Chat transcript: Could freshman Steve Angeli win a game for Notre Dame if he had to?

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman acknowledges the players after the team scored a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame beat writer Mike Berardino answered dozens of reader questions on Tuesday during his weekly live chat..

Frank from Royse City Texas: Is Cane Berrong ready to play and will Mitchell Evans play against BYU?

Mike Berardino: Texas Frank, thanks for checking in. Based on the latest health updates we've been given, tight end Cane Berrong has been lagging in his return from a torn ACL suffered in mid-October last season. Considering Avery Davis made it back in less than nine months after his ACL tear — only to tear the ACL in his other knee — Berrong must have had a setback at some point along the way. Mitchell Evans, as we noticed during the Victory Walk for the Marshall game, has been out of his walking boot since early September. Marcus Freeman said last week the hope is to have Evans back for the BYU game "or soon thereafter." So that suggests he is close. Getting Evans back will soften the blow of losing No. 2 tight end Kevin Bauman to a season-ending ACL tear, but it's still a shame that Bauman will miss the bulk of a second straight season.

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Dave from Livonia, Mi.: Hi Mike - thanks for the chats.  Is there any plan to get ND's 3rd QB some time in a game or more practice time.  I really like Drew Pyne.  I liked how he came in last year and always seemed prepared.  Also seems like a tough gritty guy who comes in and does the job.  But I'm worried if he gets hurt where does that leave ND in the QB situation.  I know Angeli is well thought of but he has no experience.

Mike Berardino: Hey Michigan Dave, thanks for joining us. I agree with you that it would be great to get Steve Angeli a series or two so he isn't asked to come in completely cold should the need arise. I thought that might happen in the final minutes at UNC, but the fumble touchback kept the Irish from doubling up the home team and there wasn't much point to sending Angeli out for a couple of kneel downs.

When asked about the freshman QB last Thursday, Freeman echoed some of what we've heard from Tommy Rees in terms of Angeli's preparedness. Freeman: "We have to meet him halfway. We have to be able to ask Steve Angeli to do the things that we know he can do, but it also has to be enough that you’re not running one play. I feel really strongly about the way he’s prepared. He’s prepared not as the scout team quarterback but as the quarterback that can be ready to go into the game." As for when that debut finally happens, seems to me the sooner the better.

IrishMike Altoona,PA: Has the window closed for Tyler Buchner?  Next season it will be three years in a row without significant playing time! Drew Pyne will have a full season under his belt and Carr will be coming in as a 5 star in-either 2023 or 24!  Seems like a transfer will be the likely outcome!

Mike Berardino: Irish Mike! It's my job. It's what I'm blessed to do. Your question seems fair, although a bit premature. Pyne, while 2-0 as the starter, has produced for a game and a half, essentially, after a rocky start against Cal. Let's see how the gutty little Nutmegger (unofficial nickname for those from Connecticut) fares the rest of this season. As for Buchner, Freeman has challenged him to find ways to improve even as he rehabs from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Leadership, preparation and in-game adjustments are among those possible areas. I spoke recently with his older sister Brooke, a Cal beach volleyball standout, about the way Tyler processes failure and powers through adversity. I would expect him to do the same here.

One lingering concern, however, is just how little game experience he's had going back to 2018, when he was hurt one series into his sophomore year at The Bishop's School. Even with a record-setting junior year, Buchner has made just 15 total starts over the past five seasons (2018-22). He's like a Ferrari that spends most of its time in the shop/garage. At some point, you need to see how that baby handles.

Bert from Windermere: Thank you for the chat. A win is a win and I will take it to the bank. The coaching staff and the players put up a huge effort to right a lot of wrongs and win one on the road, they have to be commended, now they have the bye week to make further coaching and make some personnel changes but we will be facing a good team in what is an away game. A lot has to be made. Many things last Saturday we coaching and play calling. How can a freshman quarterback score four on us with his arm and legs? How can we get to the one yard line and not come away with points? The staff spent hours perfecting the red zone plays on both sides of the ball, are we showing it ? I watch football for 12 hours every Saturday and Sunday, who can believe we can go conservative and think we can go four quarters with 3 or 4 point lead and hold on to beat OSU or anybody else, that is coaching? Will Cam run hot and cold forever, that’s coaching? A quarterback  sneak with a 5’11” 190 lb Qb who is not a runner who goes in standing up?

