Manti Te'o's Return To Notre Dame A Comfortable One, Long Before Netflix – Inside The Irish | NBC Sports

Manti Te’o did not need to partake in the recent two-part Netflix documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” The former star Notre Dame linebacker had found enough closure in his life after the chaos and dramatics of the 2012-13 winter, in no small part because he is now married with a one-year-old daughter and a son on the way. But to some extent, he wanted to do the documentary to give back to Notre Dame, among others.

“I didn’t think that it was important in the case of I needed to tell [my story],” Te’o said before the Irish beat Cal, 24-17, on Saturday. “When Netflix first approached me with the opportunity, I told them I didn’t feel the need to. I had experienced closure in my life, and I was at peace with where my life was and what it was going to be, what it could be for the rest of my life. I’m okay.”

Instead, the 2012 unanimous All-American now two seasons removed from his last NFL action saw an opportunity to vindicate anyone who stood by him as Deadspin threw accusations at him in early 2013.

“The main thing I wanted to make sure was there are a lot of you that really supported me over a long period of time that I didn’t give the facts to back everybody up,” he said. “It was kind of my attempt at saying, ‘Hey, listen, thank you for all your support, thank you for standing by me.; …

“With all the truth coming out and with the facts coming out, everybody got to see it. It’s almost like people were like, ‘I told you he was a good dude.’”

To Te’o, Notre Dame as a whole stood in that camp long before the well-received documentary. He has been back to campus a few times in the last decade, perhaps most notably in in 2018 following the sudden death of teammate Kona Schwenke that spring. South Bend has long been as comfortable a home to Te’o as his native Hawaii is. When a stranger bought Te’o and his family dinner on Friday night, unannounced and gone before Te’o could say thank you, that underscored the welcome feeling he has always felt in the cold of Indiana.

“Home is always going to be home,” he said. “On a good day, bad day, when you go home, that’s your sanctuary, and that’s what Notre Dame is for me.”

Here Te’o — a former professional football player who earned north of $10 million in his eight-year career and now owns two businesses, who still looks like he could be on the field with about a month’s worth of training, a devout man more grounded than the vast majority of those who ever applauded or derided him — offered one piece of relatability, something nearly anyone who has set foot on campus in the last decade will immediately understand.

“The only thing that makes it feel different is there’s a lot of buildings that weren’t here when I was here,” Te’o said, adding he would have gotten lost just driving from the airport. Though, some of the construction is welcomed’ Te’o offered a rave review of the new Irish Athletics Center, more commonly known as the indoor football field.

TE’O ON FREEMAN
Te’o gave an unexpected comparison when he was asked his thoughts on first-year Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman. While their defensive styles are wildly different — one “bend, don’t break” and one aggressive to a fault — Te’o sees similarities between Freeman and former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in how their players rally for them.

“Just somebody that you will literally do anything for,” Te’o said. “I think that, as a head coach, is the most important thing you could establish with your players.

“‘I will do anything for you.’ That’s what led to all of our success in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, because all of us guys would do anything for coach Diaco [and the rest of his defensive staff]. Now they have it as the head man, so what a great blessing and opportunity.”

ND – Cal #FourFaves pic.twitter.com/EWpU4n256R

— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) September 18, 2022

TE’O’S MESSAGE TO THE TEAM
Freeman asked Te’o to address the team on Friday. Still at 0-2 at that point, Te’o’s message to Notre Dame was one with more credence to it coming from someone who has experienced such public highs and lows in his life.

“That’s the greatest thing about football, it’s the greatest parallel to life,” he said he told the Irish. “It’s not going to start off the way you wanted it to. Keep going.

“Life’s not always the way that you want it to be. Keep going.

“You can’t do anything about 0-2, but you can do something about today.”

As that Cal Hail Mary falls incomplete, about the 24-second mark, you can see Freeman’s reserved reaction, undoubtedly thinking if he can get to the DBs right then and there to coach them up on how to handle that play. https://t.co/FZh8HibF5e

— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 19, 2022

INSIDE THE IRISH
Notre Dame defense, RB Audric Estime push Irish past Cal in miscue-filled afternoon
Highlights: Notre Dame 24, Cal 17 — A chaotic final minute, a repeated play call and late-game dominance from the Irish defensive line
Things We Learned: Notre Dame OL’s second-half surge against Cal a step forward despite ‘a long way to go’

OUTSIDE READING
“I love these kids and I love this place.” – Marcus Freeman
2022-23 leprechauns talk journeys to leading Notre Dame fans
JD Bertrand named to Allstate AFCA Good Works Team
Iowa football at 2 a.m.

