Let’s not wax poetic about the Irish’s first two weeks. We know it has not been pretty, but each Saturday during the college football season brings in new hope. Marcus Freeman doesn’t have a clean slate, but has the opportunity to start to get the program in the right direction. Here are five keys for Notre Dame to defeat Cal and get their first win of 2022.
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Establish the run
Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Chris Tyree (25) runs the ball as Ohio State Buckeyes safety Lathan Ransom (12) makes the tackle during the third quarter at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
The Irish need this bad. Really bad. So far this year, as a team, the rushers have averaged 3.1 yards-per-carry with a long of just 22-yards. Injured starting quarterback Tyler Buchner is the current leading rusher with 62 total yards. It’s time to get the real running backs involved and it starts with Chris Tyree. Minimum 12 carries, I love to see 15-18 total touches, for the veteran of the group. More end arounds or jet sweeps to Lorenzo Styles, run Audric Estime in short-yardage situations and late in the game when their defense is tired. If Logan Diggs isn’t fully healthy, which to me seems like the case, sit him. There needs to be someone that emerges from this group and it needs to be now.
Score some damn points
Head coach Marcus Freeman of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on from the sideline against the Marshall Thundering Herd during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. Michael Reaves/Getty Images
The offense has been non-existent in 2022, with the Irish scoring just 10 and 21 points in each of their respective contests. There are some quality players on this side of the ball and with Buchner sidelined for the rest of the season, Pyne has a clear opportunity to take a firm grasp of this offense. Star tight end Michael Mayer just needs to keep doing what he has been, he’s been fantastic so far. Styles too, he’s been solid in his second season with the Irish. The rest of the offense has been a whole lot a blah. As highlighted above, the rushers have struggled and outside of Mayer and Styles so have the pass catchers. Braden Lenzy needs to step up and one of the younger receivers has to also. Minimum four touchdowns need to be scored against the Golden Bears.
Give Drew Pyne time
Apr 23, 2022; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) throws a pass in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Sensing a theme there with the keys? The offense is comprised of three units and unfortunately, up to this point none of them have played well. That has to change and a lot of it hinges on the offensive line. The collective group needs to give Pyne time, he’s not nearly as mobile as Buchner. The interior line needs to play better, we have seen too many pressures coming from the middle. Josh Lugg has struggled and although Jarrett Patterson is back, he didn’t seem fully healthy. Blake Fisher needs to set up as well, he’s had enough time to get his feet wet after his injury. This group needs to play mean and nasty on Saturday.
Create a turnover
Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Clarence Lewis (6) breaks up the pass during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Zero. Zilch. Nada. That’s how many turnovers this defense has caused this year. I’m not asking for a lot of them, just one. Really don’t care how it happens, the Notre Dame defense has to cause one, the monkey needs to get off their back. Aside from this, in my eyes, the defense has played well enough for the Irish to win both of their games. They just need to keep playing well.
Don’t tire in the second half
Logan Diggs #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball against the Marshall Thundering Herd during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. Michael Reaves/Getty Images
It’s been a tale of two halves in the Freeman era. The first half has been prosperous, the second halves not so much. Whatever this team needs to do during the week leading up to Saturday’s needs to change. Do they need to change up the practice times or the intensity? Could it be rotating more players during the game? Honestly, I wish I knew but it needs to be different. Maybe some orange slices during halftime will give them some extra juice. Really for me, it’s a want to. The team has to want that win. They need to earn it. Dig deep and find a way to pull it out in the second half.