Mike Berardino: Hiya Bert. Twelve hours of football every Saturday? Now that's the life. If you don't mind, I'm going to focus on the red zone portion of your questions/comments. That lost Estime fumble kept the Irish from going 12-for-12 in producing points on trips into the red zone. They have settled for a field goal just once after reaching the opponents' 20-yard-line or better. That .833 TD% is tied with unbeaten Kansas for 17th in the country. When it comes to opponent red zone conversions, Al Golden's defense is tied for 107th in TD% (9 of 12) and has yet to keep a foe off the board in the red zone. Now that the Irish defense has its first takeaway, something tells me it's only a matter of time before it creates a few of those in the shadow of its own goal post.

Steven from Athens GA: Hey Mike thanks for the chats every week. I knew coach Hiestand would get our guys straightened out, and the last 6 quarters of football have been much better offensively. Now my concern is tackling on the defense.  Have you heard anything about putting some extra focus on this during the bye week? Go Irish🍀

Mike Berardino: Athens Steve, Happy Tuesday. Turns out your faith was justified when it came to the ND O-line. Losing Jarrett Patterson to a sprained foot for three weeks no doubt set them back, but after three games with him in the mix they're firing off the ball, getting to the second level and keeping Drew Pyne upright. Can't ask for much more there. As for tackling, Golden stressed that repeatedly in the wake of the Marshall loss and it's been better the past two weeks. I found it notable that Clarence Lewis' consecutive starts streak stopped at 19 immediately after his "Duck, Duck, Goose" moment on the 42-yard run ND allowed against the Herd. Freshman corner Ben Morrison was up to 51 defensive snaps at UNC and has missed just one tackle (per PFF-College) through four games. As a team, Notre Dame's tackling efficiency is 11th in the nation and has improved significantly each week.

stpeteirish st pete fla: Any idea why Tobias Merriweather is not being used? Our receivers aren't impressing anyone.

Mike Berardino: Anonymous in St. Pete, hello. Four-star recruit Tobias Merriweather has been limited to four total snaps, all against Cal, and the operative word has been "trust." According to Freeman, the young talent is still earning that from the coaches when it comes to knowing the playbook and his specific role whenever he steps on the field. I sense more than a little frustration among the fan base when it comes to this slow rollout of a player with such obvious physical skills, and frankly I'm surprised we're still having this conversation at the bye week. All but 19 offensive snaps against UNC went to the top three wide receivers for the Irish. This is a pivotal fortnight for Merriweather. If he can't get on the field against BYU or Stanford, you have to start wondering about a redshirt season no one anticipated.

Mike from Quakertown , PA: Thanks for taking our questions, and thanks for the great coverage thus far this season! Although they looked great against unc, the sloppy play by the Irish in the first three games really concerned me. Did you notice anything about the way off-season practice was run that may have caused this team to be that sloppy to start the season? Was there not enough time spent on fundamentals? Also, there seems to be a lot of injuries that happen during practice. Do freeman’s practices have more live hitting than his predecessor? That all being said, I like the growth I saw this week, and I know this season should be looked at as an investment in the future and we must exercise  patience, which is easier said than done.

Mike Berardino: What's up, Mike? Appreciate those kind words. I'm sure a key part of the self-evaluation Freeman and Co. conducted at 0-2 included a honest assessment of the areas you outline. Anytime the media was allowed in for August practice viewings, the instruction seemed quite detailed and thorough. It's not like guys were just running around in  circles and working on their sack dances. As for the injury rate in training camp and beyond, Freeman alluded to this at the start of Ohio State game week.

Freeman on Aug. 29: "I told them they have to trust me. We’re going to beat them up the first couple weeks of practice — the only way I know. It’s what I believed it was going to take to get this team ready to play football. We’re not tackling guys to the ground. We had some injuries. That’s what training camp is about. I wouldn’t change it. I think we’ll be ready to roll."

