Notre Dame’s most unorthodox season opens with conventional win against Duke

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — ACC logos on the field, a young running back getting a chance to impress and only 10,097 fans in the stands; gold on their helmets, an inconsistent offensive showing and two years added onto Brian Kelly’s contract. The more things change at Notre Dame, the more they stay the same.

The Irish defense stood firm enough in scoring situations to provide the backbone of a 27-13 Notre Dame victory against Duke, with sophomore Kyren Williams scoring the first two Irish touchdowns. He finished the day with 112 rushing yards on 19 carries, a 7.6 yards per rush average, as well as two catches for 93 yards.

As the game moved along, the sputtering offense found a slight bit more rhythm, though that was a low bar to clear after the first quarter included all of seven yards. All the same, Notre Dame (1-0, 1-0 ACC) used the break between quarters to announce a three-year contract extension for head coach Brian Kelly, a deal originally reached in December but not announced until the Irish could return to the football field.

“When the University transitioned to remote learning in March, we decided to wait to make this announcement until we were able to return our attention to football being back in action,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in a statement.

Saturday’s rust should hardly color the reaction to that extension. The delay in its announcement comes from the same source as fifth-year quarterback Ian Book’s rust did. Attention was not on football — assuredly Book’s was, but far from the usual structures of spring practices, offseason conditioning and preseason practices sans distraction.

“It’s difficult to duplicate game-like speed when you haven’t had that for such a long time,” Kelly said. “So my expectation was that it was going to be a process that we just had to be patient, and you saw we were patient and we stuck with what we were doing, and we had to make some adjustments at halftime.

“We looked like the team we should have in the second half after we made some adjustments and settled into some things. I thought we took control of the game in the second half.”

Taking control in the second half featured 202 yards while giving up only 82 yards. The Irish had the ball for 17:46 in the latter half, after just 13:26 in the first half. Book used an 8-0f-14 second half to finish the day 19-of-31 for 263 yards and a touchdown.

And in another rendition of things staying the same, Kelly expects more from Book before long. In an example of them changing, Kelly puts much of Book’s growth on the skill players at his disposal; so few of them contributed at al last year, there will need to be time to work into the offense, time not had in spring or this preseason.

“Ian Book has a whole new offensive group of skill players around him, and he’s still working through that process,” Kelly said. “It’s not in a situation where he knows exactly where they are going to be. …

“At times Ian wants to be great, and he can’t be great yet because those guys are young and they need some more time. So just some of those easy plays and he’ll be fine.”

Thus, an inconsistent offensive showing made sense, just as it made sense an athletic specimen made two decisive defensive stops to keep the Irish afloat in the first half. Twice the Blue Devils got well into the red zone, once looking for the afternoon’s first score and once looking to retake the lead. Twice sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey got into the Duke backfield to curtail the drive, forcing a field goal on each occasion.

Foskey’s play gave Book and the offense time to find footing beyond Williams. Once they did, two fourth-quarter scores followed, furthering the thinking that their initial struggles stemmed from the nine-month layover between even mildly competitive snaps.

That layover finally ended. That fact alone brings some renewed stability to Notre Dame, just as Kelly’s contract extension will for the program as a whole.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Every so often, a piece of historical praise is heaped on a player that sounds like there is a comparison coming. 

“He did something that had not been done here in 25 years — receiving yards over 90, rushing yards over 90, pretty good opener for him,” Kelly said of Williams’ first genuine collegiate action, leaving the open-ended question of who matched that in 1995.

But as often as not, “25 years” is included only because the media relations department was able to get back just that far before its postgame duties began. In other words, Williams’ day was so impressive, we are not sure of the last Irish player to match it.

What may stand out most about his day is not the way he refused to be denied on the first score or the way he utilized fifth-year senior receiver Javon McKinley’s block to reach the end zone a second time, but rather, his patience. Williams took 13 carries for 39 yards in the first half. He was, quite frankly, not getting any blocking and going nowhere.

In the second half, Williams rumbled for 73 yards on just six rushes.

“We knew 2-3 yard gains would burst into big gains,” Williams said. “So we knew if we kept doing that, then those big gains would come. …

“It took about a couple drives to get my flow, to finally be able to relax, breath, be the player I am.”

