5 stars: The best and worst of Notre Dame’s win over South Carolina

After the first quarter, it looked like this was going to be another disappointing Bowl season for Notre Dame. Well, that’s why the game is played for 60 minutes. The Irish chipped away and never gave up.

Their tenacity rewarded them with a 45-38 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl victory over South Carolina, the first of Marcus Freeman era in South Bend. They improved to 9-4 with the win. It clearly wasn’t all good for the Irish and here are the best, five stars, and worst, one star, performances for Notre Dame during its comeback win over the Gamecocks.

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5 ⭐️ - Ben Morrison

The true freshman has had one amazing season and teams just keep testing him. Although the Gamecocks didn’t throw Morrison’s way much, when they did, he passed with flying colors. He picked off his sixth pass this year just before halftime. Morrison is the next in line as a star secondary player for the Irish, and it very much looks like he going to take the Kyle Hamilton route to the NFL aka leaving after three seasons.

4 ⭐️ - Adjustments made after the first quarter

The Gamecocks blitzed the Irish in the first quarter, putting up 21 points and giving an early feeling that this game could get out of hand. Well, defensive coordinator Al Golden made some much needed adjustments, and the Irish defense found its groove. Offensively it was a bit of a mess: a three-and-out and a Tyler Buchner pick six. A 10-play scoring drive spanning 50 yards was sandwiched between the bad drives. Like Golden, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees figured it out eventually. The Irish outscored the Gamecocks 38-17 the rest of the way. Oh and a perfectly called fake punt helped Notre Dame get its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter.

3 ⭐️ - Buchner’s legs

This shouldn’t have been much of a question heading into this game but it was. Buchner coming off the shoulder injury meant he might be timid running the ball. Well, that wasn’t the case. He was good enough moving the ball, especially in the red zone. Even though the yardage total wasn’t massive (61), it was enough to force the USC defense to account for his running ability. Multiple big third down runs to keep drives alive were huge for the offense and Buchner’s confidence. Two scores on the ground kept the Irish in the game and showed you need to account for his legs at all times.

2 ⭐️ - Coaching out of the gate

Can we talk about a team looking as if it wasn’t prepared? Well, the Irish fit the mold. They fell behind early and looked as if they were just going through the motions without their two stars and other major contributors. This is not what many of us expected after a long layoff. Obviously, we would have liked to see a complete game from start to finish. Even though we didn’t get it, the staff figured it out and helped lead the Irish to Marcus Freeman’s first bowl win.

⭐️ - Buchner’s arm

For as slow as the running game at this level is for Buchner, it’s the complete opposite with his passing ability. It seems like his decision making isn’t where it needs to be, this could be due to not being healthy enough (and the missed COVID-19 season) over the course of his career. For this offense to be complete, Buchner or whoever is taking snaps next season needs to be a threat in the passing game. Yes, he found Braden Lenzy and Mitchell Evans for passing scores, but the 75-yarder to Logan Digg was a throw that just made it to the line of scrimmage. Three total interceptions, two of them accounting for 14 points for USC. Yeah, he threw for 274 yards but he left plenty of yardage out there with some bad misses and questionable decisions. There is a lot to be desired about Buchner’s passing ability, but at the end of the day, he got the job done by securing a win late.

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire