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Roller Coaster, A Look Back At The '22 Season

By: Murray O'Connell | Writer | Twitter: @MurrayOConnell | Profile: @MurrayOConnell

Photo Courtesy of Gary McCullough AP

Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times until it comes to a complete stop… and like that, on a Friday evening in Jacksonville, FL, the roller coaster season the Irish took us on this year came to a triumphant (and merciful) stop.

The ride seemed fun at first, going toe to toe with Ohio State and nearly pulling off the upset. There was however the unexpected drop on the track from Marshall causing many to feel queasy in their seats. Irish fans survived the up and down loop to loop of Cal, and then things seemed to pick up speed for a while until click…click…click… the Stanford drop made many Notre Dame fans turn green and lose their game day bratwursts.

The range of emotions this season caused was unlike any season before in recent memory. There was the low of watching a noble but significantly less talented Navy team nearly fight their way into what could have been one of the biggest upsets of the year. Then there was the high of watching Notre Dame fans storm the field sending Clemson on a long quiet flight back to Death Valley.

However, with the ride closed till August, now seems like a good time to look back on the season that left Notre Dame fans reaching for either a packet of Tums or a bottle of Jameson on a week to week basis.

September 3rd

Ohio State 21

Notre Dame 10

Good News: Notre Dame actually led for a little over 2 quarters against the second ranked Buckeyes. Tyler Buchner showed flashes of brilliance completing his first 8 passes. More importantly, there seemed to be a shift in culture. Marcus Freeman’s team did not blink against a higher ranked team as has been the case in previous years under Brian Kelly. Irish fans remained hopeful in the loss, and winning the next 11 games didn’t seem too far-fetched.

Bad News: There was a second half collapse that the Irish didn’t recover from until arguably the second half of the Cal game. Buchner, while initially starting off hot, cooled off significantly only completing two more passes the entire game. Tommy Rees would be heavily criticized for what many felt was too conservative of a game plan. The offensive line did not seem cohesive, a surprise for any Harry Hiestand led group, and not a single running back would gain over 30 yards for the day. The defense initially held their own, but wore down as the game went on, not stopping Ohio State when the Irish needed it most.

September 10th

Marshall 26

Notre Dame 21

Good News: I think it was a sunny day?

Bad News: The Buchner season ending injury. The Drew Pyne interception while they were driving late. The missed tackles, and there were a lot of them. The 95 yard 4th quarter drive the defense gave up. Being subjected to a booth composed of Collingsworth and Garrett for the first time. The shocking loss after feeling so hopeful from the prior week. Irish fans had plenty to choose from if they were looking for a reason to drink all alone in a darkened room after this Saturday afternoon's Chernobyl-esque meltdown.

September 17th

Notre Dame 24

Cal 17

Good News: Marcus Freeman got his first win as Notre Dame head coach, however it did not come easy as the Golden Bears led until the 4th quarter. Pyne would make his first start of the season and throw touchdown passes to both Michael Mayer and Chris Tyree. Defensively the Irish were led by Howard Cross III and DJ Brown who each recorded 7 tackles. This was certainly a tale of two halves as Notre Dame seemed to finally find themselves late in the second half and carried that momentum with them for the rest of the season, or at least until the Stanford game. This win could have been, arguably, Freeman’s most important win of the season as he finally managed to steady the ship after a tumultuous start.

Bad News: There were more bonehead mistakes this afternoon than whomever thought skinny jeans on guys was a good idea. The Irish seemed ready and willing to give the game back to Cal. There was the targeting call on J.D. Bertrand which wiped out a potential game sealing interception from Clarence Lewis. The back to back offsides calls on the normally rock solid Jared Patterson and Zeke Correll. Most terrifying (and aggravating) of all, was the final play of the game as Cal’s Jack Plummer threw a pass into the endzone, which bounced off a couple of Irish defenders, and nearly into the outstretched arms of a Cal receiver laying in the endzone. It was ugly, but dressed in their green jerseys, the Irish managed to find a way to win.

