Matt Salerno on costly penalty: 'I disagree with it, but I'm not a referee'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Matt Salerno (29) makes a catch against Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Denzel Burke (5) in the second quarter of the NCAA football game between Ohio State Buckeyes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND — Even after repeated viewings, Matt Salerno still believes he was incorrectly flagged for offensive pass interference in Notre Dame's season-opening loss at Ohio State.

“I disagree with it, but I’m not a referee so I can’t really say,” the senior wide receiver said Tuesday. “They’re in the same position as we are. They’re in the big moment, so they have to make a call, too.”

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit fully endorsed the rare call by field judge Kip Johnson, which came after Salerno and Buckeyes cornerback Cam Brown were entangled downfield. Salerno was running a “go” route but Tyler Buchner’s pass sailed at least 5 yards beyond the stumbling foes.

Photos:No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Ohio State from Columbus

The ensuing 15-yard penalty, which ESPN play-by-play man Chris Fowler called “enormously damaging,” saddled the Irish with a first-and-25 from their own 44-yard-line. Trailing 14-10, Notre Dame stalled at midfield and punted the ball back to Ohio State, which then went on a clinching 95-yard touchdown drive.

“You can see Salerno grabs hold of (Brown),” Herbstreit said as the replay was shown several times. “In fact, he blocks him to prevent him from getting to the football.”

Salerno, a former walk-on placed on scholarship in January, didn’t see it that way. When it was mentioned that offensive pass interference isn’t called very often, the former soccer standout from Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite High School chuckled.

“It does not, no,” he said.

What explanation did the field judge give?

“We didn’t really have much of a conversation about it,” said Salerno, whose brother Chris is a walk-on kicker for the Irish.

Why does he think the flag was thrown?

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think there was just a lot of contact on the play. Just in the moment, (Johnson) threw the flag.”

Notre Dame linebackers keep the Guardian Cap

Linebackers Marist Liufau and Prince Kollie are among Irish players who continue to wear the Guardian Cap exterior helmet padding in practice.

Liufau has no plans to shed the extra gear just because the season is underway.

“I’ll keep that on, for sure,” he said. “Anything I can do to protect my head, during practice especially, I’ll take that, for sure.”

Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey during Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 12, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Said to reduce the force of collisions by 10 percent per user, the Guardian Cap was mandatory in NFL training camps until midway through the preseason. According to Guardian, more than 2,000 high schools use the product as do more than 200 college programs, including Clemson and USC.

While some players have complained about the awkwardness of the cap, which weighs less than half a pound, and coaches and researchers have warned it could give players a false sense of security, Liufau still sees the value.

“You don’t really notice (the weight); it’s not that heavy, probably a couple of ounces,” Liufau said. “Sometimes it will cover the holes in your helmet that catch some of the air coming in, but besides that, it feels like nothing is on your head. It’s like it’s not even there.”

Star Irish defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey also often wears the Guardian Cap in practice.

Liufau said some teammates have asked him for advice about whether they should try the Guardian Cap. Kollie wasn’t wearing the cap at the start of training camp but went to one after missing time with a concussion.

“Some guys ask how it is,” Liufau said. “I tell them it’s no problem at all. It’s no bother during practice.”

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Does it impede any tackling fundamentals or anything else players must work on during practice?

“No, not at all,” he said. “You don’t even notice it.”

Emotional night for the Salernos

Salerno made a 31-yard circus catch, juggling the ball as he fell to the ground, to key Notre Dame’s only touchdown drive early in the second quarter. That was his first true college reception as his only previous “catch” came on a jet sweep last year that went for a 4-yard loss.

Frank Salerno, who played briefly for Notre Dame in the 1950s before returning home to California, reached out to his grandson after the game.

“To get a text from him and call him after and have a conversation about it was good,” Matt Salerno said. “I’ve always felt like I’m coming here to finish what he started.”

Cramping their style

Add senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy to the list of Notre Dame players that dealt with cramping issues in the opener.

Bracy was on the field for all but five of Ohio State’s 69 offensive snaps, plus nine more on special teams. Unfortunately for the Irish, one of those Bracy-free snaps came just before the 24-yard touchdown strike from C.J. Stroud to Xavier Johnson that put the Buckeyes ahead for good.

Ohio State running back Miyan Williams (3) runs the ball against Notre Dame cornerback TaRiq Bracy (28) in the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium.

Because trainers had to attend to Bracy on the field, by rule he had to spend the next play on the sidelines. That left freshman Jaden Mickey to fill in at slot corner, and Stroud went right at the untested young talent.

Senior linebacker Bo Bauer was carted off to the locker room at one point to receive an IV treatment, and even punter Jon Sot was plagued by cramping on the humid night that followed late afternoon showers at Ohio Stadium.

A crowd of 106,594 was in attendance.  

“It was pretty muggy, for sure,” Bracy said. “It was the first game, you know.”

Poll Position

With the loss, Notre Dame dropped three spots in the Associated Press Top 25 and is ranked eighth.

Ohio State, which was No. 2 in the preseason poll, switched spots with third-ranked Georgia, a 49-3 winner over Oregon. The Ducks, 11th in the preseason poll, fell out entirely and were listed first among others receiving votes.

Ranked teams remaining on Notre Dame's schedule are fifth-ranked Clemson (Nov. 5), 10th-ranked USC (Nov. 26) and No. 21 Brigham Young (Oct. 8 in Las Vegas).

The Irish fell to No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

Staff writer Justin Frommer contributed to this report. Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.

Marshall (1-0) vs. AP No. 8 Notre Dame (0-1) 

  • When: Saturday at 2 :30 p.m. 
  • Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, Ind. 
  • TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame is favored by 17½ points 
  • Series: First meeting between the programs