Finish this game and I’ll never again call South Florida-Notre Dame circa 2011 “the last unique college football game.” https://t.co/FegV1lK6qn

— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 18, 2022

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Marcus Freeman’s verb tense caught back up with the present, and it was no coincidence that came immediately after Notre Dame (1-2) found the first win of his head-coaching career, beating Cal, 24-17.

“We are an O-line, D-line -driven program,” Freeman said Saturday. “Got to be able to run the ball, but you can’t just say this is what we’re going to do, that’s it. You have to be able to adjust to what is having success and to what an offense or defense is giving to you.”

A week ago, Freeman had to couch his aspirations for the program with an “if” qualifier. For the first half against the Bears, it looked like that would again be the case offensively, though the offensive line’s biggest issues early were repeated false starts and not failed blocks.

Instead of constant pressure plaguing him, the Irish skill-position players could not buoy junior quarterback Drew Pyne in his first career start. Dropped passes made his first few possessions look worse than they were, as did him missing a few open looks to preseason All-American junior tight end Michael Mayer. Less obvious but just as problematic, freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather failing to motion presnap when expected to led to an aborted third-down attempt deep in Cal territory.

“We have to have people that make the quarterback look good,” Freeman said. “A lot of the result of play falls on the shoulders of the quarterback, but there’s so much that happens during a play that really dictates the outcome.

“But the quarterback is going to have to answer to it.”

While a few moments of a particular phone call between Pyne and Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees garner most of the attention and were clearly aimed at Pyne’s mistakes, reminding him of others’ mishaps was assuredly a fine line to toe on the sideline. Giving the quarterback some leeway in acknowledging the stagnation was not entirely on him could not come at the cost of cutting into his trust in his teammates to make plays.

Regardless of who to blame, Notre Dame managed just seven points in the first half for the second consecutive week.

“We got to offensively start faster,” Freeman said Monday. “We just didn’t execute really those routine plays early in the game. A lot of the fault will fall on the shoulders of Drew, but it wasn’t all Drew. We had some drops, we had a couple penalties. Drew had some uncharacteristic throws.

“We just could not get it going early in the game. To really look at how it got flipped in the second half, we were able to establish a run game. What does that do? It opens up areas in the pass game.”

The Irish gained 109 yards in the first half on 30 plays. They gained 189 in the second half on 31 plays (not counting the final three-and-out for a loss of a yard as Notre Dame drained the game clock). Their first four possessions were three-and-outs, followed by a fumble before finally mounting a 10-play, 60-yard march for a touchdown. Six of Notre Dame’s seven first-half possessions were the exact opposite of “quality drives.”

Its first three second-half possessions resulted in scores, with only one genuine possession considered a waste.

What changed? That ground game, as Freeman said. “If” became “now.” Sophomore running back Audric Estimé and junior Chris Tyree combining to take 18 carries for 75 yards (again before that final three-and-out somewhat designed to pin Cal deep in its own territory) is far from glamorous, but a 4.2 yards per attempt average is a viable offensive approach.

It was no coincidence Pyne went 10-of-11 for 93 yards in the second half. Compared to his 7-of-12 for 57 yards in the first half, it was a difference of night and day, both in production and confidence.

“First, you’re like, ‘Okay, he’ll get it,’” Freeman said Saturday of Pyne’s early struggles. “You tap him on the shoulder pad.

“And then that’s not working, kind of went to the other end of the spectrum, ripped his butt a little bit. That didn’t work too much.”

Pyne finally relaxed, thanks in no small part to Estimé, Tyree and his offensive line.

“It helped, because you gain a little confidence in the running game in the second half, and then you start making those passes,” Freeman said.

That combination put enough points on the board for Freeman to now have every coach’s favorite opportunity, coach his team after a win. The Irish made plenty of mistakes Saturday, perhaps most notably in trying to intercept Cal’s heave on the final play rather than spiking it to the ground. Freeman had to restrain himself from pulling the defensive backs aside immediately and walking through that oversight.

Instead, he enjoyed the win for a moment.

