemed like a good vibe with an outdoor patio and large indoor bar area. There was a group of about 20 Notre Dame students that I went with, and we stuck together and hung out on the outdoor patio. The size of Standard Hall was a change of pace from the bars of South Bend, and it was a cool experience to see a popular Ohio State bar.

As the night went on, I received some mild heckling from Ohio State students because of my Notre Dame polo, but the Buckeyes’ students seemed welcoming for the most part and there wasn’t any animosity towards Notre Dame that I noticed. There was also a strong Irish presence at Standard Hall on Friday night, and I saw lots of Notre Dame friends throughout the night. It felt as though the Irish had taken over a popular bar deep inside enemy lines.

We got back to our hotel at a somewhat reasonable hour and tried to get some sleep before a long day ahead.

We woke up just after 8 a.m. and decided we needed some food to kickstart the day. We returned to High Street and stopped by a Waffle House, a personal favorite fast-food chain of mine that I try to eat at when I have the chance. After enjoying our hefty meal, we headed to campus to check out ESPN College GameDay.

I was very impressed and surprised by how nice Ohio State’s campus was. The brick architecture of the buildings was impressive, and the campus was littered with trees and other plants. We walked through a beautiful park with a fountain and outdoor music stage and then made our way down to Ohio Stadium for GameDay.

When we arrived at GameDay, we were disappointed to find out that the crew was inside because of the rain, but we decided to wait it out and see what happened. About fifteen minutes later, the rain cleared, the crew came back out, and we ended up with a spot close to the cast. We were definitely in the minority as Notre Dame fans, but it was fun to boo Desmond Howard with the Buckeyes’ fans and take in the sights of another College GameDay. Jack Harlow was the guest picker on the day, and we saw him do a small performance of his song “First Class,” which was a neat experience as well.

After leaving GameDay, I picked up my Observer co-workers and the three of us sat down and had some tacos for lunch. There was college football on at the restaurant, and we watched the end of Iowa’s enthralling 7-3 win over South Dakota State.

We walked around High Street and the surrounding area, and it was apparent that the excitement was building with kickoff being just over four hours away. Every bar at High Street was packed with fans from both teams eager to see their team in the season opener.

An hour or so later, we decided to get our credentials and drop our stuff off at the press box. I was impressed by the size of Ohio Stadium the moment that I walked in. The Shoe made Notre Dame Stadium feel little, which is something I didn’t expect. We headed up to the press box, which was very nice as well, and dropped our stuff off.

There were still over two hours until kickoff at this point, so I decided to check out the tailgating scene a little bit more. Some of my friends were tailgating near a bar called The O Line, so I walked over there and met up with about twenty friends. The tailgating was crazy and full of people who had been tailgating since the early morning. There was some live music playing, and so much background noise that it was difficult to talk to anyone at times. I hung out for 45 minutes or so and then walked back to the stadium. The parking lots were full of Ohio State fans throwing tailgates, and the number of tailgates and parties was truly staggering.

I returned to the stadium, got situated at my seat and then headed down to the field to check out the Shoe from field level. It was exhilarating being on the field before the game, and I saw plenty of famous reporters and commentators. It was fun to watch the Irish go through their warm-ups as well.

I returned to the press box about a half hour before the game, got some food, and I was ready to go.

As the game winded down and an Ohio State victory seemed inevitable, we headed back down to the field for the final two minutes. As Ohio State ran out the clock and Notre Dame walked off the field, the Buckeyes’ fans jeered at Marcus Freeman and the Irish team. The pain and anger in the eyes of the Irish players was apparent as the sound of Buckeye fans singing “Carmen Ohio” resounded through the stadium.

After sitting through a press conference with dejected Irish players and coaches, we returned to the press box, wrote our stories, and headed back to the hotel.

All in all, Saturday’s game in Columbus was an awesome experience and one I’ll remember forever. Ultimately, however, it truly doesn’t compare to a game day at Notre Dame.

