Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 4, 2023 29 I nterception. Interception. Turnover on downs. Believe it or not, that's how Notre Dame started offensively in a 58-7 complete smackdown of Pittsburgh. A total of 535 yards for the Irish offense didn't tell the whole story. Those 58 points weren't the result of a flawless offensive operation. There were hitches and snags and bumps in the road, which had been the norm for a unit that hadn't eclipsed 400 yards in any game since Sept. 16 prior to the dra- matic upswing against Pitt. Outside of one uncharacter- istic performance on an evening when nobody in a gold helmet was helping out any of their comrades in the same shiny headgear — yeah, I'm talking about the 33-20 loss to Louis- ville — junior running back Au- dric Estimé has been one of the only consistently positive pres- ences for the Notre Dame offense ever since the season opener in Ireland more than two months ago. Estimé ran 19 times for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Panthers. It was the first time in his career he'd seen the end zone that many times in one game. Even at this stage in his stay in South Bend, which very well might be down to just four more games (or three if he chooses to sit out a bowl game like Kyren Williams did as a junior in 2021), Estimé is gaining steam late in the year and doing things he hadn't ever accom- plished previously. He does it all with contagious eager- ness and a smile as long as his native Jersey Shore on his face. His teammates are appreciative of all of it. "It means a lot," senior wide receiver and former running back Chris Tyree said. "Having somebody like that keeps the defense honest. They have no choice but to stack the box with somebody like that running the ball. It does nothing but open it up for us, and we got to take advantage of it." Notre Dame hasn't always done that. The passing game has been futile at times. That makes things more difficult for Estimé. Never was it harder than when he only ran for 20 yards on 10 at- tempts against the Cardinals Oct. 7. He came back with 95 yards on 22 carries when Notre Dame only mustered 126 passing yards against USC, though. The Trojans stacked the box. Tyree hit them with a 46-yard touchdown catch as punishment. There wasn't much of an aerial attack from the Irish in addi- tion to that deep ball, though, and Es- timé still nearly recorded a 100-yard game. With the effort against Pitt, he's got four of those in nine games this sea- son. He also had 95 yards against Navy in another close call. Estimé is now just 99 yards away from becoming the 13th Notre Dame tailback to ever hit 1,000 in a single sea- son. If he goes for the same amount he's averaged through nine games for three more matchups, he'll record the eighth best rushing yardage total for a single season in Notre Dame history. It's past time we give Estimé more than just a pat on the back and a sup- portive social media post. He's been a rock for the Notre Dame running game for the last two seasons. And in this one in par- ticular, when the passing offense has not been as prolific as it was advertised to be in the preseason with the arrival of graduate stu- dent Sam Hartman from Wake Forest, Estimé probably has a case for offensive MVP. He has 478 more all-purpose yards, 1,010, than the No. 2 player on Notre Dame's list. That's Tyree with 532. All- purpose yards include punt and kick return yards, too, and Es- timé doesn't have any of those. He has been Notre Dame's No. 1 yards-from-scrimmage ma- chine, and it hasn't been close. After losing to Louisville, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said every game plan would still be geared toward get- ting Estimé the ball. The Irish weren't going to shy away from their big bruiser just because he had a bad game against the Cards. Everybody did. In the two games since then, he has 44 offensive touches for 229 yards and 5 touchdowns. He's a workhorse and a darn good one at that. His usage isn't going to tick down in these final three regular-season games either. He wouldn't want it to anyway. This is a player who was still getting carries in the fourth quarter with Notre Dame leading 44-0. He'll keep going until he's told to come out. A guy like him is completely fine if that never occurs. "I felt like we weren't finished," Es- timé said. "We still had some things to do. It was just finishing the game with the brothers that I started the season with." First, that game. Soon, the whole sea- son. It's been quite a ride for big No. 7. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Estimé notched his fourth 100-yard game of the season, carrying the ball 19 times for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Panthers. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Audric Estimé Deserves All Of His Flowers

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