Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2024

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM JANUARY 2024 29 BOWL PREVIEW: OREGON STATE Smith took several assistants, includ- ing offensive coordinator Brian Lind- gren, to East Lansing with him. Hynson has what some have said is a "skeleton crew" of assistants, although the Bea- vers' interim head coach has pushed back on that. "I would not say skeleton crew," Hynson said. "That sounds kind of neg- ative, you know? We have a good group of guys who are itching for the op- portunity to coach. We've got a young group of coaches that I think are really good, and they're going to get a great opportunity to work with guys first- hand. As a young coach, that's really all you can ask for." On Notre Dame's side, the coach- ing staff is largely intact. The exception is former wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey, whom Freeman replaced with Wisconsin wide receivers coach Mike Brown. But the veteran-laden roster that defined this season could miss sev- eral key starters due to opt-outs, too. The players who remain will be treated well by a bowl game and a city that is thrilled to have the Irish there. Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Oli- vas got choked up when he made the official announcement Dec. 3, explain- ing that he did not have a Notre Dame helmet because he didn't think it would be possible for his bowl to select the Irish. Freeman saw that video and many other positive reactions. As The Ath- letic's Stewart Mandel noted, "No one supports its bowl game like El Paso." "I thought it really hit me," Freeman said. "I want to make sure that every- body knows how excited we are. The feeling is so mutual. I'm excited to take this team to El Paso, Texas, and experi- ence everything that encompasses the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl and compete against another top-25 opponent." Notre Dame's record — 9-3 — isn't lost on Freeman, either. Securing his first double-digit win season since he took over as the head coach in South Bend is within striking distance. A win over Oregon State would also mean a one-game improvement from his first season, and even for a team that entered 2023 with higher expectations, that could be more than enough motivation for whoever puts on a blue-and-gold uniform. "The opportunity to play for 10 wins is something very few college football programs get the chance to do," he said. The Irish have that opportunity for the first time in Freeman's tenure. For a coach and a program trying to reach new heights, that's a meaningful step. ✦ 1. Back In The Saddle Redshirt sophomore Ben Gulbranson, Oregon State's starting quarterback for the Sun Bowl, has only attempted 1 pass in 2023. But he attempted 195 as an eight-game starter in 2022. He was named the MVP of the Las Vegas Bowl after completing 12 of 19 passes for 165 yards with 1 touchdown in a 30-3 victory over Florida a year ago. Gulbranson now has another shot at postseason glory because DJ Uiag- alelei and Aidan Chiles — the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart this season — both entered the transfer portal. The Oregon State roster is in shambles after head coach Jonathan Smith left to take the head job at Michigan State. Everything happening around Gulbranson is inconsequential to him come game day, though. Once he's on the field and starting for the first time in over a calendar year, his one job is to take care of the football and put points on the board no matter who's around him. He's done it before, so Notre Dame cannot underestimate him. 2. Next Men Up Oregon State isn't just going to look different at quarterback in El Paso. Smith's exit to East Lansing caused a seismic calamity for the Beavers' bowl game roster. Natural opt-outs impervious to the coaching change are at play, too. Of note, leading tackler Easton Mascarenas-Arnold — he of 107 total stops — won't play. Neither will wide receiver Anthony Gould, who's tied for the team lead with 718 receiving yards. Tight end Jack Velling led the Beavers with 8 touchdown catches, and he's out. Ball-hawking cornerback Jermod McCoy also entered the transfer portal. He had 2 interceptions and 7 passes defended this year. So, Notre Dame isn't the only team in this matchup that will be piecing a roster together. Let it be known both sides are dealing with the conse- quences of the current state of college football. 3. Notre Dame And Oregon State Have History Perhaps it's a good thing this game isn't being played in Arizona. Notre Dame and Oregon State have met twice ever, and both matchups were bowl games in the Grand Canyon State. The Beavers beat up on the Irish 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day in 2001, and they won rather handily again (38-21) in the Insight Bowl in 2004. Most of Notre Dame's key players suiting up for the Sun Bowl were not alive for the Fiesta Bowl trouncing. Some of the freshmen might not have been born yet for the Insight Bowl, too. This is not a grudge match for the players by any means, but there are certainly Fighting Irish fans who remem- ber those losses and would like to make the third time against Oregon State in a bowl game the charm. — Tyler Horka Trent Bray was tabbed to replace departed Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith, who left for the Michigan State job. Bray, who played linebacker for the Beavers from 2002-05 and was the MVP of their 38-21 win over Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl in 2004, won't coach against the Irish in the Sun Bowl. PHOTO COURTESY OREGON STATE ATHLETICS Three Things To Know About Oregon State

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