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu

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“That’s why we named him the starter”: Buchner ushers in new era against the Buckeyes

When he was first signed at Notre Dame, quarterback Tyler Buchner’s talent was lauded as the saving grace that would replace the stability that Ian Book brought to the Irish football program during his time in the position. When the former QB1 had played out his eligibility after having been the starter for three years, questions immediately arose about who would — and could — fill that position. Enter Buchner, a fellow Californian, four-star recruit that seemed ready to step into the role.

That was until graduate transfer Jack Coan entered the mix, unleashing the quarterback battle that ensued during the 2021-2022 season. With the position shifting between Buchner, Coan and junior Drew Pyne, the once straight path for the sophomore blurred slightly. But despite any uncertainty and doubt, it seems Buchner has won out and has become the sole man for the job.

That same uncertainty and doubt, however, followed Buchner into this season opener. After a year of experiencing several different quarterback combinations — often multiple in a single game — having a starter preestablished in fall camp was a shocking reality for Irish fans. Especially when it was one who did not play in the spring Blue and Gold game due to injury. Yet in the season opener, in his first game fully at the helm, Buchner has proven that although he may not yet be perfect in the position, he has great capacity to be.

Buchner exhibited both his run and pass game against the Buckeyes; he racked up 177 passing yards and a net 18 yards in rushing, nearly as much as sophomore running back — and sole touchdown scorer — Audric Estime’s 21 yards. He did so without a turnover, as head coach Marcus Freemen noted in his post-game press conference, which cannot be said for Coan’s or Book’s first games as starters for the Irish.

“I’m pleased with him,” Freeman said. “But the biggest thing I’m pleased with is zero turnovers.”

Aside from starting out on an even better foot than his predecessors, Buchner also had to adapt to the changing landscape on the field, shifting from the original idea to run both the ball and the clock, as Freeman said was their game plan heading into Saturday night. When his passing game was instead called upon, Buchner was able to capitalize on several opportunities for yardage gain, despite throwing some incomplete passes. 

In response to these mistakes, Buchner emphasized that it is the small facets of the game that eventually add up to how well a player or team performs.

“At the end of the day, it sort of comes down to execution and, you know, the little things,” Buchner said. “We didn’t do little things at the level of which, you know, the standard at which we hold ourselves to.”

In terms of execution, Buchner being a first-time quarterback was cause for concern, as he enters this new role in a highly anticipated matchup against one of the top teams in the country. However, Freeman noted that his adaptability and confidence prevented the moment from overwhelming him and instead, he rose to the challenge.

“That’s why we named him the starter,” Freeman said.

He demonstrated these qualities from the opening drive of the game, which ended in a field goal attempt that put the Irish on the board first. His rocket pass to sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. set the tone for what could be under Buchner’s leadership.

This confidence, Buchner said, is bolstered by his teammates. After having gone eight for eight at the start of the game, he noted how the offense was starting to gel based on their trust in each other and their abilities.

“Luckily, I’ve got a great support staff around me. Awesome teammates,” Buchner said. “They played really well. And so you know, having the confidence that, you know, the guys around me are going to execute and do their job well certainly helped.”

Buchner also acknowledged his equal responsibility in this system. When asked about the offensive line, Buchner said that it is his job to be in the correct protection, too. This rapport Buchner has with his offense gives Freeman high hopes for the quarterback’s future at Notre Dame.  

“He’s going to be a really great football player and a great leader for us,” Freeman said.

Emily DeFazio

Contact Emily at edefazio@nd.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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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.

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Notre Dame vs. Ohio State: the 2022 season begins

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‘Keep making it go up and up’: Freeman, Irish confident as massive underdogs

When Notre Dame opened as a 13.5-point underdog to Ohio State back in May, head coach Marcus Freeman made waves with his response.

“Make it 14,” Freeman said. 

