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Notre Dame Football

Explosive Plays Send Notre Dame’s 2022 Season Out with a Bang vs. South Carolina

December 31, 2022
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Notre Dame often employed a methodical offensive game plan in 2022, one reliant on a punishing ground attack and intermediate passing game.  In 12 regular season games, the Fighting Irish averaged 5.7 yards per play.

That’s not bad compared to the rest of college football, ranking them 45th out of 131 FBS programs.

But that meant Notre Dame usually lacked explosive firepower on offense and instead had to rely on moderate gains, sustained drives and a top-20 red zone touchdown conversion rate of 70%.

There are advantages to this style of offense. It allowed Notre Dame to control the clock and wear its opponent down.

On the other hand, it’s easier to score if you can do so from midfield, which the Irish rarely did in 2022. Notre Dame ran just four plays from scrimmage all season the went for 40 yards or more in the regular season. That tied the Irish for 128th out of 131 FBS programs. 

That changed in a win over No. 19 South Carolina on Friday in the Gator Bowl, where running back Logan Diggs and wide receiver Braden Lenzy scored touchdowns on pass plays of 75 and 44 yards. The former marks the longest reception of the season for the Irish.

“As soon as I got out in my release and I saw the end spike, I knew it was good,” Diggs said. “I have trust in Tyler [Buchner]. He's going to put it where it needs to be and at that point, I have to trust myself and trust my speed to capitalize. I did, and it's a blessing.”

Friday’s win was also the first time all season the Irish had multiple 40-plus yard gains in a game. 

Of course, some of this is by chance. Running back Logan Diggs just missed out on a second 40+ yard pickup because his breakaway touchdown run in the fourth quarter started at the South Carolina 39-yard line rather than the 40.

Still, the Irish produced 22 plays of 10 yards or more against the Gamecocks, which tied a season-high first set in a 45-32 win over North Carolina.

Notre Dame Gains of 10+ Yards by Game

Ohio State - 7

Marshall - 12

Cal - 6

UNC - 22

BYU - 15

Stanford - 13

UNLV - 14

Syracuse - 12

Clemson - 17

Navy - 11

Boston College - 16

USC - 16

South Carolina - 22

 

In total, 464 yards came on those 22 plays — 263 yards on 11 passes and 201 yards on 11 carries. 

The other 58 offensive snaps Notre Dame took against South Carolina accounted for just 94 yards and 1.6 yards per play.

Each of Lenzy’s four receptions went for at least 12 yards, and the fifth-year wideout ended his Fighting Irish career on a high note with 89 yards and a touchdown after an up-and-down season in 2022.

“You don't know when your number is going to be called,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “For a guy like Braden, just continuing to do his job and run as hard as he can and run his roster protection, and that's an unselfish position. It's just great to see him get the opportunities to go make a play and make them today.”

While his 44-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter was huge, the biggest play of the game likely came a few minutes later in the fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-four at Notre Dame’s own 33-yard line, the Irish ran a fake punt where personal protector Davis Sherwood flipped the ball to Lenzy for a toss play that went for 20 yards and a pivotal first down. 

“We ran a punt earlier in the game,” Freeman said. “We wanted to see the look we would get, and after we ran the punt, [Special teams coordinator Brian Mason] said it's there if we want it. Right before we went out there, he said it was there. I said let's do it. 

“We've been practicing that fake all year long. There are no more games left, and I wanted to run it. I knew going into the game that if the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to run it. Mase said let's do it here, and I said let's go. We executed; it was beautifully executed.”

Three plays later, the Irish took its first lead of the game, 38-31, on Diggs’ 39-yard touchdown run. 

Overall, Notre Dame produced 7.0 yards per play against South Carolina. It wasn’t quite their best average of 2022, but it enable the Irish to tie a season-high with 45 points and end an up-and-down year with a win over a ranked SEC opponent. 

“I told these guys in the locker room, the opportunity to finish as a champion, there's no greater feeling,” Freeman said. “I'm so proud of the way they continued to battle today, which is a great representation of what they've done all season long. I know 

“I've said this before, but we're on that bumpy road, and they continued to trust their coaches, to trust their leaders, and this is a great way to finish off this 2022 season. I told them they'll be the example we use for a long time because this is what real life is about.”

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