September 24th

Notre Dame 45

North Carolina 32

Good News: For the first time all season Notre Dame was able to create a balanced attack. Pyne threw for nearly 300 yards and 3 touchdowns to Mayer, Lorenzo Styles, and Logan Diggs. The Irish would also rush for 287 yards led by Audric Estime who would score a pair of touchdowns, and Tyree who would also score on the day. Even though the Tarheels would score late, this was the most complete the Irish looked all season, helping Freeman earn his first road win of the season.

Bad News: The Irish defense would give up 5 touchdown passes to North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Although the game never really seemed to be in doubt after the second quarter, Notre Dame’s defense probably let the score get a little closer than it should have in the second half.

October 8th

Notre Dame 28

BYU 20

Good News: For the first time since Ohio State, Notre Dame looked good against a formidable opponent. As if the college football world needed anymore proof, this was Michael Mayer’s coronation game catching 11 passes for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns and becoming Notre Dame’s all-time leading receiver for tight ends. Estime and Diggs would run for nearly 100 yards each. Jack Kiser, Prince Kollie, and Jayson Ademilola would each get credited with a sack as the Irish would go on to win their 11th straight Shamrock Series game, this time in Las Vegas, NV.

Bad News: I lost $200 at the MGM Grand in less than a half hour.

October 15th

Stanford 16

Notre Dame 14

Good News: The light show at the stadium looked cool?

Bad News: Well Irish fans found rock bottom. 106 total yards of offense against a team named after a singular bird. That singular bird was giving up nearly 33 points per game, yet after trailing 13-0 in the second half, Notre Dame could only manage a Pyne to Tobias Merriweather touchdown catch and an Estime touchdown run. The Irish defense helped make Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee look like John Elway as he threw for nearly 300 yards, sending Cardinal Coach David Shaw home a winner in his last trip to South Bend.

October 22nd

Notre Dame 44


Good News: After the Stanford loss, there was an uneasy feeling around Notre Dame. However, led by Isaiah Foskey’s not one, but two blocked punts, combined with his 3 sacks on the day, and Irish fans would finally take in a drama free game. Blake Grupe would add 3 field goals on the day, and the Brian Mason fan club would come to order. Mayer and Diggs would also have big games, and the world would fall in love with Mitchapalooza.

Bad News: The Irish defense gave up 142 rushing yards, including long runs of 74 and 47 yards to the Rebels running attack, who were without their leading rusher for the game.

October 29th

Notre Dame 41

Syracuse 24

Good News: The damage was done early as Brandon Joseph returned an interception for a score on the first play of the game. Led by Estime and Diggs the Irish would outrush Syracuse 246 yards compared to a measly 61. On defense Foskey, Ademilola, and Jordan Botelho would all get sacks, and in front of a raucous away crowd, Notre Dame would defeat the 16th ranked Orangemen.

Bad News: The Irish defense would give up 17 second half points to Syracuse who were playing with their backup quarterback after their starter left with an injury.

November 5th

Notre Dame 35

Clemson 14

Good News: Dabo went home a loser. The Irish looked as dominant as they have looked, since maybe ever. Botelho blocked a punt early in the game which was run in for a score by Prince Kollie. Freshman Benjamin Morrison would grab two interceptions including a 96 yard pick 6. There was even a fight right before half, and as is tradition when Clemson comes to South Bend, the fans stormed the field after the game. Quote Dabo in his post game press conference, “They kicked our butts. Period.” This game was huge for Freeman as it showed that the culture he is creating will not buckle to top ranked opponents, as was the case in previous years.

Bad News: The audience watching at home had to listen to Collingsworth and Garrett repeatedly try to pronounce Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei’s name.