Pat H. Springfield Illinois: Is Joe Wilkins going to play this year? If you can provide any other updates on injured players it will be appreciated. Thanks for hosting these and keep up your exceptional work.

Mike Berardino: Thanks, Springfield Pat. That's very kind of you to say. We talked a little earlier about the tight end situation, and Freeman seemed optimistic after the game when I asked him about senior safety DJ Brown's prognosis after he played just 21 snaps at UNC due to a hamstring strain. Not sure about Ramon Henderson's ankle and how long that might keep him out, but Xavier Watts filled the void nicely on a 28-snap day at safety. So did Houston Griffith with his 45 defensive snaps. As for Wilkins, he's now almost six months past the April 1 surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his foot. His experience would be helpful once he's fully back up to speed, but his limited usage thus far suggests he's still not quite there.

Ken - Pensacola: Great win & the way the team played I feel sure that they could have beaten any team remaining on their schedule. However, should our current QB go down, do you think we could win with a Steve Angeli? 

Mike Berardino: Pensacola Ken, thanks for your question We addressed Angeli's preparedness earlier in the chat, but it's worth reiterating: The sooner he can get his feet wet, the better it will be for Notre Dame in case it has to "Break Glass In Case of Emergency." Freeman said last week he challenged Pyne to take Angeli under his wing even more than he already had: "Any time you’re getting extra film in and studying, you’ve got to drag Steve Angeli with you. He’s got to learn what it really means to prepare as a college quarterback."

Steve from Niles: Do you know if the program measures speed and throughout the season? I feel like we are slower team than the previous year.

Mike Berardino: Niles Steve, I see you had a few questions this week, but let's work with this one first. I've asked Freeman, Golden and Isaiah Foskey about the GPS tracker in terms of any speed disparity, especially when it came to the fourth quarter and those early struggles. No one offered up an answer that suggested that was the case. Doesn't mean it wasn't, but that was the public version at least. As for overall team speed, Braden Lenzy, Chris Tyree and Lorenzo Styles have track backgrounds as does the aforementioned Tobias Merriweather. Jaden Mickey is a blazer, and the freshman corner keeps adding a little more to his plate each week. I'm not saying your visual impression is wrong. It's just impossible to quantify with the limited data points we're given. In general, it doesn't feel like there's been any significant speed drop-off year over year.

Jerry Dallas, Texas: Until it gets an elite quarterback, it will be very difficult for ND to win a National Championship.  We are hoping for CJ Carr to come in 2024.  But, when it comes time for his to officially sign up with us, isn't there a possibility that some school won't step forward and offer to write a check for 2 million dollars, and take him away from us?  ND offers a great education, they offer an OK education and 2 million dollars.  We are unlikely to get him.  Why does ND have to play by the Marquis of Queensberry rules, when Texas A&M, Alabama, etc. don't?

Mike Berardino: Mr. Jones, is that you? Shouldn't you be more concerned about your Hogs? Seriously, though, the scenario you sketch out only underlines the importance of establishing (and sustaining) personal relationships that make such cold calculations pale in comparison. When Freeman talks about "the right fit" for Notre Dame, the unspoken part is about trying to find championship-level talent that isn't so easily swayed by the promise of short-term windfalls. It remains to be seen whether Notre Dame can keep playing at the 5-star table under these new parameters, but there should be no whining or regret that it tries to do so in the matter that it does.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Mike, I lead a very shallow life, so Notre Dame winning football games completely dictates my weekly mood. With the bye week upon us, what are the one or two things the coaching staff will focus on as areas to improve, whether that be on offense, defense or special teams? I truly do want to remain happy. Thank you for answering my question. Also, with the transfer portal being so prevalent now in college football, will Coach Freeman feel he has to play freshmen more than four games for fear of them transferring out of the program?