“We didn’t execute for 60 minutes straight, but there was the execution when you needed it most,” he said Monday. “There’s a lot of good learning from the film. It’s always better to use those teaching opportunities after wins than it is after a loss.”

Not all the defensive backs made that mistake. Just a few plays earlier, it had been senior Cam Hart stepping in front of junior Clarence Lewis as Lewis dabbled in an interception return. Hart convinced Lewis to hit the turf, though the play was eventually invalidated by a targeting penalty on senior linebacker JD Bertrand that not only leaves Notre Dame yet without a forced turnover this season but will also sideline Bertrand for the first half at North Carolina (3:30 ET; ABC).

Similarly, for all the offensive line’s success in the second half, enough to change hopes of progress into tangible signs of it, the Irish could not hold onto the ball in the final minutes to remove any Bears’ chance of that tying touchdown. The second-half stats may offer a more accurate description of the game flow when ignoring that final drive — three Estimé rushes for four yards before a delay of game penalty, intentionally drawn, led to a punt into the end zone — but forgetting that drive’s failure glosses over the work still ahead of Notre Dame to become the O-line and D-line -driven program Freeman demands.

The defensive line responded by pressuring Cal quarterback Jack Plummer, including the final sack of its six in the game. But the reality was, the Bears never should have gotten back possession.

“You’re starting to see some consistency out of that group,” Freeman said of the offensive line. “[Fifth-year left guard Jarrett Patterson], this is his second game. Those guys have been together for three games. They’re getting better.

“They’re improving. The fundamentals, the execution, the techniques they’re playing with are improving. They have a long way to go.”

A long way to go while driving Notre Dame as far as it will go in 2022. In Saturday’s second half, they drove enough.

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman said he had a conversation with God. Just when it looked like Notre Dame had clinched him his first win with a Clarence Lewis interception, a targeting flag on Irish captain JD Bertrand gave Cal new life. Then Freeman’s first head-coaching triumph looked to have an exclamation point as Tariq Bracy raced into the end zone with a recovered fumble in tow, only for Bears quarterback Jack Plummer to have been ruled down beforehand.

As much as Freeman didn’t want to think about the worst while Notre Dame clung to a 24-17 lead, it was only human nature.

“That’s the challenge,” Freeman said. “Our minds can drift, mine included, to the outcome, to the future, to ‘Okay, last week … if we can beat Cal,’ but you can’t work like that. The minute that happens, get your mind back to what it takes to give yourself a chance to have success.”

Freeman could at least work on the defensive play calls each time Cal got the ball back. Junior running back Chris Tyree could do nothing but watch as Plummer heaved the ball toward the end zone and it bounced through four players’ hands — credit to Jac Collinsworth for adding seven additional ‘I’s to “is” as that call (below) suddenly needed to be elongated, presumably not an intentional reference to Clay Davis’ catchphrase.

“I was telling [safeties DJ Brown and Brandon Joseph], they almost gave me a heart attack out there at the end of the game,” Tyree said. “It’s really exciting football to watch, especially when it goes down to the wire like that. That’s going to be a moment we never forget.”

Barroom hypotheticals years from now will wonder what if Cal had held onto that pass. Would the Bears have gone for two and the win sans overtime? Logically, it would have made sense, but it is a fool’s errand to predict what a head coach is going to do in that decisive moment. Either way, senior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey would not have worried.

He was certain the Irish would retain that tenuous lead, as they did to give Freeman a head-coaching win and halt some of the short-circuited panics outside the program.

“It was a roller coaster for sure,” Lacey said. “… We knew if we were on the field, the game was going to be over, regardless. We weren’t worried about the next play. We weren’t worried about them scoring. We just knew we had to execute, and that’s what we did.”

If there was a turning point of this game, it was when Plummer’s final pass found the turf with four zeros on the clock. But before that, Lacey’s confidence was increasingly valid as Notre Dame made Plummer’s life miserable in the fourth quarter. On four separate drives, the Irish brought down the Purdue transfer in the backfield. It was not a coincidence that Cal did not manage another first down on any of those drives following the sacks.

In the first 11 quarters of the season, up until that fourth quarter, Notre Dame had managed six total sacks. Putting Plummer on his backside with frequency turned the Irish defensive front into the expected force it was entering the season.

“It’s everything we worked for,” Lacey said after notching two of the day’s six sacks. “It’s one of our keys to victory, finishing in the fourth quarter. We talk about it every week. We fell short a couple times, but now we’re on the right track. We can still do even better, we still had some mistakes.”

