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Notre Dame Football

Irish Overcome Two-Touchdown Deficit to Defeat No. 19 South Carolina in Gator Bowl

December 30, 2022
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Notre Dame played like the team that began the season 0-2 in the first half of the Gator Bowl on Friday against No. 19 South Carolina, trailing by two touchdowns early in the contest.

The Irish could barely run the ball and looked lost defensively at times, allowing Gamecock passers to connect on 24 of 32 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. 

Over the final 30 minutes, Notre Dame returned to form. 

The Irish outgained the Gamecocks by a 356-111 yard margin with South Carolina going three-and-out on five of its seven second-half possessions.

In the end, No. 21 Notre Dame managed to win the Gator Bowl, 45-38.

“You can sit there before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “It wasn't like that, but the ending was right, and that's what we'll remember.”

Both aspects of the defense stepped up to shut down the Gamecocks. Notre Dame limited South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler to 7 of 18 passing for just 85 yards and a touchdown.

The Irish were even more stout against the run, allowing just 15 rush yards on nine second-half carries from the Gamecocks. 

In an increased role with Isaiah Foskey sitting out, junior vyper Jordan Bothelo served as a game wrecker, picking up two sacks to go along with two quarterback hurries. 

Linebacker JD Bertrand and cornerback TaRiq Bracey led the Irish in tackles with eight apiece. 

Irish quarterback Tyler Buchner started his first game in 112 days, recovering from surgery to repair a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder. 

He completed 18 of his 33 passes for 274 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions while also running for 61 yards and two more scores on 12 carries. 

Unfortunately, he also accounted for two more scores by way of South Carolina pick-sixes. That included a 100-yard return by Gamecock defensive back O'Donnell Fortune that tied the game 38-38 midway through the fourth quarter. It’s the longest interception return in Gator Bowl history. 

“The guy made a great play,” Freeman said. “At that moment, we were running the ball really well. Again, ultimately, we shouldn't have thrown it. We shouldn't have called it.”

Those plays allowed South Carolina to remain in the game in the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame took the lead for good 45-38 with 1:38 left in the contest on a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mitchell Evans, who caught his first three passes of the season.

Fifth-year wide receiver Braden Lenzy likely ended his Notre Dame career on a high note, leading all receivers with 89 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.

Stat of the Night

With 12:41 left in the fourth quarter, Logan Diggs ran up the middle for a 39-yard touchdown that gave the Irish its first lead of the game. 

It was a big moment for the sophomore running back, who had struggled to run the ball effectively prior to that with 22 yards on 10 carries. 

The Irish finished with 264 rush yards on 46 carries (5.7 YPC). Estime and Diggs ran for 95 and 89 yards, respectively, each averaging 6.8 yards per carry despite just 54 team yards on the ground in the first half. 

“I said that at halftime, this game is going to come down to our offensive line and defensive line, and they want that,” Freeman said. “They want the pressure. They want to run the ball in those critical moments, and hats off to them. They're an excellent group. They've done an excellent job all season.”

Highlight Reel

Freshman All-American cornerback Benjamin Morrison picked off his sixth pass of the season, which ties him for third in the nation. All six of his interceptions came in the final five games of the season. 

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Morrison exited the game in the second half with an undisclosed injury after tackling South Carolina tight end Nate Adkins in the open field.

“We have a lot of DBs in that room who's ready to step up and make plays, and losing Ben, it hurts,” Bracey said. “He's part of our core group. But we have our guys that can step in and make plays. We just made sure he was all right and just continued to do what we were doing.”

What’s Next?

Notre Dame enters the offseason with several questions:

Who will start at quarterback in 2023? 

Can the Irish rush find an elite edge rusher to replace Isaiah Foskey?

With that said, the Irish have more momentum heading into the offseason than they’ve had in a couple of years.

With a 36-year-old first-time head coach, Notre Dame finished 9-4 with four wins over top-20 opponents. That should fuel player development and comradery as the Irish prepare for year two under Freeman. 

 
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