Well, he got his wish and then some. The Irish enter their Saturday showdown with the Buckeyes as 17.5 point underdogs.

“We’ll use that in the team meeting today,”  Freeman said on Monday. “I remember the one time we were on College Gameday [when Freeman made the ‘make it 14′ comment], I said just keep making [the spread] go up and up.”

Freeman’s brash confidence is not meant to be disrespectful to Ohio State. He’s repeatedly referred to the Buckeyes as a great team and a great program. But he does have well-placed confidence in his roster, a team that has several potential first-round draft picks and a roster that saw several players forgo NFL Draft aspirations last year to return for a national championship run.

There are questions to be sure. First-time starting quarterback sophomore Tyler Buchner has talent. But does he have the composure to stay level-headed in a manic environment? Can one of his targets in a thin wide receiver corps establish themselves as a true No. 1 target? Can any of Notre Dame’s three running backs make up for the missing production of Kyren Williams? Can the Irish secondary contain Ohio State’s aerial attack?

Freeman has done so many things right over the course of his tenure as head coach at Notre Dame. But of course, there’s one blemish — the one game he’s actually coached. The Irish came out hot in the Fiesta Bowl, taking an early 28-7 lead against Oklahoma State. But they ultimately fell, 37-35 in a game that the Irish failed to make necessary adjustments down the stretch.

Recruiting wins are great. There is legitimacy in building off-field momentum. But if Notre Dame comes out and loses by 20, a lot of that built-up goodwill is going to dissipate. No recent Irish regular season game has generated the type of emotion and build-up of this contest. The nine-month ramp-up since both teams finished their successful 2021 seasons has created palpable tension and hype as the matchup nears. And now, the challenge for the Irish lies in playing with the right level of emotion.

“The emotions you have … we get to go play a great team. We get to play in a great, hostile environment. You get the emotion, the excitement about going into a place like that and getting to compete against a great program like Ohio State,” Freeman noted. “How can you keep it contained and focus on the things that matter, and that’s the preparation. And that’s what we can control between now and Saturday. We have to be very intentional and have a great week of preparation.” 

For Freeman, there could be added emotion in making his regular season head coaching debut against his alma mater. But he continues to remain adamant that this isn’t the case for him, referring to himself as “emotionless” in the matter.

“My focus is Notre Dame football and preparing this team. And then when we get to September 3rd, Ohio State happens to be the opponent,” Freeman said.

Instead, the Irish’s head coach is focusing on harnessing the inevitable emotions of his players and applying those emotions in a beneficial manner on the gridiron.

Freeman’s embraced this throughout the offseason and summer and fall camps. He knows the environment will be hostile. But he wants to emphasize that the Irish are still playing football. He’s tried new tactics, such as moving a Notre Dame practice to a local high school, just adding to the idea that no matter where they’re playing or practicing, the mission remains the same. He’s added a new level of intensity to Irish practices, something that current players have lauded.

For a program that has frequently found itself boat-raced against elite opponents, starting fast and generating early momentum is important. As such, Freeman has added competitive twists to practice that frequently come in the form of early competitions between the offense and defense. Usually, these additions come right out of stretching, boosting the competitive nature of the practice instantly. This includes red zone drills, receiver-defensive back one-on-one competitions, and more.

“We try to start practice with some openers and different situations. The minute we’re done with stretching, we go right to a competitive situation,” Freeman explained. “It’s a mindset, but it’s also about execution … starting fast has been important for us since the day I became head coach. You can’t start slow against a team like Ohio State.” 

For nine months now, the college football world has watched Marcus Freeman build momentum for this Notre Dame program that hasn’t been seen in years. Now, they’ll watch him take center stage in Columbus, Ohio. His group of gold-clad underdogs will be in tow, now underdogs of 17.5 points. 

But why not make it 18? To quote Freeman, why not “keep making it go up and up”? The Irish will be ready regardless.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu