Tale of the Tape & predictions: Who has the edge when Cal football visits Notre Dame?

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL

Redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne, stepping in for the injured Tyler Buchner, will make his first career start against a Bears defense that has generated little pass rush (120th nationally in efficiency, per Pro Football Focus) through wins over lesser lights UC-Davis and UNLV. Washington transfer Jackson Sirmon, son of the defensive coordinator, is the leading tackler at linebacker after leading the Huskies in tackles last season. According to PFF-College, the Bears rank 112th in tackling efficiency out of 131 FBS teams; Notre Dame ranks 73rd in run blocking and is tied for 117th (with Boston College) at 15.5 points per game.

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) looks to pass during the Notre Dame vs. Marshall NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Edge: Cal

WHEN CAL HAS THE BALL

Notre Dame is still looking for its first takeaway of the year after finishing in the top 11 nationally in two of the past three seasons. Cal ranks 92nd in yards per carry (3.62) but has lost just two fumbles in its past 14 games. Quarterback Jack Plummer, the Purdue grad transfer, had a 15/2 touchdown/interception ratio over his final two seasons in West Lafayette. The 6-foot-5 Plummer faced the Irish last season in a 27-13 loss at Notre Dame Stadium, going 25-of-36 passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. Bears offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, a West Coast offense disciple who has coached for eight different NFL teams, was Virginia’s OC in 2001-02. The Cavaliers’ defensive coordinator from 2001-05? Al Golden.

Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey (7) takes down Purdue's Jack Plummer (13) during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Edge: Notre Dame

SPECIAL TEAMS

Harvard grad transfer Jon Sot has been outstanding in his first two games for the Irish. Notre Dame ranks 11th in net punting average, and Sot has killed seven punts inside the opponents’ 20 with zero touchbacs. Jamieson Sheahan, a 25-year-old Australian, is fourth in the nation at 48.3 yards per punt. He has forced fair catches on half of his 72 career punts. Cal kicker Dario Longhetto has missed half of his past eight attempts longer than 40 yards with a career-long of 52.

The Buchner family standard:'What toughness really means'

Edge: Notre Dame

COACHING

Marcus Freeman, the first Notre Dame football coach to start out 0-3, desperately needs all that self-evaluation and mirror gazing to pay off now. After losing to 20 1/2 -point underdog Marshall in a $1.25 million guarantee game, Notre Dame is favored by 10 points while paying Cal $1.9 million for its time. After Saturday, the Irish won’t play at home again until Stanford visits on Oct. 15. Justin Wilcox, signed in January to a contract extension through 2027, has a .500 record (28-28) since taking over in 2017. A well-traveled defensive coordinator, he ran Tennessee’s defense for Derek Dooley in 2010-11. His linebackers coach was former Titans linebacker Peter Sirmon, the Cal DC since 2019. The Vols’ offensive line coach as they went 11-14 in those two seasons: Harry Hiestand.

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman  during the Notre Dame vs. Marshall NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Edge: Notre Dame

PREDICTIONS

TOM NOIENotre Dame 17, Cal 16. Eventually, one of these games has to swing the Irish’s way. This one will, but it won't be pretty and it won't matter.

MIKE BERARDINONotre Dame 23, Cal 20. Marcus Freeman avoids a four-game losing streak to start his career, and the Subway Alumni take it down a notch.

JUSTIN FROMMER — Notre Dame 30, Cal 16. It can't get any worse, right? Drew Pyne turns into the spark Notre Dame needs to get win No. 1 in the Marcus Freeman era. 

MICHAEL WANBAUGH: — Notre Dame 31, Cal 7. The Irish will pull it together with Drew Pyne under center and take out some frustration against the Golden Bears.