Irish Show Grit in First Win

Not only did Notre Dame record its first win in the Marcus Freeman era, they won the game three times. Protecting a 24-17 advantage with a minute remaining, the Fighting Irish stopped a desperation drive by Cal when a Hail Mary pass from Jack Plummer finally touched the turf in the end zone. This ended a heart-stopping rollercoaster ride in the final minute of the game that will drive Notre Dame fans to their favorite pub to decompress.

The Irish believed they had sealed the victory on the first play of the sequence when Clarence Lewis intercepted a Plummer pass and slid to the ground in celebration. Unfortunately, a targeting hit on linebacker J.D. Bertrand negated the pick and the Bears kept the ball. On a third down play moments later, Jayson Ademilola sacked Plummer and the ball squirted free. Notre Dame’s Tariq Bracy scooped it up and returned it 70 yards for an apparent clinching score. However, replay showed Plummer was down while still in possession, so Cal had one play left with five seconds on the clock.

Plummer dropped back and heaved the ball into a beehive of humanity at the Irish goal line. It was batted around by multiple players before bouncing on the chest of a Cal receiver who was laying on his back. He was too surprised to corral it though and it rolled harmlessly to the ground.

Cal’s final Hail Mary had everyone holding their breath

Notre Dame earned its first victory in ten months but few people would have predicted it after the first quarter. The Irish offense began the game with historic ineptitude on its first five possessions. Quarterback Drew Pyne was obviously rattled in his first start and his line did not help him with a pair of false start penalties on third down plays. The hosts went three and out four times but were poised to gain their initial first down when the period ended.

On a second down and two play to begin the second quarter, Pyne fumbled the snap and the Bears recovered on the Notre Dame 33. Cal’s offense had been equally inept to that point but they quickly capitalized. Plummer hit J. Michael Sturdivant with an 18-yard scoring strike and a 7-0 lead.

A celebration penalty on the Bears helped the Irish return the kickoff to their 40 yard line. Tom Rees called a series of running plays that produced positive yards and Pyne hit a third down pass before the drive stalled. Blake Grupe came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. The kick went wide but Cal was penalized for being offside on the play.

No one in the stadium saw movement or alignment that would merit a flag. Nevertheless, the Irish secured a first down in the process. Pyne then capitalized by hitting Chris Tyree down the middle for a 21-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Nine minutes remained in the half as Plummer got his team moving with a long scramble to convert on third down. He followed with a 33-yard pass to Hunter to bring the Bears into scoring territory. A textbook open field tackle at the Irish six by safety D.J. Brown stopped the Bears on the next series. Dario Longhetto came on to boot a short field goal for a 10-7 Cal advantage.

Notre Dame tried to respond in the last four minutes of the quarter. Pyne scrambled for a first down but his teammates halted the drive with consecutive false starts on third down. With a few seconds left, Freeman decided to punt instead of asking Pyne to launch a Hail Mary of his own. The half ended with the visitors in front.

The Irish showed plenty of energy as the third period began. A sack by Jayson Ademilola stopped the Bears in their tracks. Rees mixed a few passes with runs by Audric Estime and a targeting call against Cal moved the ball into the red zone. Estime ran it four times from there and ultimately crashed into the end zone. Notre Dame was back in front by 14-10 at the 9:14 mark.

Another scramble by Plummer and powerful runs by DeCarlos Brooks moved the ball to the Irish one yard line. Two subsequent rushes were stopped cold but Plummer broke through on a sneak to regain the lead by 17-14. The offenses that played so poorly in the early going were suddenly scoring at will.

Notre Dame answered with a pass to Lorenzo Styles and hard running by Tyree. Pyne failed to connect with Braden Lenzy on a third down throw and Grupe trotted onto the field for a long field goal attempt. He drilled it from 47-yards to tie the game at 17 just seconds into the final period.

A sack by Jacob Lacey forced Cal to punt the ball back to Notre Dame. Rees continued to mix power runs with short passes as the offensive line started to dominate. A well-thrown play action pass to Estime covered 36 yards and brought the ball to the Bears’ 6-yard line. Pyne hit Michael Mayer on a beautifully run post route on the next play to give the Irish a 24-17 lead.

