Keep an eye on these four players as Notre Dame seeks first win of season

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune
California quarterback Jack Plummer is quite familiar with playing in Notre Dame Stadium.

CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS

(13 JACK PLUMMER

Quarterback

Third week of another college football season and along comes Plummer for another visit to Notre Dame Stadium. Last year as the starter at Purdue, Plummer finished 25-for-36 for 187 yards and one touchdown in a 27-13 loss to Notre Dame in Week Three. 

Now a fifth-year guy who played in 21 games with 13 starts over three seasons with the Boilermakers, Plummer is one of nine transfers and 35 new faces at Cal. He’s exactly what a struggling Notre Dame defense doesn’t want to see – a veteran/accurate quarterback with size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) who’s been around the college football block. He’s done a lot. He's seen a lot. He won’t be fazed by the green uniforms or the atmosphere or anything Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden throws his way. 

Notre Dame football:With quarterback Tyler Buchner out for the season, what's next?

Plummer’s a combined 51-for-74 for 546 yards and four touchdowns the first two weeks. In the opener against UC Davis, he spread it around to 11 different receivers. That’s almost twice as many current scholarship receivers available to Notre Dame. 

California inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon can often be found around the football.

(8) JACKSON SIRMON

Inside linebacker

Let’s just go ahead and pencil in the fifth-year senior for 10 tackles Saturday. Why? The Washington transfer started 2022 with eight tackles, which tied for the team lead, against UC Davis. Second week, he made nine stops in the escape over UNLV. Naturally, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder is due for 10 this week, right? 

The second leading returning tackler in the Pac-12, Sirmon is the ringleader of a group of five Cal inside linebackers that has combined for 37 starts and 75 games in their careers. They play, they play a lot and they make a lot of tackles. Sirmon earned All-Pac 12 honorable mention last season with a career-best 92 tackles for Washington. Through two games, he has 17 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. 

Playing his final college season is a family affair for Sirmon. His father, Peter, who played linebacker for seven NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans, is his position coach with the Bears. 

It's now time for Drew Pyne to start at quarterback for Notre Dame.

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

(10) DREW PYNE

Quarterback

For the second time in three weeks, here we are again for Notre Dame – how will an unproven quarterback fare in his first college start? We’ve heard plenty about the sophomore from New Canaan, Connecticut in terms of his professional, no-nonsense approach to the position and his leadership skills and the way seemingly nothing rattles him. But … can he play? 

What can Pyne do best to move this Irish season back in the right direction? Run it? Pass it? A little of both? Something? Anything? That’s what it ultimately comes down to. Pyne’s a respected locker room guy and has stayed focused as the backup, but now comes his toughest test - he has to go out there and actually play. Move the offense down the field. Get into the end zone. Get a win. This isn’t the way anyone envisioned it happening for Pyne, but it’s happening. Now he’s got to deliver, whatever/however that looks like. 

Is this the week that we see something more/better from inside linebacker J.D. Bertrand and the Notre Dame defense?

(27) J.D. BERTRAND

Linebacker

We highlight Bertrand, but it really should be the entire Irish defensive unit – starters, backups, backups to the backups, everyone. First week out, Notre Dame allowed Ohio State to march 95 yards in 14 plays for the back-breaking drive over in Columbus. Last week, it allowed Marshall to go 94 yards in 11 plays for essentially the game-winning score. What’s up with this defense? Where's the resolve?  

Notre Dame football:Irish readies itself for Pyne time at quarterback in Tyler Buchner's absence

What’s up with Bertrand, the team’s leading tackler last season (101) who often played like his pants were on fire? He has 12 tackles this year, but only one solo. Like a lot of his defensive mates, Bertrand has looked sluggish to read/react/get to the ball. Paralysis by analysis? Scheme? Fit? What has ailed Bertrand and the Irish defense has been open to debate much of the week. 

Bertrand and this defense are better than what they’ve been the first two weeks. Time to be better. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.