Coming from a sophomore whose only real chance as a freshman was a one-play cameo featuring a dropped pass, That level of calm and confidence is unexpected but welcome for Notre Dame.

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame’s offense had not found its stride. Duke’s was nearing its. The Blue Devils were on the Irish 2-yard line, hoping to cap off what was to that point a 90-yard drive with a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.

Instead, Foskey came around the edge and got to Clemson graduate transfer quarterback Chase Brice before he could throw the ball away. It was the second time Foskey had blown up a Brice thought in the backfield in the red zone, the first coming when Notre Dame dropped its defensive tackles into coverage and confused Duke’s offensive line, a new wrinkle from defensive coordinator Clark Lea and defensive line coach Mike Elston.

“Some people would be happy that [Foskey] would be their featured player and he’s a depth player for us,” Kelly said. He’s an outstanding football player, let’s just put it that way, and we are just blessed that we have a lot of depth and you saw that starting to kind of show itself.”

The 9-yard sack cost the Blue Devils any hopes of a fourth-down attempt, forced a field goal and preserved the Irish lead. Notre Dame scored the next 10 points, and Duke never again had the ball while within one possession.

PLAY OF THE GAME
On the previous Irish drive into the red zone, Book wasted a 75-yard screen pass to Williams by firing a short pass to junior tight end Tommy Tremble about twice as hard as it should have been, not to mention on a well-covered route. The subsequent deflection led to an interception and more shuffling of Notre Dame’s feet.

“What I said to Ian on the sideline was he has to make some of the easy plays, the layups, if you will,” Kelly said of this third-year starter.

Book’s 17-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Avery Davis was hardly a layup. Instead, one of the “really good things” Kelly said Book did, as well. Mostly, though, Davis deserves credit for perhaps the most impressive grab of his ripe-with-position-changes career.

“It was just a seam, man coverage, he covered me pretty well,” Davis said. “But when the ball was in the air, I just needed it. Couldn’t let that opportunity pass.”

STAT OF THE GAME
The last thing anyone needs to do is add hype to the conversation around freshman running back Chris Tyree. The heralded recruit may be the only player whose public perception was somehow aided by the lack of practice reports this offseason. There was never a chance to temper expectations, and then he returned the first Duke kickoff a quick 38 yards, with an emphasis on quick.

He also took six carries for 20 yards. Those may seem like modest numbers, but they elicit a comparison to two freshmen from a few years back.

In the 2015 opener, a 38-3 victory against Texas, freshman Josh Adams took five carries for 49 yards while classmate Dexter Williams gained 24 yards on seven attempts.

SECOND STAT OF THE NIGHT
Notre Dame has never lost a conference game.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
The University had previously said it would allow up to 15,525 fans into the Stadium, exactly 20 percent of its capacity. Only 10,097 turned out, with approximately 90 percent of them students, an understandable downtick given the 48 hours before the game were spent pondering the very real possibility of thunderstorms delaying the 2020 season further.

Anyone claiming they thought a 12 percent-filled stadium would create a viable atmosphere would be spouting nonsense, but when Davis admitted as much and then granted the crowd credit, he came across as authentic.

“Honestly I was expecting a lot less,” he said. “I didn’t think there would be that many people in there, so to see them and to hear them and feel their energy, that was really exciting.”

INJURY UPDATE

 

Northwestern graduate transfer receiver Ben Skowronek had a hamstring injury, per Kelly, “Not severe but enough that he couldn’t play at 100 percent.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
7:01 — Duke field goal. Charlie Ham 29 yards. Duke 3, Notre Dame 0. (10 plays, 79 yards, 3:53)

Second Quarter
10:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 1-yard rush. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Duke 3. (12 plays, 96 yards, 4:37)
3:20 — Duke field goal. Ham 30 yards. Notre Dame 7, Duke 6. (11 plays, 80 yards, 4:12)
0:00 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 48 yards. Notre Dame 10, Duke 6. (9 plays, 54 yards, 1:13)

Third Quarter
7:57 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 26-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Duke 6. (7 plays, 59 yards, 3:32)
2:19 — Duke touchdown. Chase Brice 2-yard rush. Ham PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Duke 13. (6 plays, 39 yards, 2:24)

Fourth Quarter
10:58 — Notre Dame touchdown. Avery Davis 17-yard pass from Ian Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Duke 13. (15 plays, 83 yards, 6:14)
5:21 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 34 yards. Notre Dame 27, Duke 13. (6 plays, 40 yards, 3:45)

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

Clemson v Notre Dame
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Recapping these preseason predictions bit by bit has emphasized how much of a see-saw Notre Dame’s 2022 was. They expected decent Irish success at Ohio State to open the season, which was realized. They then plainly assumed Notre Dame would continue to wallop overmatched opponents as Brian Kelly made the default.