There were still nine minutes remaining so no one was popping the champagne just yet. Cal managed to stop the Irish ground game but sacks by Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola thwarted Cal’s next two chances to tie the game. One final stop by the Bears defense earned them their last chance with 1:03 left.

The interception by Lewis and the replay reversal of Bracy’s scoop and score made the final sequence a surreal event. Fortunately, the Mother of Jesus did not answer Cal’s final prayer on her home turf and the Irish faithful exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

We saw the good and bad from Pyne but he battled back from a shaky start until the ledger added up in his favor. The most significant takeaways were the second half dominance by both lines and smart, effective play calling by Rees. Perhaps knowing Pyne’s physical limitations helped to focus Rees on what would work best. Perhaps the offense is just starting to find its identity. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Let’s look at the answers to the pregame questions:

  • Will Pyne be able to connect with his receivers on play-action passes? Yes, there were a number of effective throws, culminating in the shot to Estime to set up the winning touchdown.
  • Which defense will apply the most effective pressure on the quarterback? Both teams struggled early but Notre Dame solved its protection issues. The Irish defensive front dominated the second half with a relentless pass rush.
  • Can Tom Rees devise a ground game without Buchner to run the zone read? Yes. Tweaks to the blocking scheme helped as well. Tyree and Estime ran hard through some nice holes.
  • Which special teams will contribute impact plays? Both kickers missed a 45-yard field goal attempt but Grupe’s rocket from 47-yards to tie the score was the special teams play of the game.
  • Will the Irish finally discover a reserve of energy in the fourth quarter? Definitely. The tackling and pass rush materialized when needed most. The team needs to work on its Hail Mary defense though. Just knock the ball down, fellas.
  • Can Plummer maintain his 69% completion rate against the Irish? Not quite. Plummer was 16 of 37 for 184 yards. That’s lousy.
  • Will Notre Dame’s defense finally force a turnover? Yes, they forced two……ummm……until they didn’t.
  • How much should NBC pay for the privilege of broadcasting ND Football? The sky is the limit after today’s instant classic (note sarcasm).

Winning games is going to be hard this year. Let’s hope the first one will prove to be the toughest.

57 thoughts on “Irish Show Grit in First Win

  1. Al Golden is pure fool’s gold. Defense is undisciplined, sloppy and selfish. Penalties almost cost us the game. Self-centered play at the end is unforgivable. What could Golden have said to the secondary on the sideline besides the obvious – KNOCK THE BALL DOWN!? Brandon Joseph should be ashamed of himself. Forget adding an INT to your stats – KNOCK IT DOWN! Should have been a well-deserved loss instead of a scroungy, embarrassing win. If there ever was such a thing as a humiliating victory, this one is it!

    • And yet he’s holding teams to 19 points a game. 2 power 5 (many teams haven’t played one yet) and one team which had the number 1 offense in college football last year. Had no benefit from turnovers and has an offense that keeps his defense on the field constantly. Overreaction.

  2. And speaking of NBC…worst color commentary EVER! Forget #killjarjarbinks and make it #killjarjargarret. I can’t believe this guy was an NFL coach. Most comments had no connection to what was actually transpiring on the field and many were completely contradictory. He’s obsessed with saying something – anything – no matter how ignorant or patently obvious – at the end of every play. And then he’ll repeat the same jibberish several other times during the game. Good God it’s going to be a long season!

    • Agree! get them both out of the booth…..and soon please. save us all from having to watch poor football AND listening to poor announcing. I have faith our Irish will turn it around but I don’t for the booth boys. By the way- outright crazy he (don’t even know his name) missed the obvious targeting call once seen in slow motion. First he didn’t think it wasn’t even unnecessary roughness in real time then saw it in slowmo and did think it was targeting until it was and then he changed his tune to that was a textbook case of targeting. Horrible announcing – pls bring back maycock, at least he knew what he was talking about.

  3. a W is a W, and we can be happy with that, but I am analytic enough to see through the guise. The Cal offense demonstrated incredible ineptitude at times, and the game was really decided on the last play – a play where a Cal receiver actually had the ball and bobbled it away. Where would overtime had gone? Well, that’s anyones guess given the last 4 quarters of play.

