Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 38 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2022 39 GAME PREVIEW: CALIFORNIA who Pro Football Focus rated as the top-returning safety in the conference, led the Bears with 82 tackles last season. Scott is joined by graduate transfer linebacker Jackson Sirmon. The standout transfer from Wash- ington became a 2021 All-Pac 12 honorable men- tion pick last season after recording 91 tackles in 12 starts with the Huskies. Sirmon was also a first- team all-conference player this preseason and the No. 2 returning tackler in the Pac-12. Advantage: Even NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. CAL PASS DEFENSE After setting single-season records for an Irish tight end in 2021 for catches (71), receiving yards (840) and touchdowns (7), junior Michael Mayer is already off, running and ready in his quest to better each of those marks during his final season at Notre Dame. Against Ohio State, Mayer was the only Irish receiver to record multiple catches with 5 grabs for 32 yards. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner made his first career start against the Buckeyes, and turned in a lukewarm performance, going 10-of-18 passing for 177 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Buchner's stats were meh at best. But Freeman explained that playing the No. 2 team in the coun- try, on the road, in Buchner's first career start called for a pedestrian offensive game plan. That said, Buchner's worth as a passer remains unclear through only two games this season and a small sample of 35 pass attempts in 2021. The Irish wide receivers also remain a concern with limited targets and few catches so at Ohio State. Addition- ally, until Patterson is fully recovered from his foot injury along the offensive line, pass protection needs monitored. A one-game sample for Cal is too small to ac- curately evaluate the worth of its 2022 passing ef- ficiency defense. What we do know is that the Bears defensive line is anchored by 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive end Brett Johnson. The beefy redshirt ju- Staff Predictions Todd D. Burlage: Notre Dame 31, Cal 10 With only three offensive starters back from a Cal team that averaged just 23.8 points a game last season, maybe the heavy player turnover in 2022 isn't necessarily a detriment. The Bears will start Jack Plummer at quarter- back, a graduate transfer from Purdue. Plum- mer might provide Cal a slight preparation advantage. As the Boilermakers starter last season, Plummer threw for 187 yards and 1 touchdown on 25-of-36 passing. Steve Downey: Notre Dame 33, Cal 17 The Golden Bears lost five games by a touch- down or less en route to a 5-7 finish last sea- son, but most of those defeats came at the hands of bad-to-mediocre teams (the lone exception was a ranked Oregon squad). With that said, Cal does possess a quarterback who has starting experience in Notre Dame Sta- dium and has the defensive talent to keep this one close. However, I expect the Irish to emerge from their early season offensive malaise and pull away late. Patrick Engel: Notre Dame 27, Cal 13 Cal has fielded above-average defenses in recent years and could contain a still-gelling Notre Dame offense enough to play a compet- itive game for four quarters. The Irish defense against a usually subpar Cal offense, though, will keep Notre Dame in a comfortable spot all day even if the game never reaches blowout territory. Cal threatening to win late in the game would likely require a complete break- down from Tyler Buchner and the Notre Dame offense. Tyler Horka: Notre Dame 31, California 20 This might be a bit closer than most are pre- dicting, but California has a revamped offense led by Purdue transfer quarterback Jack Plum- mer. Plummer played at Notre Dame Stadium nearly a year ago to the day, so he won't be overwhelmed by the moment. Cal keeps it close for a while, but the Irish are too much to overcome at home in the end. The Notre Dame passing game continues to progress. Mike Singer: Notre Dame 31, Cal 9 The Fighting Irish should roll comfortably in this contest. The Bears went 5-7 a year ago but lost five of those matchups by a touchdown or less. They're no slouch, but I don't see them being able to move the ball with much success on the Irish defense . Graduate transfer linebacker Jackson Sirmon is the second-leading returning tackler in the Pac-12 after making 91 stops for Washington last year. PHOTO COURTESY CAL ATHLETICS/AL SERMENO

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