Instead, Marcus Freeman stubbed his toe twice as first-year head coaches are wont to do, rendering that stretch of predictions largely flawed.

Now, the predictions tilt into early November, expecting little from the Irish. Of course, that was exactly when Freeman delivered the defining moment of his debut campaign.

21) “Notre Dame will top last year’s 41 sacks, which was a Kelly Era high. The Ademilola twins, junior defensive end Rylie Mills and at least one linebacker will each make at least three sacks.”

The first part of that fell inarguably short, 38 clearly less than 41. But the next sentence held more merit. Defensive end Justin Ademiloa and twin brother tackle Jayson Ademilola each had three sacks while Mills added 3.5. No linebacker reached three unless willing to still count Jordan Botelho as a linebacker with his 4.5 sacks. Given two of those came in the Gator Bowl when Botelho was clearly a defensive end, that would be generous grading. Instead, this entire prediction should be considered wrong, alas. (12/21)

22) Did this space continue publishing as planned after the Minnesota Timberwolves home opener? The running content calendar says a “Leftovers & Links” column ran on Oct. 20, the day after. Take the wins where you can find them, especially as a Timberwolves fan. (13/22)

23) The Irish had won 25 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents entering the season. Predicting that would reach 27 meant predicting Notre Dame would beat North Carolina and Syracuse. Check and check. (14/23)

24) That did not push the Irish into the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, as predicted, thanks to the mishaps against Marshall and Stanford. (14/24)

25) And here comes a stretch of predictions predicated in pessimism, focused on how Notre Dame would fare against Clemson. The Irish had won 16 straight games in November entering the 2022 season. Suggesting that would end at 16 was suggesting Notre Dame would lose to Clemson on the first weekend of November.

Rather, that was the win in Freeman’s first season that will be long remembered. (14/25)

26) That expected loss was based on Clemson’s defensive front holding Notre Dame’s ground game in check. There was no expectation the Irish would dominate there with 264 rushing yards on 46 carries after adjusting for a single one-yard sack. Logan Diggs ran for 114 yards on 17 carries while Audric Estimé took 18 rushes for 104 yards. (14/26)

27) That loss did not knock Clemson out of the College Football Playoff. The Tigers messing around and finding out against South Carolina did that. But regardless, predicting Clemson would return to the Playoff was ill-fated. (14/27)

28) Notre Dame was 30-1 in its last 31 home games entering the season. Predicting that would reach 35-2 in step with suggesting the Irish would lose to the Tigers was wrong in all sorts of ways, most notably in that the stretch is now 34-3 after Notre Dame went just 4-2 at home last season. Again, Marshall and Stanford. (14/28)

29) Boston College receiver Zay Flowers did not have the predicted 40-yard catch on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. He had a long of 39 yards on a snow-covered field playing with a backup quarterback.

The spirit of the prognostication was valid, but alas. (14/29)

30) Former Irish tight end George Takacs did not catch a touchdown in his return with the Eagles. No one did. (14/30)

31) And former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec did not have a “perfectly adequate day in his return to South Bend, not dramatic enough in any regard to confirm or deny anyone’s expectations for him that day.”

Jurkovec did not play at all, so let’s call this wager a push. He did, however, make some headlines from the sideline.

There is a strong chance this prediction is rerun in its entirety in 2023 with Jurkovec and Pittsburgh heading to South Bend on Oct. 28. (14.5/31)

Leftovers & Links: Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Notre Dame at Ohio State
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The first two notable dates of college football’s offseason passed last week, the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal before the spring semester and the deadline to enter the NFL draft. The former hardly warranted much notice at Notre Dame, only three players entering the portal after the 2022 season. While plenty did transfer from other programs, a mid-May look at that movement may better serve Irish purposes, as plenty of names will eventually leave Notre Dame.

