Quick hits: Notre Dame pulls it together in time to give Marcus Freeman his first win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND Three quick thoughts and additional notes and anecdotes from Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and California, won by the Irish, 24-17, at Notre Dame Stadium. 

Waaaay overdue to get back to Notre Dame football, it was if the Irish offense had finally decided it had done and seen enough (actually, not enough) early in the third quarter. Even if Irish linebacker JD Bertrand kept hope alive for Cal with a targeting penalty in the final minute, negating a Notre Dame interception that would have sealed the game. The Irish defense would end up having to survive a Hail Mary attempt on the last play of the game.

The Irish were down 10-7 and had the ball for the first time in the second half. Nine plays and 60 yards later, Notre Dame was in the end zone after it got back to running the football. Just manhandling people, blowing off the line and blocking guys. The Irish tallied four first downs on the drive, one by penalty and three by rushing. Audric Estime (six carries, 30 yards) was the workhorse back this team hadn’t had the previous two games. He capped it with a one-yard drive. 

It pumped needed life into the stadium, across the Irish sideline, everywhere. Didn’t last. Cal responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead. Again. Sigh. 

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∎ We didn’t really know what to expect when Drew Pyne made his first collegiate start Saturday for Notre Dame, but we certainly didn’t expect that in the first half. 

Three and outs the first four times the Irish had the ball. Missed receivers on even the easiest/simplest/basic of throws. A fumbled lost snap. He looked nothing like a college quarterback, to the point where there was no choice but to be better. 

Pyne finished the first half 7-of-12 for 57 yards. Yikes. 

To his credit, he delivered a big-time scoring drive in the fourth quarter to give the Irish the lead, 24-17. Felt larger than that. And needed. So, so needed for so many reasons.

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) looks to throw during the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

∎ Saturday marked the final home game for Notre Dame of the month — and the last one until mid-October. Two games away from home (one road, one neutral) and a bye week arrive before Stanford comes to town on Oct. 15. 

What’s it all going to look like then for Notre Dame? Anyone have any idea? 

Green machine

Notre Dame dusted off the green jerseys — with last names on the back in white lettering — for this one. It was fine and different and all that, but an early-season game against Cal for those? Doesn’t really move the meter much. Somewhere, former Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps cringes. Ask Digger his thoughts about Notre Dame wearing green jerseys for a meh home game against an opponent it rarely faces. Be ready for a lecture. 

The green was fine, but the color scheme made it next to impossible for (relative) old guys to see the numbers clearly from the press box. At least, when the sun was out. 

By the Numbers

4: Number of games Marcus Freeman has coached at Notre Dame, and number of times the Irish have lost the coin toss. 

7: Saturday’s game started with seven straight possessions that ended in punts (four for Notre Dame, three for Cal) before Cal’s Dario Longhetto banged a possible 45-yard field goal off the left upright to keep a scoreless first quarter scoreless. 

13:24: Time left in the first half when Notre Dame registered its first first down on a 10-yard run by tailback Chris Tyree. It also produced the day’s largest cheer to date. 

Manti Te’o addresses fans before the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

20: Minutes set aside for former Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o to meet the media about 90 minutes or so before kick. Major props to Te’o, who didn’t have to do anything media related in his trip back to town for the weekend. But we learned early in the week that Te’o would talk. It was a welcome surprise. Good for Notre Dame for accommodating it, better for Te’o for doing it. 

Noie:Notre Dame still home for former Irish linebacker Manti Te'o

47: Blake Grupe's 47-yard field goal tied it at 17 with 14:48. Wouldn't be a football Saturday without another close contest into the fourth quarter for the Irish.

54: We’re now three games into the regular season, and Notre Dame’s longest play remains the Tyler Buchner (remember him?) to Lorenzo Styles pass against Ohio State that went for 54 yards – on the first play of the game. 

Next up

Back out on the road for the first time since the opener against Ohio State — and into Atlantic Coast Conference play — Saturday against North Carolina (3-0), and freshman sensation quarterback Drake Maye. A road game for this Irish team in its current form is never easy, but at least it’s a road game in the afternoon. Notre Dame’s 0-2 start allowed ACC officials to call this one early and easily. No night game for the Irish. Not for this one. Following two games against Brigham Young in Las Vegas and at home vs. Stanford will be played at night. 

Too late to flip that Stanford kick to 2:30 p.m.? Darn.