STAT OF THE GAME
At this point, it is almost comical, given how that final Cal drive unfolded, but Notre Dame is now through three full games this season having not yet forced a turnover. There is some precedent to that, given the Irish did not force a turnover in four separate games in 2020 and three in 2017, but those were all separated, not a streak like this stretch.

Grouping games in a row may be too convenient, especially when discussing a sport featuring an oblong ball, but the fact remains, Notre Dame has not forced a turnover in 2022, obviously excluding the three fumbles recovered on New Year’s Day.

Freeman saw the Irish clawing at the ball against the Bears, encouragement enough to ease his concerns.

“I did see it was more deliberate,” he said. “We were trying to get the ball out. DJ Brown gets a penalty for trying to rip the ball out, and he throws the guy down. We have to stop on the whistle, and that was the right call, but it was deliberate.

“We just can’t buy one at the end of the game. JD (Bertrand) gets the targeting, almost get a chance the last play of the game.”

Of the 11 games since 2017 in which Notre Dame did not force a turnover before this year, it went 8-3, with two of those losses coming in the costly November of 2017 and the other against Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff semifinal.

Not to look ahead to next week at North Carolina (3:30 ET; ABC or ESPN) too quickly, but the Tar Heels have turned over the ball four times through three games.

PLAY OF THE GAME
More than usual, the play of the game less one play and more a repeated play call. Trailing 10-7 shortly after halftime, gifted a 1st-and-10 just 14 yards from the end zone, the Irish did away with flair. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees dispensed with creativity. Speed on the edges may be what separates college football’s few title contenders from the rest, but in that moment, all Notre Dame needed was some old-fashioned bully ball.

So Rees called the same play four times in a row. Without knowing the football-ese play call, all Rees probably needed to say into his headset was, “Audric, up the middle, again.” Blunt communication from the coaches’ booth could have been the modus operandi of the day.

“We ran the same play four times,” junior quarterback Drew Pyne said. “Our O-line was battling their butts off. We give the ball to [sophomore running back Audric Estime], he falls forward. I trust those guys. It’s pretty easy when I can just hand it off and score a touchdown.”

If the measure of an offense’s most basic competence is its ability to gain a yard when it needs to gain a yard, successfully relying on Estime and the offensive line was as notable a shift for the Irish as those sacks provided by Lacey & Co. were on the other side of the ball. Notre Dame exerted its will, capped off by Estime’s dive across the goal line from a yard out.

“Don’t stop,” Estime said after finishing the day with 76 yards on 18 carries. “You keep doing things that work. That play was working. We had the momentum. The O-line was just pushing guys off the line and opening up holes for me. We just executed and finished that drive. We ran the same four plays, if it works, don’t stop.”

MINDSET OF THE GAME
That chaotic final minute was not the only moment human nature threatened the proper sideline headspace. When Cal responded to Estime’s touchdown with its own 10-play, 75-yard trip to the end zone to retake a 17-14 lead, Freeman could sense the Irish sideline veering toward déjà vu. The first-year head coach stopped it in its tracks.

“I said, this isn’t going to be a repeat. This isn’t going to be here we go again. We’re going to change the outcome of this game.”

Notre Dame scored on its next two drives while giving up only 81 yards on the Bears’ final 23 plays. If nothing else, that was the first time the Irish scored on consecutive drives this season.

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s passing game misfired for most of the day, to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ understandable chagrin. Snapping the ball sometimes became an Irish worry, the most basic part of an offense suddenly concerning. Third downs were repeatedly compounded with false starts. But when Notre Dame (2-1) needed an efficient, game-winning drive, all those offensive worries disappeared.

Irish quarterback Drew Pyne found star tight end Michael Mayer for a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Notre Dame a 24-17 win against Cal (2-1) on Saturday, the first victory of Marcus Freeman’s head-coaching career coming in Pyne’s first-career start.

“It’s hard to win football games,” Freeman said. “It’s hard. You’ve seen it in these first three games.

“I’m so proud of that group of guys to find a way to finish. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do. We have to get better, but tonight is going to be about celebrating this victory.”

