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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame scorches Oregon State in Sun Bowl despite several personnel losses

December 29, 2023

On Friday, No. 15 Notre Dame rolled No. 21 Oregon State 40-8 in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

Despite over 20 opt-outs, transfers and critical injuries, the Fighting Irish traveled to El Paso, Texas, and looked “gr-r-reat!”

“We got this thing, it's called a bumpy road, but this bumpy road ended really well,” coach Marcus Freeman said during an on-the-field interview. “I'm proud of these guys and this university, the fans, our band, our cheer squad. This is a wonderful opportunity, but I'm proud of these players the most, and it's a pleasure coaching them.”

The Fighting Irish (10-3) reach double-digit victories in a season for the first time in Marcus Freeman’s tenure as head coach.

“Every opportunity you have to play, you want to win,” Freeman said. “To me, it's a reflection of the direction of this program. Nine wins last year and 10 wins this year. We just want to continue to improve.

Personnel losses were especially numerous on offense, with 90.4% of passing, 61.6% of rushing and 64.3% of receiving production walking out the door. 

In his first career start, sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli went 14-18 for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball eight times for 27 yards. 

“He's resilient,” Freeman said of Angeli. “He's prepared. He's ready for his opportunity and went out and showed that he can be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.”

Of course, his performance also included a few blemishes. He was also sacked twice after holding onto the ball for too long and fumbled once inside Oregon State territory, which the Irish were fortunate to recover.

The Irish also played without the team’s top four pass-catchers in the regular season, but Angeli benefited from the strong showings of wideouts Jordan Faison and Jayden Thomas. 

Faison recorded a career-high five receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown and took home the Sun Bowl MVP.

He began his Fighting Irish career this summer as a walk-on football player with a scholarship to play lacrosse. 

Yet, he always had enough confidence in himself to believe he could shine on the gridiron. 

“I was really nervous, you come into the DI level,” Faison said, “so the competition is very high, but you got to bet on yourself and keep working, no matter what happens or what comes your way.”

The coaching staff finally got to coach an offensive with a healthy Thomas, who was hobbled by a hamstring throughout most of the 2023 season. On Friday, he hauled in four catches, 59 yards and a score, which included two key third-down conversions.

Lastly, the Irish bulldozed the Beavers on the ground without running back Audric Estime and future NFL offensive tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. In total, Notre Dame picked up 236 rush yards on 4.9 yards per carry. 

Sophomore running back JD Price carried the ball 13 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Jeremiyah Love produced 52 all-purpose yards and a receiving score.

“We had multiple running backs for a touchdown,” Price said. “That makes me happy. As you were saying, that can't be done without the offensive line. I'm super proud of them, and I'm just proud of the way we worked as a group.”

As expected, a mostly intact Notre Dame defense dominated an Oregon State offense led by a third-string signal-caller in Ben Gulbranson. The Irish outgained the Irish by a 448-197 yard margin. 

That included Notre Dame giving up just two rush yards, the fewest the team has allowed in a game since a 38-31 victory over Stanford in 2005.

Additionally, the Beavers went 1-9 on third down, with the first and only conversion coming with less than two minutes to go in the contest. 

“Defensively, just did an unbelievable job. Coach (Al) Golden has had that defense prepared all year long,” Freeman said. “I would be lying if I said I was surprised. I wasn't. I expected that defense, and when you're playing well on defense, now, it gives your offense a chance to have some confidence and move the ball.”

Vyper Jordan Botelho won the most-valuable lineman trophy by recording five tackles, 1.5 TFLs, a sack and a quarterback hit. 

Stat of the Day

Ben Morrison picked off a Hail Mary attempt from OSU quarterback Gulbranson at the end of the first half. That’s the 16th team interception of the season, a program best since 2014 and tied for the third-most since 1996

Safety Xavier Watts led the nation with seven picks this season. Morrison finished second on the team with three.

Play of the Game

Oregon State did its best to stay in the game, even attempting a fake punt early in the second quarter on 4th-and-six from the Beaver’s own 49-yard line.

Only defensive end Josh Burnham and cornerback Jaden Mickey sniffed out the fake.

The play resulted in a 5-yard loss and set up a 7-play, 44-yard touchdown drive that put the Irish up 14-0 at halftime. 

What’s Next?

The offseason is officially here. Notre Dame will travel to College Station to face Texas A&M and former Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko in 246 days.

Plenty of offseason questions remain, including who else the Irish will add via the transfer portal, and will the Sun Bowl mark Angeli’s first and only start at Notre Dame over the next calendar year?

Either way, the sophomore signal-caller enjoyed the opportunity to lead Notre Dame for the first time on Saturday.

“This is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, but it's really not about me,” Angeli said. “It's about these guys around me, the guys up front, my receivers, Coach Free and Cach Gino, Kurt Rawlings and all those guys that have been in my room that have nurtured me. 

“Especially Sam Hartman has done a great job of teaching me the way, which allowed me to come out here and have this opportunity. I'm so proud of this team, and there's no better way to finish off with a win.”

Leading up to Aug. 31, be sure to stay on top of all things Notre Dame football with day-to-day coverage from Irish Sports Daily.

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