    It would be a huge stretch to call this a great win. In fact, the Irish can be happy that they found an offense more inept than they are. But everyone starts somewhere and the Irish have 9 games ahead of them. They are out of any Playoff discussion but a bowl game is possible with some improvement and some heavy prayers to touchdown Jesus. Am I impressed? No, not so far.

  4. John V: “….historic ineptitude…” certainly describes the first quarter Irish play. Execution certainly plays a big role here, but so does coaching when you consider miscues like third down false starts, targeting by one of our captains, and having no defender with eyes on a scrambling QB.

    I’m happy that both the O- and D-lines are starting to show some confidence and dominance. I also realize, as Vannie has pointed out, that this is a young and talented group of athletes. I will exercise as much patience as the rest of the ND faithful, but my coronary arteries may suffer the consequences this season.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Targeting calls have changed the game. Some seem unavoidable because the offender is moving at a speed that makes changing his body’s direction impossible at a certain point. Our captain’s targeting was a clear, avoidable offense, but others are not clear at all.

      • The Cal linebacker had a clearly avoidable hit on Pyne, but I guess you must have missed it. Even his own coach saw it as such as he chewed his ass out as he was coming to the sideline. So, it was clearly targeting as well.

  5. Defensive line was very good. Secondary was very good. The linebackers are horrible. Put some new blood in at linebacker. QB escaping pass rush and converting for 1st downs over and over is inexcusable. Again poor linebacker play.

  6. John, right on target with your analysis. I just happy they won the game and like you mention both the offensive/defensive lines showed much improvement! It was great to see a running game too. One thing I was frustrated with, where were the ND linebackers when Plummer was running for 1st downs?

    Anyway, always delighted when ND wins!!!!! Go Irish beat Tar Heels!!!!

  7. I am going to enjoy Pyne’s growth throughout the rest of the season. He was nervous but he did not buckle under the pressure. Pyne is going to lead us to a bowl victory on January 1.

  8. I feel for the seniors in the student body. Very reminiscent of the sudden change in my senior year when we went from Dan Devine to Gerry Faust. The Catholicism went way up and the quality of football went way down. As Sports Illustrated said a long time ago…”what a difference a coach makes!”

    • Irish in the South says:

      I do feel we will see improvement with Pyne’s play as we go through the season. He gained confidence as the game progressed. I would like to see him find Mayer for more completions against UNC next week.

    • What I remember about Faust as Notre Dame’s football coach is that he made the victories about himself and the losses about the players. I don’t see that huge flaw with Freeman.

  9. Nothing to write home about, but they showed guts and didn’t quit. Pyne got better as the game went on. As has been said this is a team in transition – 8-4 this year, maybe 7-5.

    Fun to watch – we’ll be fine.

      • Let’s be honest and tell it like it is – the Offense is a mess. The best tight end in the country and he has 2 receptions ? Nothing thrown to wide receivers to stretch the defense. Continue to pound the ball in the middle of the line.? This approach won’t put points on the board – open it up !!! The defense will be on the field way too much and eventually will pay the price. Notre Dame looks tight and that is how the Head Coach looks and acts on the sideline – ditto with the Offensive Coordinator in the booth. Turn the players loose – i will say the defense played the 2nd half with a lot more energy and pressure. Freeman looks and sounds like a first year Coach – this hasn’t been Notre Dame Football the first 3 games – leadership lacking and it need to get better.

  10. JV,
    Thank You for the summary.
    I’ve got this offense figured out.
    Throw passes to the running backs.
    Hand off to the wide receivers.
    Go Irish

  11. A friend told me he saw Notre Dame executing a power running game. Help a guy out who has never seen that before–what’s that? Can CJ Carr re-class to the class of 2022? I hate losing to awful teams and squeezing out victories against mediocre ones, yet somehow I still enjoy this more than a “Blowout Brian” loss in a big game.

  12. Well it wasn’t the prettiest win but a win nonetheless and hopefully something to build on. I’m still not optimistic for the season and people shouldn’t get too excited especially when ND still doesn’t have a downfield passing game.