Mike Berardino: Hello, Alan. No apology necessary on the "shallow life" thing. Pretty sure everybody on this chat can relate to that in some way. As I've stated here before, while the portal aspect must be monitored closely, both coming and going, you can't "coach" to the portal or else you risk losing credibility with all those who've paid their dues. Anyone who would bail on the mission inside of a year probably wasn't championship-caliber anyway. It's certainly their prerogative, but it also tells you something about character and the ability to push through adversity.

Sean, Portland Ore.: Team played well. They are a couple mental lapses/mulligans away from winning that by 30-40 points (4th and 1 sneak, 4th and 21 TD, Estime fumble)... I thought Maye was overhyped. UNC has literally played nobody, and he looked rather ordinary against a good defense. Onto my "homer" of a question: The last few years, the Irish have had a very strong D line. It appears that they are more often than not being held and these go mostly uncalled. I thought they demolished the Cal and UNC O-Lines and the refs could've called 10 more holding penalties each game. Do they just tuck their flags in at some point and let them get away with it not to ruin the flow of the game?

Mike Berardino: Portland Sean, nice hearing from you. I agree with the part about UNC having played (almost) nobody — Appalachian State a—side -- but I do like Drake Maye's present and future. He'll play on Sundays. As for the lack of holding calls, the old saw comes to mind about how you could call that on virtually every pass play. Officials are supposed to call them as they see them, case by case and without regard to game time or flow, but they're human, too.

Mike, Sacramento: I was pleasantly surprised by the Irish this weekend. I have been hard on OC Rees but was impressed on opening up the playbook.  Payne, OL, Estime, Tyree, were VERY impressive.  Only gripe, please open up the same playbook on 4th and 1.  I don't know how many times we run the same QB sneak up the middle for no gain, even worse Estime moving up 2 steps closer to Payne gave away the already predictable call.  I thought the defense played good, impressed with the DL and LB play.  Glad to see Kollie get some reps, need more athletic LB's in the game.  One thing i CANNOT get passed is the 2 long TD passes for NC touchdowns.  How does this happen, bad coaching, questionable CB's, or what? The first 80yd pass to Antiono Green was the perfect time to keep everything in front of you.  Irish just scored to make it 38-14, Green runs right by Lewis like he is standing still, safety late to come over, TD.  The 64yd TD to Green with 1:44 left was WORSE, Hart sitting on the 10yd out, 3rd and 21!!! No 3 deep!

Mike Berardino: Sacramento Mike, thanks for your question. Those scoring bombs were the first two plays Notre Dame has allowed this year covering 60-plus yards, but your point is well taken. BYU QB Jaren Hall has made 11 big-time throws (per PFF.com) out of 19 passes of 20-plus yards. His efficiency rating at that passing depth is 97.4, well above his figures at short and medium distances. So, yes, it seems like an area the Irish coaching staff will endeavor to clean up during the bye week.

Shane White Deer, Texas: In the spirit of “bye” week, how about a bye week question?  Notre Dame has had a pretty good run of wins after a bye week.  Statistically speaking, do more teams win after their bye week than not?  I know ND has beat a lot of teams after their bye week. 

Mike Berardino: Texas Shane, good question. As I mentioned in my Sept. 22 notebook, Brian Kelly's Irish teams won 12 of their last 13 games coming off a bye week, with the lone loss a 45-14 blowout at Michigan in 2019. That, however, isn't the national norm. Mack Brown, UNC's College Football Hall of Fame coach, is now 0-5 when coming off the bye since leaving the ESPN studio. According to Boyd's Bets, college teams from 2007-2016 (most recent data I could dig up today) won just 46.8% of the time when coming off the bye (548-622). Against the point spread, teams coming off the bye in that decade-long sample of 1,157 games were able to eke out a winning record (.514), but that's not enough of an advantage to consider it actionable information. Why the bye doesn't matter at the college level the way it does in the pros is a mystery to me. Perhaps roster size and the role of emotion in the college game have something to do with that.

Mike Berardino: Thanks for all the questions, everybody. Looks like we've made it all the way through the portal. Can't seem to find my NIL check, but I'll keep searching. Have a great week, everybody. See you right back here on Tuesday. Oct. 4 at 11 a.m.