How Notre Dame rediscovered its identity in the chaos of a Gator Bowl close-out - The Athletic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Marcus Freeman and Tyler Buchner had been pulled on stage, working during the postgame responsibilities that include being the head train or the quarterback. One bought a trophy. The other got MVP honors. Fifteen yards away, nonetheless down on the box, Notre Dame's offensive line got here along with fist bumps for graduate assistant Chris Watt and hugs for O-line instruct Harry Hiestand. Then the total community posed for a photo, commemorating the newest night on which Notre Dame's most desirable place on the field become the one that has pushed so lots of the software's recent success, a run now spanning head coaches, quarterbacks and coordinators.

The characters trade. The method doesn't.

When Notre Dame's offensive line can lift a video game plan whereas casting off an opponent's will, virtually anything is viable. That contains a intellect-bending forty five-38 win within the Gator Bowl against South Carolina, which Notre Dame pulled off with out two All-americans, its former beginning quarterback and three different starters on protection. The Irish may survive all those absences as a result of their line landed body blow after body blow on the Gamecocks, four quarters of tolls South Carolina couldn't pay.

"Put that s— on our backs," appropriate handle Blake Fisher shouted. "We're gonna focus on it each time."

The online game wasn't officially over unless Spencer Rattler's fourth down heave fell incomplete in the last minute, enabling Buchner to kneel out the closing few seconds. How Notre Dame received there didn't precisely go to plot, however the closing moments had been exactly what Freeman desired.

After a a hit South Carolina fake field aim and the primary of Buchner's two pick sixes gave the Gamecocks a seemingly comfy two-touchdown lead with the aid of the end of the primary quarter, the Irish vital each outdoor zone block and every blitz pickup to finish this volatile season in trend. An offense that stumbled out of the gate walked all over the place South Carolina in the 2nd half, racking up 149 yards dashing in the fourth quarter alone.

"in case you have the means to run the ball and the other team knows you're going to run it, that's should you know issues are rolling," Freeman talked about. "and they knew we have been going to run the ball. except the final snap, when they thought we had been going to run the ball and we didn't. but that's why we do these inner run drills. That's why you problem those guys up front."

At halftime, Freeman challenged each traces to bring. South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler had picked aside Notre Dame's defense below little drive. The Irish offensive line turned into tasked with carrying on with to observe drive unless the Gamecocks collapsed beneath the weight of it all. And that meant offensive coordinator Tommy Rees obligatory to reside affected person and aggressive, a difficult steadiness to strike within one game plan.

When Buchner hit Braden Lenzy for a 44-yard landing off play-action late in the third quarter, the play labored as a result of Notre Dame's offensive front turned into winning the line of scrimmage. When Buchner hit Mitchell Evans for the video game-successful touchdown with lower than two minutes to play, the name labored since the Irish run game was rolling. That's how a 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight conclusion can wander away in open areas.

"It went fantastically," Freeman said. "again, it's a credit score to how we were operating the ball. You know, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, after which a brief-yardage condition … it's a troublesome play for that protection, especially if you happen to're in a position to run the ball. but it surely become top notch execution with the aid of these guys."

It's not clear how a great deal of the Gator Bowl will lift into next season. The Irish are expected so as to add Wake wooded area quarterback Sam Hartman out of the transfer portal next month. Notre Dame had opt-outs (tight end Michael Mayer and side rusher Isaiah Foskey) and injuries (the Irish ended the Gator Bowl down three starters in the secondary) to create adversity that may additionally now not be there next September. Yet the Irish still left TIAA financial institution box with a distinct type of forward-facing confidence.

inspite of his position next year, Buchner can point to the Gator Bowl because the second he flashed the abilities Notre Dame noticed in his recruiting procedure. Buchner's athleticism accounted for 2 speeding touchdowns. He picked up cornerback blitzes in the flow game. He threw off-platform and altered arm angles. He flashed an skill to get Lenzy worried, too, like when he lofted that deep shot for the 44-yard ranking with adequate contact that the receiver could run below it.

Buchner additionally threw these two decide upon sixes that almost undid all that good work. the first became a tipped ball that felt like dangerous fortune. The second was a by no means-should-have-thrown-it circulate that Buchner double-clutched earlier than firing blindly to a waiting O'Donnell Fortune, who took it 100 yards the other way to tie the rating at 38 with 7:forty two to play.

Notre Dame answered with a 12-play, eighty-yard drive that chewed 6:01 of clock earlier than Evans' touchdown. Buchner attempted just three passes on the video game-successful possession. carries with the aid of Logan Diggs, Audric Estime and Chris Tyree basically accounted for the leisure. The online game ended with a most typical Notre Dame power, even though every thing that came earlier than felt international.

"Third and fourth quarter, that's our quarter," Diggs stated. "i'm going over to the O-line, and they have the identical seem of their eyes that I even have."

Buchner accomplished 18 of 33 for 274 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. His 12 rushes for sixty one yards and two scores signify a workload that backed up faith in his recuperation from September shoulder surgical procedure. The sneak Rees let Buchner run within the first half become a public all-clear for the quarterback's left shoulder.

"He's special, man," Freeman noted. "and i advised him on the sideline and instructed him after the game that there's many different examples we use him, Tyler Buchner, as an instance of a man that had a bumpy street. And the style he finished off this season, his first yr in having an opportunity to delivery and the capability to simply basically tune out all the noise and focal point on his job. And that's within bowl observe, inside a season, that's within a game. That's why I'm pleased with him."

If Freeman was one for self-congratulations, he could have provided some of those, too. It wasn't that lengthy in the past that the primary-yr head instruct became 0-three for his profession, losing at domestic to Marshall and dropping his starting quarterback. The mid-October loss to Stanford turned into the type of nadir that may sink a season. in its place, Notre Dame stored working and stored transforming into. maybe the instructions modified week through week, however the appetite for researching them did not.

That's why the Gator Bowl should still be so pleasing for Freeman, both as a result of how Notre Dame closed out South Carolina and how the Irish saved coming once they may have blinked. The software earned its postgame moments: JD Bertrand and Braden Lenzy leaping into the crowd for family unit photographs, position agencies getting pictures with their assistant coaches, somebody sneaking an inflatable alligator into the core of it all.

It turned into all a fine looking mess, the only normal half coming when Freeman obtained subsequent to correct shield Josh Lugg for "Notre Dame, Our mother." For the entire madness of Friday nighttime, some traditions don't exchange. Nor does the method for making sure Notre Dame sings as a winner.

just let the offensive line deal with it.

(photo: James Gilbert / Getty pictures)

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