Irish Gator Bowl rally retains the notion of a better program ceiling in play

Estimated read time 12 min read

For the seniors who stayed when Brian Kelly bolted, for many who believed when Marcus Freeman seemed over his head, for many who opted in as a result of their collective legacy felt priceless, Friday’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl smacked of vindication.

And, to be sincere, big-picture questions as nicely.

The latter can anticipate the celebration to fade on a wacky and bizarre 45-38 subduing of Nineteenth-ranked South Carolina by Freeman’s Twenty first-ranked Notre Dame staff at TIAA Financial institution Subject in Jacksonville, Fla.

However finally each conflict with a ranked staff, each recruiting breakthrough and stinging setback, each NIL wrinkle and rumor ties into the highly effective notion of whether or not an Irish program with 9 or extra victories six years operating can and can finally shut the hole on the School Soccer Playoff’s bullies.

Or whether or not the current seismic modifications pressured on faculty soccer largely by outgoing NCAA president Mark Emmert’s inertia at essential junctures will result in ND’s epitaph as considered one of faculty soccer’s true bluebloods.

Even with a smattering of opt-outs and accidents for each groups, Friday’s Irish rally from 14 factors down, in a stadium the place Notre Dame had gone 0-3 beforehand and seemed unhealthy doing it (the final look was a 2016 regular-season loss to Navy), was greater than a refined nudge towards the next ceiling being attainable for this program.

And smack in the course of that supposition sits the 2022 Gator Bowl MVP, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner, AND the 2021 Gator Bowl MVP, Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman. The latter is looking for a brand new house for his sixth and remaining collegiate season, together with his vacation spot ever-increasingly trending towards Notre Dame.

The premise Freeman now absolutely embraces appeared to be misplaced on Kelly throughout his 12 vital program-building seasons with the Irish. That’s that for Notre Dame to do greater than merely attain the playoff — however particularly to win video games on faculty soccer’s largest stage — it will probably’t do it with out being elite on the quarterback place.

Whether or not that, transferring ahead, is Buchner or Hartman in 2023, or, additional down the highway, Kenny Minchey or CJ Carr.

Buchner performed in his first sport Friday since a Sept. 10 shoulder damage turned him right into a coaches’ field junkie on sport days and elevated junior Drew Pyne to beginning standing till the notion of getting to compete with Buchner and a portal plunger subsequent spring drove him into the switch portal himself on Dec. 5.

Presumably, the now Arizona State quarterback eavesdropped on Buchner throwing for a career-high 274 yards, speeding for a career-high 61 (on 12 carries) and having a hand in seven touchdowns — three to Notre Dame receivers, two scampering into the tip zone himself and two pick-6’s for South Carolina scores amongst his three interceptions.

“Clearly, as everybody can see, there’s loads of room for me to enhance,” Buchner stated in profession begin No. 3 after holding down a tag-team area of interest function in 2021. “The sport we performed was nice. We gained the sport, and I couldn’t be happier. However for me personally, I didn’t play to the usual I needed to play.

“I accounted for 2 additional touchdowns I didn’t need me to account for. That’s not the usual I maintain myself to. This offseason, I’m going to proceed to work as standard. Put my head down and do it with my brothers. We’re going to proceed to enhance and we’ll be an important staff.”

In different phrases, Hartman could have a struggle on his fingers ought to he begin courses and winter conditioning in South Bend in 2 ½ weeks.


Irish QB Tyler Buchner poses together with his Gator Bowl MVP Trophy, Friday in Jacksonville, Fla. (Gary McCullough, Related Press)
There’s a case to be made that Hartman’s presence on the roster would make Buchner higher in the long term, from what he can study from a QB who’s nearly the identical precise measurement (6-1, 215) and has an identical ability set.

That’s a notion for an additional day, although, as is who Buchner can finally change into.

Friday hinted at each the perfect and worst of what that would appear to be however wasn’t a real referendum on something associated to Buchner, given the lengthy layoff. Apart from his resiliency and psychological toughness.

And in that sense, it was an ideal springboard towards spring.

“He is particular, man,” Freeman stated. “I instructed him on the sideline, I instructed him after the sport that there is many various examples we use, however Tyler Buchner is an instance of a man that had a bumpy highway.

“The way in which he completed off this season, his first yr, having an opportunity to begin, and the flexibility to only actually tune out all of the noise and give attention to his job. That is inside a observe, inside a season, inside a sport. That is why I am happy with him.”

The Irish (9-4) have been driving for a 14-point command halfway via the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal from the South Carolina 7-yard line. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees broke from ND’s run-heavy rhythm, established within the second half, and known as for a go play to tight finish Mitchell Evans. In visitors.