    Jason Garrett had a coronary over the targeting call. Personally it looked incidental to me but I don’t think the current rules differentiate. It also looked like Plummer did not have possession of the football when his knee hit the ground which means he fumbled. It sure seemed like the refs were doing everything they could to keep Cal’s last desperation drive alive. I assume these were PAC-12 officials.

    The only guaranteed wins on the remaining schedule are UNLV and Navy.

    • Actually the refs handed us the game for a change – that invisible off-sides was the difference. Also, my take on that last called back fumble return: Plummer WAS in possession as his knee hit, and he actually threw an incomplete pass after that. I don’t feel he ever fumbled the ball. Thankfully that Cal #3 couldn’t get a grip on the Hail Mary pass!

  13. I hope not all wins this season will be the tough, but they likely will. The Tar Heels and Drake Maye will pose a big threat to our secondary. Especially if Josh Downs is back from his injury. A pass rush like we saw yesterday will be a big help. Fortunately, Carolina’s defense is really bad.

  14. it is great to get a win but still really wonder about the offensive ineptitude. two positions with less than five minutes left in the game and we can’t finish by getting a few first downs. we leave the defense on the field to win the game. Regardless of what team is playing that more often than not is a losing situation. I also understand that Pyne had his first start so he really was only targeting Styles and the running backs but he is not a first year player. he saw action last year. Many programs around the country have QBs come in and play reasonably well as young players. I do not think we prepare or develop the QB position at all. Bottom line: Tommy Rees is no good as an OC.

    • What disturbed me the most by ND’s last possession was three straight simple dive plays. No misdirection, no RPO, nothing, zip, nada to try to fool the defense. I’m fine with not passing, thus, forcing them to use their timeouts but how about mixing it up a just little?

  15. curtis61highbridge says:

    I thought in pressure defenses in addition to penetrating the line of scrimmage defensive linemen also opened holes in the offensive line for defensive backers to penetrate. Go figure……How well we execute and match up at every position is key. Bye the bye can we say enough about the kicking game?

  16. It was a much needed win of course. Needless to say there is a lot of work for the coaching staff to do yet. The fiasco in the end zone at the end of the game was inexcusable, and some ass chewing is in order.

  17. I don’t get a TEAM vibe from them yet, but I have the feeling that I will soon. I also have the feeling that at some point – this season, perhaps next – there will come a turning point, and that will probably come in the form of a comeback or in the form of us beating a team we’re NOT supposed to beat, preferably on enemy turf, altho OSU next season would be ok. When that time comes, and it will, I envy the folks in the stands who understand what they’re seeing.

    IOW – For now – HANG IN THERE. MF is the right man for the job.

    • Guys I suggest we stop trying to put a spin on this game and the other ones this season. Gerry Faust never learned how to become a winning head coach after he took over for Dan Devine. Bob Davie never learned how to become a winning head coach after he took over for Lou Holtz. Marcus Freeman inherited an 11-1, top 10, New Year’s Day bowl team from Brian Kelly which immediately collapsed. He was a marginal defensive coordinator and actually has no business head coaching anywhere above Riverside City College. He was hired for fairly obvious reasons and will produce 6-6, 5-7 teams for 5 years until he resigns to avoid being fired. Tommy Rees was a marginal quarterback and knows about play calling as much as I know about brain surgery. Unfortunately, this will mean our celebrating emotional wins over UN Las Vegas and season ending bids to the Lending Tree Bowl, etc. We’ll have “outstanding” recruiting seasons that somehow will finish in another losing season, but a promising outlook for “next year”. Think most long term ND fans already suspect as much, even if they keep whistling in the graveyard and singing the theme from “Annie”. Sorry guys, just telling it like it is.