That victory was not assured until quite literally all 60 minutes had passed, with the Bear’s final heave toward the end zone bouncing around varous players’ hands for so long it may have felt like another week of anxiety on the Irish sideline. When it escaped the grasp of the last Cal receiver, Freeman could finally breath easier, even if his core nature wanted to leap right into coaching up his team on its many miscues and mistakes.

“I keep trying to tell myself to enjoy it,” he said. “There’s a lot of coaching that happened on that field today that we can learn from, but if you don’t take a minute to enjoy these things, you’re going to regret it.

“That’s what I keep reminding myself, enjoy this victory.”

The one offensive drive that should elicit no coaching notes was the seven-play, 66-yard drive culminating in Mayer’s second touchdown of the year. That third-quarter march was the first display of offensive efficiency from Notre Dame not only all afternoon, but all season.

Sophomore running back Audric Estime began the possession with a simple three-yard run, but by that point, the Bears needed to respect the threat of Estime’s physical ground game after he had powered the previous Irish touchdown drive. Rees and Pyne then alternated Estime touches with plays for more dynamic Notre Dame playmakers — junior running back Chris Tyree gained 11 yards on two plays while sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles caught a six-yard pass, perhaps meager numbers on the surface but ones that kept a drive moving and multi-dimensional.

Estime then caught a quick pass and rumbled for 32 yards before stumbling untouched to just short of the 5-yard line. Cal may have expected the bowling ball in cleats to get a few carries on the ensuing snaps, as he had run twice from inside the 3-yard line on the previous Irish touchdown drive — “You give the ball to Audric, he falls forward,” Pyne said — but instead Pyne found Mayer wide open.

The preseason All-American would finish with only two catches for 10 yards, while Pyne threw for 150 yards and two scores on 17-of-23 passing. Though they connected just twice, Pyne targeted Mayer as much as anyone else, one of three players with five targets from Pyne (Tyree and Styles). The two scores — the first coming on a 21-yard seam route to Tyree — made Pyne’s day look better on paper than it was. He lost a fumble on one snap and narrowly dodged that fate on another. But in his first start against a stout Cal offense, things could certainly have gone worse.

Until that drive culminating in the Mayer touchdown, it seemed things would. Pyne twice missed Mayer for significant gains within three plays in the first half, prompting Rees to express distinct frustration from the coaches’ booth. To sum up his day in a way only understood by those who paid attention to the NBC broadcast, “I saw that video,” Pyne said with a grin of Rees’ coaching displeasure.

Not that the issues were Pyne’s alone. Dropped passes were among his six incompletions. On four separate third downs in the first half, Notre Dame false starts turned manageable distances into stretches, with three of the culprits being seniors or fifth-year veterans. While the Irish defense was holding the Bears largely in check — Cal’s first touchdown drive covered only 33 yards following Pyne’s fumbled snap — Notre Dame’s offense scuffled and stymied itself to a halftime deficit.

Estime’s straight-forward approach for four straight carries in the third quarter provided the first sign the Irish offense would find a way Saturday.

Trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, Notre Dame needed to gain a yard at the goal line to prove its offense had some measure of potency. A targeting call against the Bears prolonged an Irish drive, gifting Rees’ offense a 1st-and-10 at the 14-yard line. Rees then called upon Estime four straight times, and he delivered, taking the fourth of those carries across the goal line for a brief Notre Dame lead.

Cal would respond in relatively short order, but the Irish had found a proof of concept. Estime finished with 76 yards on 18 carries, a 4.2 yards per attempt average that became Notre Dame’s backstop against another all-too-familiar ineffective showing and the primary piece of a ground attack that gained 157 yards on 39 rushes, a 4.03 yards per carry average (sacks adjusted).

“I wanted to run the ball,” Freeman said. “I felt like we were moving the ball and let’s continue to run it, but you can’t run the ball the whole game. To me that opens up some holes in the pass game.”

Including the hole to Mayer for the win.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
After telling NBC’s Zora Stephenson this win would be “one of many to come,” Freeman was already thinking about the week that was and the week that thus will be.

“It was a tough week, for all of us, for me on down,” he said. “We had to really look at ourselves and really say what do we have to do to enhance. Sometimes you don’t want to hear it, you don’t want to know where the negative aspects of what you’re doing are. …

“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we found a way.

“We’re going to have do that after a victory. We’re going to have to go back on Sunday — enjoy this thing tonight — and take a deep dive into where can we execute better.”