South Carolina cornerback O’Donnell Fortune stepped in entrance of Evans in the long run zone, plucked the ball out of the air and raced 100 yards within the different course to tie the sport at 38-38.

“We have been searching for a particular look, and we thought we had it,” Freeman stated of the play name. “Did not have the precise look we have been searching for, and the man made an important play.

“Clearly, at that second, we have been operating the ball very well, and once more, finally we clearly should not have thrown it, should not have known as it.”

The Irish did loads proper within the second half after falling behind 21-7 and 24-10 within the first half. They outgained the Gamecocks 355-100 after intermission, outrushed them 210-15 and held the potent South Carolina offense that topped Tennessee and Clemson in late November to 1-of-7 on third down.

In addition they closed impressively.

Buchner and the Irish operating sport adopted Fortune’s interception return with a 80-yard, 12 play drive that chewed 6:01 off the clock, with the go-ahead rating coming with 98 seconds left.

“After we have been in that huddle and also you see the O-line they usually’re fixing their gloves and tightening their fingers they usually’re fierce, you simply know,” Irish operating again Logan Diggs stated of ND’s bodily dominance late within the sport.

“I’ve the utmost belief in them and (O-line) coach Harry (Hiestand) and their preparation. All I do is alter my reads and belief my coaches and go on the market and execute. And so they put us in nice place to proceed to run the ball.”

Diggs scored on a 75-yard swing go within the second quarter, then gave the Irish their first lead, 38-31, early within the fourth on a 39-yard run.

Mockingly, it was a Buchner-to-Evans go — this one broad open and for 16 yards — that unbroke the 38-38 tie on the finish of one other run-heavy drive and gave the Irish the lead for good.

South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler did get the Gamecocks (8-5) to the Irish 34-yard line in lower than a minute, although. However Notre Dame’s go rush — with out All-American and all-time Irish sacks chief Isaiah Foskey — threw the SC offense into reverse.

It was fourth-and-36 from the Gamecocks 40 when Rattler’s remaining heave right into a crowd of principally Irish defenders fell to the turf incomplete with 20 seconds left.

“We did not get into South Carolina (prep) till actually two practices earlier than we got here down right here,” Freeman supplied up as his essential takeaways. “So, the flexibility to essentially enhance your roster, these guys which might be coming again subsequent yr, and the flexibility to ship these guys off the fitting approach, that is what’s the fantastic thing about a bowl sport.”

There was loads of ugliness early on when South Carolina seemingly scored at will, with out an offensive coordinator, and Notre Dame’s offense seemed like they have been taking part in with out one. Gamecocks OC Marcus Satterfleld was employed away by new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule.

However then one thing necessary occurred in Freeman’s 14th sport as Irish head coach that didn’t in sport 1 of his regime, the 37-35 come-from-ahead loss to Oklahoma State within the Fiesta Bowl final Jan. 1. And in another video games early this season.

Halftime changes.

Included within the second-half mastery was a superbly executed faux punt — in Irish territory, no much less — that led to ND’s first fourth-quarter TD and answered South Carolina’s completely executed faux discipline purpose for a TD within the first half.

Grad senior broad receiver Braden Lenzy, one of many outgoing gamers who got here again, who believed and who opted in, lined 20 yards for a primary down on what amounted to a jet sweep however was technically a go from upback Davis Sherwood.

Lenzy completed with 4 receptions for 89 yards, together with a 44-yard TD strike late within the third quarter to tie the sport at 31-31. He got here into the sport with zero receptions in three of his final 5 regular-season video games.

“For a man like Braden, simply persevering with to do his job and run as exhausting as he can …that is an unselfish place,’ Freeman stated. “It is simply nice to see him get the alternatives to go make a play and make them right now.”

Possibly above all Friday’s win was a triumph for Freeman’s staff tradition, maybe an neglected asset in what Freeman is attempting to construct.

Greater than every other Irish coach in current reminiscence, he leans into how exhausting the Notre Dame expertise might be, and bottles it and sells it as a life asset, as a substitute of framing it as one thing that may maybe be endured.

The Gator Bowl expertise type of encapsulated Freeman’s vibe, notably the place Buchner was involved.

“The interceptions are robust,” Buchner stated. “That goes together with rust and goes together with simply making errors. Having the ability to bounce again from that’s one thing that’s a credit score to our offensive line, our broad receivers, our tight ends, coaches placing me in good spots.

“It actually comes down to each single particular person on the workers: the top coach all the best way all the way down to the managers. They’re so supportive. They assist me in each single aspect of life and it confirmed in right now’s sport.

“Each single particular person on the sideline supporting me, there for me. That form of help goes a great distance in a 20-year-old’s head. Throwing three picks, two for a landing, it wasn’t that enjoyable. However when you could have such an important group of fellows round you, such an important help workers round you, it makes issues loads simpler.”



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