  18. Guys I suggest we stop trying to put a spin on this game and the other ones this season. Gerry Faust never learned how to become a winning head coach after he took over for Dan Devine. Bob Davie never learned how to become a winning head coach after he took over for Lou Holtz. Marcus Freeman inherited an 11-1, top 10, New Year’s Day bowl team from Brian Kelly which immediately collapsed. He was a marginal defensive coordinator and actually has no business head coaching anywhere above Riverside City College. He was hired for fairly obvious reasons and will produce 6-6, 5-7 teams for 5 years until he resigns to avoid being fired. Tommy Rees was a marginal quarterback and knows about play calling as much as I know about brain surgery. Unfortunately, this will mean our celebrating emotional wins over UN Las Vegas and season ending bids to the Lending Tree Bowl, etc. We’ll have “outstanding” recruiting seasons that somehow will finish in another losing season, but a promising outlook for “next year”. Think most long term ND fans already suspect as much, even if they keep whistling in the graveyard and singing the theme from “Annie”. Sorry guys, just telling it like it is.

  19. It was nice to have a win but as others have pointed Cal was not exactly a powerhouse. I feel Marshall would have beat them also.

    Others have made many relevant points and I agree with many. I would just like to add that the phantom off side call on the missed field goal completely altered the game. I am not sure if the team would have bounced back after that miss. The other inexcusable defensive call was on the Hail Mary. There was a long delay before that play and the defense should have been drilled to knock the ball down…football 101!

    This team will progress somewhat as almost any team will as the year goes on but the new era is a great disappointment. As others have pointed out this was a top ten team last year and returned far more talent that the product we see on the field indicates.

    • Hydrostan – That’s what they were trying to do – knock the ball to the ground.

      The Cal players, understandably, were trying to catch the damn ball, hence the fiasco, which I enjoyed – after I caught my breath.

      It wasn’t pretty by any means, but it was a win.

      • No, you are incorrect. Brandon Joseph has been widely criticized for trying to intercept the pass instead of batting it down. He actually tipped it up in the air like a volleyball to try and get both hands on it. Instead, a cluster**** ensued.

        • John – YOU are incorrect. If you can intercept the ball and HOLD ON TO IT – the game is over. If you knock it to the ground – the ball is still in play and bad things can happen. He thought he had a chance so he took it. In circumstance like that ANYTHING can happen. The ball hit the ground and that was that.

          We won.

  20. The defense is going to be absolutely spent by mid-season if the offense can’t generate any first downs, and that’s when the injuries will start piling on.

    The penalty that keeps sticking with me is DJ Brown’s absolutely stupid, unforgivable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty throwing Cal’s receiver to the ground about three seconds after the whistle. That’s The kind of stuff bad teams do – just continually shoot themselves in the foot. And if it keeps happening I blame those penalties on coaching and lack of discipline.

  21. DON’T THEY TEACH THE OFFENSIVE LINEMEN HOW TO COUNT TO FOUR. NOTREDAME HAS MORE FALSE START IIN THE FIRST QUARTER AND AT CRITICAL TIMES IN THE GAME THAN ANY SCHOL IN THE COUNTRY. It’s disgusting to see this happen year after year. There has to be a solution. What is it? I don’t know!
    Better defense in the second half. More blitzes, which made me happy. Ground game picked up in second half, But we need to average over 400 yards in rushing and passing, if we are going to have a winning season.

    Go Irish, keep improving. North Carolina is going to be a tough game.

    I agree about the announcers. Shut the sound off!

    • Irish in the South says:

      Jason Garrett is new to being in the booth. Some OJT going on here. He’s very knowledgeable and inciteful and makes some good points. I think he will improve with each game and express himself more effectively as the season progresses.

  22. Well, very happy to see ND get the victory, but it certainly was ugly. In the first half, I felt like I was watching a middle school football game…both teams played poorly. Good to see the defense get pressure on the Cal QB in the 2nd half. Agree with the remarks on the commentators…so bad…I need to find a good radio station calling the game. Let’s hope the team keeps improving.

  23. Positives:
    Ran the ball for 1st downs
    QB showed he could throw some nice passes in 2nd half
    Defense got after the QB
    Defense contained the offense for the most part

    Negatives:
    Lack of confidence, guidance from coaches
    Dropped passes
    Couldn’t finish the game on offense
    Missed tackles, bad angles, defense is slower
    Coaches clearly didn’t say, “bat it down!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>