Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2024

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

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18 FEBRUARY 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA AND JACK SOBLE T he Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl tee- tered on the edge of intolerable sogginess. You know, like when a bowl of Frosted Flakes sits out a tad too long. The game wasn't soggy in the rain- or milk-drenched sense, though. The weather adhered to the namesake of the bowl; nothing but blue skies and sun- shine for Notre Dame's 40-8 victory over Oregon State. Soggy in the sloppy sense. Notre Dame only led 7-0 with less than four minutes left until halftime. A capacity crowd on UTEP's campus hadn't been treated to a thriller by any stretch. The Tony the Tiger mascot mill- ing around stadium seats was as exciting as anything else unfolding in front of 48,223 spectators in the Sun City. "I didn't like the way we started," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. Sometimes all it takes is one play to turn unremarkable proceedings around, spice things up and give a Notre Dame-heavy crowd what it came for. Just four days after Christmas, the Beavers gifted the Fighting Irish that exact type of reversal. Facing fourth-and-6 from their own 49, the Beavers attempted a fake punt via a direct snap. Irish sophomore defen- sive end Joshua Burnham stopped it in its tracks for a loss of 5 yards. Seven plays later, sophomore running back Jadarian Price put Notre Dame ahead by 14 points. The rout was on. Two touchdowns proved too much for this Oregon State offense, depleted by opt-outs and transfers, to overcome against a Notre Dame defense that sur- vived silly season from a roster manage- ment perspective as well as any team could hope for. Behind the strength of graduate stu- dent defensive end Javontae Jean-Bap- tiste's unblockable ferociousness in the final game of his career, graduate stu- dent defensive tackle Howard Cross III's similar relentlessness in the trenches, defensive end Jordan Botelho's most outstanding lineman-worthy game and stifling play from the cohorts at all levels behind them, Notre Dame just flat-out shut down third-string quarterback Ben Gulbranson and the Beavers. Five first- half possessions yielded 103 total yards. Nothing changed in the second half; Jean-Baptiste and Cross got through for a sack of Gulbranson — who completed 16 of 27 throws for 180 yards —for a third- down sack on Oregon State's first drive of the third quarter. That's when it felt like a wrap because, well, it was. OSU mustered only 9 total yards in the third frame. Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli, meanwhile, was 15-of-19 passing for 232 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his first career start. He showed signs of a newbie by not fully feeling pressure, taking a cou- ple costly sacks and tripping the offense into two delay-of-game infractions. But he also flashed potential with pinpoint passes and piecing together enough plays to put points on the board. "I'm proud of my performance, but it really isn't about me," Angeli said. "It's about this team. It's about the guys around here." Plenty of those guys made life eas- ier on Angeli. Former walk-on fresh- man wide receiver Jordan Faison was the most significant contributor among them. He caught 5 passes for 115 yards and 1 touchdown. Angeli's first throw of the afternoon was a 55-yard strike to Faison down the right sideline. Faison's touchdown from 13 yards out was the dagger; it put the Irish ahead 24-0 late in the third quarter. Faison, the Sun Bowl MVP, credited in- terim offensive coordinator and quarter- backs coach Gino Guidugli for dialing up the look that got him into the end zone. "We had been working on that play all week for their defense," Faison said. "We saw the coverage that we wanted and ran the play, and it worked." Playing without their leader of the room, junior tailback Audric Estimé, Price shed some tackles on a 54-yard rush up the middle to set up a 13-yard, just-as-athletic touchdown catch from freshman Jeremiyah Love on the score that made it 33-0 with 9:08 left. Price and Love combined for 145 rushing yards on 28 carries. Freeman said at halftime a two-touch- down lead wasn't enough. He wanted to attack. He wanted to be relentless. His words, nobody else's. The boys in blue and gold did not let him down. They at- tacked. They were relentless. And they finished off the 2023 season with a 10th win, one more than they had in Freeman's first season as head coach a year ago. "Ten looks better than nine," Freeman said with a smile. FIRST QUARTER NOTRE DAME 7, OREGON STATE 0 Top moment: Oregon State suffered a busted coverage and Angeli took advan- tage. He found Faison wide open on the right sideline for a 55-yard gain that set up Notre Dame's first touchdown. Feature performer: Junior wide receiver Jayden Thomas caught that touchdown, finding a soft spot in the Beavers' zone coverage near the goal line and diving into the end zone for an 8-yard score. He finished the quarter with 3 catches for 48 yards, proving his nagging hamstring injury is fully healed. Stats: Notre Dame outgained Ore- gon State 148-38 in total yards … Angeli threw for 20.6 yards per attempt com- pared to Oregon State quarterback Ben Gulbranson's 3.2. Items: Graduate student linebacker Jack Kiser made a textbook tackle on second down to set up third-and-long on Oregon State's first drive. … Fellow graduate student linebacker JD Bertrand picked up a key pressure to force a punt on the next possession. SUN AND GAMES Notre Dame finishes 2023 in style with 40-8 Sun Bowl romp over Oregon State Sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli completed 15 of 19 throws for 232 yards with 3 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions while leading the Irish to a 40-8 victory in his first career start. PHOTO BY MARCELL GORDON

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