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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Notre Dame 45 South Carolina 38

December 30, 2022

Notre Dame gave us a little bit of everything this season. The good, the bad, and some very ugly.

Why should the Gator Bowl have been any different?

In the end, good won out over the ugly that was two pick-sixes and a special teams touchdown. It’s amazing that the Irish could overcome that and still win the football game, but they managed to do it by mostly dominating on both sides of the ball for most of the last three quarters.

South Carolina scored 21 to open the game. To say they emptied out the playbook to get things going wouldn’t quite do it justice. They might have as well have been Henry Winkler in The Waterboy drawing up things on the sideline and it kept Notre Dame off balance.

A slow tempo offense during the season, 87th in seconds per play, picked up the pace and had Notre Dame’s defense on the ropes. From the second quarter on, the Irish flipped things.

They outscored South Carolina 38-17 the rest of the way and outgained them in the second half 7.7 yards per play to 3.7. That could have shown up a lot more on the scoreboard without more turnovers added in, but even with those, the Irish stayed resilient and their depth and talent won out over sixty minutes of football.

- Tyler Buchner was magnificent enough to prove to everyone why there was so much hype around his ability. He made some plays today that Drew Pyne couldn’t have made and it wasn’t just with his legs.

The interceptions and some inaccuracy are part of the story with him, though. It was enough to show why it’s a good idea that Notre Dame is bringing in another quarterback to compete for a starting job.

But how can someone watch that game and not be impressed with his resiliency to bounce back from mistakes, take punishment, and his overall playmaking ability? No one can deny that part of what we saw from him.

Without the mistakes, they probably end up blowing out South Carolina. Without him playing, they don’t win the game.

- Those Buchner quarterback sneaks were *chef’s kiss*.

The 3rd and 3 quarterback sneak? It was hilarious that it worked, but somehow not surprising. It was a great job by him and the offensive line.

- Spencer Rattler is who we thought he was.

He’s an incredibly talented athlete who can make ridiculous throws like the second half shouldn’t-have-been-a-touchdown. He’s also the guy who finished the game averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, had multiple throws he was lucky to not have picked, and a quarterback who pretty much self-destructed after that final touchdown.

He sensed blitz and immediately went into the tank. The pressure Notre Dame generated deserves credit (and I will definitely credit it), but he missed throws when he thought he was going to be pressured.

After his last touchdown, he completed 4 of 14 throws for 20 yards; all of those yards came on those underneath checkdowns with Notre Dame playing prevent defense.

- Jordan Botelho had two sacks in this game, but it was more than the sacks. He had back to back pressures to end the first half, one of which resulted in a Benjamin Morrison interception.

In the last six games of the season he finished with 6.5 tackles for loss. He barely played in the first seven games on defense. I’d call this a breakout.

This game as the second half of the season capper makes the off-season expectations go from “hoping he can step up at Vyper” to “hoping he has a monster year rushing the passer”.

- There had to be many Irish fans cursing Al Golden at the start of this game, which is a bit unfair because the credit probably needs to go to South Carolina and what they did differently that was so tough for any defense to deal with.

There’s only so much an offense can do with that strategy, though. The lack of depth ended up crushing South Carolina and Notre Dame’s defense dominated a one-dimensional unit.

Take the 21 points from interceptions and the fake field goal off the board, and the entirety of the game looks much different.

South Carolina was 2 of 3 on 3rd and 4th down to start the game. They were 3 of 13 the rest of the way. This was all without Ben Morrison for almost all of the second half as well.

They pressured Rattler a lot, finished with a Havoc Rate of 19.4%, and had five three-and-outs in the second half.

- Welp, I think Tommy Rees would love to have that 1st and goal pick-six call back. For as good as the calls were leading up to it, he got too cute when it wasn’t necessary there. All of his critics surely wanted to pounce at that moment.

He definitely made up for it after that with the next drive, including that final touchdown call to Mitchell Evans. And Rees showed why four quarters matters so much when it comes to running the football.

The offensive line was opening up big holes in the second half with a nice mix of calls and they averaged 8.3 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. The way the backs were used was really good as well with only a few exceptions.

That 3rd down call to Chris Tyree leaking him out to the flat was a great one and that Logan Diggs 75-yard touchdown helped swing the game back in the direction of the Irish.

- Beamer Ball really let South Carolina down in the special teams department.

They were supposed to have an edge and sure, they got one up on Brian Mason with the fake field goal touchdown. He gave it right back to them that timely fake punt to Braden Lenzy and Marcus Freeman deserves a ton of credit for making that call as well.

It was Beamer’s team who had the crippling penalties on special teams, highlighted by his bonehead decision to argue against an obvious blindside block.

Mason 1, Beamer and Pete Lembo 0. Rack up another win for the best special teams coach in the country.

- There’s too many players to name individually who made great plays today that I would love to mention because this is the last instant reaction of the season, but this can’t go on forever so I better wrap it up here. What a wild ride of a game to finish off a rollercoaster season.

This season really had it all.

An 0-2 start to end the Marcus Freeman honeymoon. An unexpected offensive explosion against North Carolina. A mystifying loss to a bad Stanford team. A massive turnaround, highlighted by a dominating win against Clemson. A disappointing loss to USC to close out the regular season. The most entertaining bowl game imaginable. Dan Cortese.

It was a season that didn’t match expectations, but also provided plenty of hope for the future. There are things to build off for the Irish and if they lost this game, maybe it would have been more difficult to find the positives.

They won it, though. Despite the mistakes, they won it in a way that made it about how they performed rather than just getting a win. It’s a good feeling going into the off-season with a W. Notre Dame gets to enjoy that and it’s now on to 2023.

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