November 12th

Notre Dame 35

Navy 32

Good News: With all due respect to Joe Montana and Dwight Clark who had the catch, Pyne and Braden Lenzy had THE catch. In what took a remarkable amount of skill, and maybe a little luck, Lenzy would catch a 38 yard pass from Pyne while wrapping his arms around the back of an unsuspecting Navy defender to secure the ridiculous catch, helping the Irish secure a 35-13 halftime lead. As it turns out, the Irish would need every single one of those points by the end of the day.

Bad News: The Irish had a frustrating second half meltdown nearly blowing the game to a resilient Navy squad. Notre Dame would not score a single point in the entire second half, while surrendering 19 points to the Midshipmen. There were missed tackles, missed adjustments, and the Irish looked uglier than my putting game. If Navy had recovered an onside kick with a little over a minute left in the game, this might have been a more devastating loss than the Stanford game for the Irish.

November 19th

Notre Dame 44

Boston College 0

Good News: This was a complete butt kicking in what turned out to be one of the more unique games of the entire season as a heavy snow storm blew through South Bend in the second half making visibility difficult. At one point the Irish were out rushing the Eagles 214 yards to 1. This game however was a masterclass for the defense as freshman phenom Morrison would finish the game with 3 interceptions and both Foskey and Marist Liufau would also recover fumbles on the day.

Bad News: Former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who did not play due to an injury, learned why it’s probably not a good idea to trash talk on instagram as he posted a note calling out Notre Dame’s integrity.

November 26th

Southern Cal 38

Notre Dame 27

Good News: Well, there was a large number of Irish fans at the Coliseum, but they didn’t have much to cheer for from the start. Pyne would finish with 318 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, and a costly interception as the Irish were driving in the second half. In what would turn out to be his final game in a Notre Dame uniform, Mayer would score a pair of touchdowns, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to keep Notre Dame in the game.

Bad News: This turned into the Caleb Williams show as he ran all over the Irish. Williams would finish the game going 18 of 22 for 232 yards and a touchdown pass, cementing his bid for this year’s Heisman Trophy after spending the day at the nail salon.

December 30th

Notre Dame 45

South Carolina 38

Good News: It was a strange lead up to the Gator Bowl as starter Drew Pyne announced his intent to enter the transfer portal. Rumors ran wild about Notre Dame signing a transfer quarterback. And the old starter, Tyler Buchner had recovered well enough from his season ending injury to earn the start. The game quickly turned into an instant classic as both the Irish and Gamecocks battled back and forth until Notre Dame would take the lead late in the 4th quarter. Buchner would finish the game throwing 3 touchdown passes, running for another 2, but also throwing 2 pick 6’s. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Morrison would also snag an interception on what turned out to be a special season for the freshman. There were still plenty of things needing to be fixed, but Irish fans went home hopeful that no matter what the transfer portal may bring, they had a gutsy quarterback that needed to knock some rust off, but wasn’t afraid to put his team on his back to lead them to victory.

Bad News: Eh, the roller coaster is over… at least for this year.

There were things that Irish fans could be proud of this season, as well as things that caused them to want to bang their heads against a wall. There were lessons Coach Freeman had to learn the hard way, as with most first year head coaches. However, most impressively Coach Freeman was able to create a culture that was no longer going to blink in the face of higher ranked teams.

The ride will start up again in August this time in Dublin, Ireland. No word on who will be the starting quarterback, or how the Irish will be able to replace stars like Foskey and Mayer who will be playing ball on Sundays from now on. The only thing known for certain, is Notre Dame fans looking to make the trip across the pond to Ireland probably better not fly Southwest, that’s a whole other roller coaster of a mess.

Photo credits: Gary McCullough AP, Joseph Maiorana - USA Today Sports, Michael Conroy AP, yahoo!sports, John Locher AP, Nam Y. Huh AP, Matt Cashore - USA Today Sports, Adrian Kraus AP, Terrance Williams AP, WSBT, Mark J. Terrill AP, Stefan Revenboer LocalToday.


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