SCORING SUMMARY
Second Quarter
14:27 — Cal touchdown. J. Michael Studivant 18-yard pass from Jack Plummer. Dario Longhetto PAT good. Cal 7, Notre Dame 0. (4 plays, 33 yards, 0:26)
8:54 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Tyree 21-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Blake Grupe PAT good. Cal 7, Notre Dame 7. (10 plays, 60 yards, 5:28)
4:11 — Cal field goal. Longhetto 34 yards. Cal 10, Notre Dame 7. (10 plays, 69 yards, 4:43)

Third Quarter
9:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Audric Estime 1-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Cal 10. (9 plays, 60 yards, 4:00)
4:48 — Cal touchdown. Plummer 1-yard rush. Longhetto PAT good. Cal 17, Notre Dame 14. (10 plays, 75 yards, 4:26)

Fourth Quarter
14:48 — Notre Dame field goal. Grupe 47 yards. Cal 17, Notre Dame 17. (10 plays, 46 yards, 5:00)
9:16 — Notre Dame touchdown. Michael Mayer 6-yard pass from Pyne. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Cal 17. (7 plays, 66 yards, 3:46)

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — So begins the Drew Pyne Era for the Notre Dame Irish. Stepping in for injured starter Tyler Buchner was never how Pyne wanted to take over the QB1 role, but the Irish (0-2) will need him to exceed all expectations, regardless.

“It’s an honor to be able to help this team win,” Pyne said Tuesday. “But for me, it’s easy to fall into a trap and have this affect me many different ways. I’m focused on one thing and that’s preparing as hard as I can for Cal and practicing as hard as I can to be able to have success this week.”

The unbeaten Cal Bears have relied on a stout defense for years, the specialty of head coach Justin Wilcox, so suffice it to say, Pyne is being thrown into the deep end.

TIME: 2:30 ET, with kickoff officially slated for 2:39 ET. This NBC-specific kickoff time will be missed next week when Notre Dame faces North Carolina later in the afternoon.

Winds may kick up during the game, blowing from the southwest, but otherwise, the weather will remain ideal for mid-September football with temperatures cresting in the mid-80s.

TV: NBC will broadcast the Irish chase of their first win of the season and of the Marcus Freeman Era, while Peacock will also carry the game live if preferring to stream it. Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett will man the booth with Zora Stephenson along the sidelines.

PREVIEW: As much as the Irish offense has struggled this season, and there is no way to look at it otherwise, Buchner’s legs had been a consistent catalyst. He had rushed for two touchdowns and six first downs this season, with the chains moving a seventh time due to drawing a penalty, while Notre Dame’s running backs have managed just one touchdown and four first downs.

With Pyne stepping in for Buchner, it becomes nearly impossible to project the Irish offense at the moment. So little has been seen of Pyne behind center.

Since stepping in for Jack Coan in the second halves of back-to-back games early last season, Pyne did not see action again in Notre Dame’s final eight games, just as he didn’t in the season opener at Ohio State. His late action against Marshall included a touchdown pass, but an interception before that snuffed out the last genuine Irish hopes.

Head coach Marcus Freeman said Notre Dame’s offense should not change much with Pyne in place of Buchner, even if the latter’s mobility was a differentiating factor in the preseason quarterback competition.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner out for season with shoulder injury; Drew Pyne to start
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

“I don’t see the offense, in terms of the entire package, changing because of Drew being the quarterback,” Freeman said Monday. “But I do want to try and look and say, ‘Okay, where can we do more for them as an offense?’”

But offensive coordinator Tommy Rees hinted at some possible changes on Tuesday. Frankly, Freeman’s coachspeak aside, it is hard to envision Pyne carrying the ball on as many designed runs as Buchner does, even if Rees described Pyne as “niftier than people give him credit for.”

“We know what [Pyne is] good at,” Rees said. “He knows what he’s good at. We have to make sure that he keeps that in the front of the mind. I have to call a game that highlights that.”

Rees understandably would not delve into those details. Facing a defensive mind like Wilcox’s is difficult enough without giving him bullet points to ready for.

The greatest attributes often assigned to Pyne are his confidence and care level. Positive characteristics, to be sure, they matter less on the field on Saturdays. At that point, his arm strength may be near the top of the list, as is an ability to keep his eyes downfield while buying time outside the pocket. Playing for both the Blue and the Gold in Notre Dame’s spring game, Pyne’s 22-of-33 for 185 yards was an ugly showing, but the required red jersey reined in his prediliction to ease away from pressure.

