Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2023

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

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6 JANUARY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I f you're a fan of patterns, per- haps Notre Dame will continue one of its most recent ones in the Gator Bowl just for you. Con- sider it a holiday gift. There's a roller coaster called Judge Roy Scream at Six Flags Over Texas. All it offers is a series of climbs and drops before it makes one turn and returns to base. Notre Dame's running game in November was the Irish's best it- eration of that ride. The Irish ran for 263 yards on 5.6 yards per carry versus Clem- son. That had become status quo; Notre Dame ran for at least 220 yards in four of the five previous matchups. But then the Irish only ran for 66 yards on 1.9 yards per carry against Navy the week after upset- ting Clemson. It was by far their worst ground game of the season. How'd they follow it up? With 281 yards on a season-best 7.4 yards per carry in snowy South Bend against Boston College. That was more like it. Or was it? What goes up must come down. Notre Dame proceeded to rush for 90 yards on 3.5 yards per carry versus Southern Cal. The Irish were playing catchup for the entirety of the game, but any semblance of a rushing attack would have made it easier on junior quarter- back Drew Pyne to mount a comeback. Up, down. Up, down. That's Notre Dame's last four games running the ball. The Irish are due to go back up again versus South Carolina in the Gator Bowl, but let's get serious now. This isn't about believing in a trend. This is about Notre Dame finishing the 2022 season the right way, the way head coach Marcus Free- man likes his team to play. It was roughly a year ago when Free- man started drilling in the heads of re- porters and everyone else outside his program that for as long as he'll be in charge of the Notre Dame football program, the Irish are going to smash opponents in the mouth at the line of scrimmage. Run the ball, stop the run. Those are his biggest keys to victory. Turns out the 36-year-old first-time head coach is onto something. In Notre Dame's eight wins, the team has averaged 218.4 rushing yards per game. In its three losses, that number nearly cuts in half at 111.5. Notre Dame ran for 200-plus yards six times during the regular season. It won every one of those games. South Carolina has the nation's 113th-ranked rushing defense. The Gamecocks allowed six regular season opponents to rush for at least 200 yards, including Florida's astounding 374. The Gators won that game, 38-6. On the topic of November trends, South Carolina foes rushed for 247.3 yards per game against Shane Beamer's team in four games that month. This is a bowl game set up for Notre Dame to flex its muscles in exactly the way Freeman envisioned the Irish would 12 months ago — and in every month since then, too. That isn't solely based on what has happened with these two programs recently, either. It also has to do with Notre Dame start- ing either sophomore Tyler Bu- chner, who hasn't played a single snap since injuring his shoulder Sept. 10, or freshman Steve Angeli, who has seven snaps to his name at this level, at quarterback. Notre Dame needs to run the ball well to settle a new signal-caller into the game. Freeman believes the Irish are much more equipped to do that now than they were when Buchner made the first two starts of his career in September. "Our offense is at a different point than where we were at those two games," Freeman said. "We have an identity and the ability to run the ball and the ability to cre- ate, as we say easy, completions. And that won't change with who- ever is at quarterback." One thing to say it. Another thing to prove it. This can't be another game like Ohio State when the Irish ran the ball 30 times for 76 yards. Or Navy when it ran the ball 34 times for 66 yards in a game in which Notre Dame nearly blew a 22-point halftime lead in an eventual three-point win. Or at USC when Pyne received very little help in the ground game en route to the Irish running 26 times for 90 yards. This needs to be one of those vin- tage performances in which Notre Dame cruises past the 200-yard mark. That's the magic number. The opponent sets up for it to happen. The in-house cir- cumstances, including losing No. 1 re- ceiving threat Michael Mayer to the NFL Draft, beg for it to happen. So, for one last time in 2022, let the roller coaster go up in Jacksonville, Fla., after it was just down in Los Angeles. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Sophomore running back Audric Estime leads the Irish with 825 yards rushing this season. As a team, Notre Dame is 6-0 in games this season in which it rushes for 200 or more yards. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Notre Dame Needs To Run Wild In The Gator Bowl

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