How he is able to show that tendency against the Bears may be the greatest determination of if the Irish offense will be ineffective all season or if it starts to show signs of life.

QB1 reporting for duty.
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— Tyler James (@TJamesND) September 13, 2022

PREDICTION: The sportsbook valuation of Buchner vs. Pyne has been an intriguing one to watch this week. Notre Dame had been a 13.5-point favorite when looking ahead to this game, but with the news official on Monday that Buchner will miss the rest of the season, the line fell as low as -9.0.

As the week progressed, that ticked back upward. Consider it a correction to an overreaction, with PointsBet favoring the Irish by 12.0 as of Friday evening with a combined points total Over/Under of 40.5.

That total has not moved back and forth throughout the week. It simply fell on Sunday. No one expects this game to take on an offensive tilt.

But what if Rees is most comfortable calling an offense with a quarterback with a skill set like Pyne’s? That approach may not maximize the talent on Notre Dame’s roster, but at the present moment, Rees and the Irish have no choice. Buchner is out. Pyne is starting. And his game is awfully reminiscent of not only Rees’ but also Ian Book’s, with whom Rees enjoyed great success.

Supposedly undersized quarterbacks with more mobility than realized, though far from dual-threats, may just be how Rees works best. At least, to this point in his career it may be how he works best.

If that is the case, then the correction to the overreaction makes sense, and that total could be threatened.

It would still be a surprise, of course. The Irish offense has not produced through two weeks, and putting faith in it has very much become a “Believe it when I see it” proposition. The same can be said for an opposing offense finding regular success against Notre Dame’s defense.

The Irish have given up just 40 points through two weeks, most of which came via long touchdown drives reliant on the run. That is one threat Cal will not bring into Notre Dame Stadium. A week ago against UNLV — a defense that gave up more than 215 rushing yards in four separate games last season and at least 5.4 yards per carry in five different games — the Bears ran for only 92 yards with 2.9 yards per rush.

The greatest Irish defensive weakness, and not one of wholesale concern at that, is not something Cal will be able to exploit. With that in mind, Rees and Pyne may not need to scheme their way to many points to find Freeman his first career win.

Notre Dame 24, Cal 10
(Spread: 1-1; Over/Under: 1-1; Straight-up: 1-1)

Narrow it down to as a dog of at least 9.5 and he’s 10-3 ATS with five outright wins. Last year Cal was a double-digit dog twice and lost by seven and two…

— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) September 14, 2022

AN ADDITIONAL GAME DAY NOTE
Notre Dame will be in green today. No, this is not a motivational ploy. The Irish announced this choice back in June in response to the common refrain that Notre Dame would encourage fans to wear green once a season without wearing green itself.

🗣🗣IRISH WEAR GREEN
vs Cal
Sept. 17

(and YES, we’re wearing green jerseys) pic.twitter.com/SwMtX0Fzl4

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) June 30, 2022

If there is a difference to note in the jerseys today, it is not the color. It is that the Irish will have nameplates on the back of the jerseys for a game at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since … no, really, we’re not sure.

𝐈𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐡 𝐖𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐆𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐧 pic.twitter.com/mXYPZWCj3q

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 15, 2022

INSIDE THE IRISH
Marcus Freeman predicted Notre Dame would need two QBs; past and present prove him right
Quality of Clemson and USC remains unknown despite top-10 rankings
And In That Corner … Unbeaten Cal Bears head to Notre Dame as two-score underdogs
Things To Learn: Unfamiliar territory forces Notre Dame to rely on pride to find desired Saturday outcome vs Cal
Friday at 4: A shortened honeymoon doesn’t change the reasons for Notre Dame’s marriage to Marcus Freeman
How to watch Notre Dame vs Cal tomorrow and the Irish all season: TV, Peacock info for 2022

OUTSIDE READING
Football weekend events: Notre Dame vs. California
Cal vs Notre Dame odds, picks and predictions
Charles in charge: Marshall’s Huff is college football’s next great coach
EA Sports College Football: The rise, fall — and return — of a beloved video game
Bucks’ Pat Connaughton ‘itching to get back’ after ‘real offseason’ and contract extension
Rams put Kyren Williams on IR, sign Matt Overton

Cal ND SOW
Twitter | @statsowar

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