The NFL deadline has no second passing. Players are either headed toward the NFL draft by now or they are not.

The Irish lost five players to early entry to the NFL, though two of those instances were offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Justin Ademilola, both of whom would have been returning for sixth collegiate seasons in 2023. So in a more genuine sense, Notre Dame lost only three players early to the NFL draft: tight end Michael Mayer, defensive end Isaiah Foskey and safety Brandon Joseph.

All five would have started for the Irish next season, obviously. But at most, Ademilola’s and Joseph’s declarations were surprises, and even those were only mild at most.

College football will slowly churn back toward college careers following “normal” timelines and more tenable roster management the further it gets from the universal pandemic eligibility waiver from 2020. That will not take all the way until the 2025 season. Coaches are already leaning toward it.

While Notre Dame would have gladly welcomed back Patterson and/or Ademilola, it also knew two realities.

1) Patterson should be a second- or third-round draft pick who could have gone to the NFL a year ago. His time is now.
2) A year of Ademilola’s production would come at the expense of the development of younger players that may already be on the verge, somewhat deflating the value of his return.

In a parallel way, coaching staffs fall into two categories.

1) Either they are doing well and trust they can recruit better players than any draft debaters now. Leaning into continued successful recruiting lengthens the timeline these coaches expect to continue to succeed.
2) Or they are failing and soon fired. A new coach would rather bring in new players, “his players,” to reboot the program.

In both scenarios, fewer and fewer sixth-year players will be seen around college football long before the 2025 season rules them out entirely.

All of that is to say, when discussing entrants into the NFL draft, it is more and more accurate to focus on the juniors (like Mayer) and the seniors (Foskey, Joseph) rather than the half-decade veterans. Those losses from Notre Dame’s 2023 opponents, in order of most severe to least …

Ohio State: Losing quarterback C.J. Stroud would top this list no matter who else was on it. Stroud alone would have made the Buckeyes the title favorites next season. Receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba also jumped to the NFL, though his final collegiate season was effectively nullified when a Joseph tackle in the season opener injured Smith-Njigba’s hamstring to an extent he never genuinely returned in 2022.

Center Luke Wypler and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. headed to the next level, as well, along with defensive tackle Dawand Jones and defensive back Ronnie Hickman.

But those latter losses are anticipated at elite programs. Ohio State has recruited to replace most of these players. The Buckeyes barely missed Smith-Njigba in 2022, and he may be the best receiver in the draft. Stroud, however, is a loss that will throw the early part of Ohio State’s 2023 into some question.

Clemson: Similarly, the Tigers losing three defensive linemen in Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and K.J. Henry along with linebacker Trenton Simpson may be too much to overcome in stride. As Clemson has so terribly struggled — throw some sarcasm on that phrasing — to just 10 and 11 wins the last two season, it has leaned on its defensive front.

The Tigers gave up only 102.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, No. 13 in the country, and 20.9 points per game, No. 22 in the country. A year ago, Clemson ranked No. 7 and No. 2 in the respective categories.

Replacing 29.5 tackles for loss from the 2022 season including 16 sacks will be a difficult task. Perhaps “terribly struggled” will no longer warrant sarcasm.

Pittsburgh: Not many programs saw two All-Americans jump to the NFL, but the Panthers did in running back Israel Abanikanda (1,431 yards on 5.99 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns) and defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (14 tackles for loss with 7 sacks in 11 games). Safety Brandon Hill also provided Pittsburgh’s defense some versatility.

USC: The Trojans also lost two All-Americans to the NFL — which, come to think of it, Notre Dame did, as well, in Mayer and Foskey — in receiver Jordan Addison and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. To be more clear, Addison was not a 2022 All-American, but one at Pittsburgh back in 2021. Injuries slowed him a touch in 2022, but overall, his talent is All-American in caliber.

Stanford: The Cardinal’s talent drain this offseason will warrant a deep dive. It is one to behold. The first line on it is quarterback Tanner McKee heading to the NFL with some draftniks thinking he should be an early-round pick.

When Stanford upset Notre Dame in October, McKee led the way with 288 yards on an impressive 26-of-38 completion rate. Losing him will drastically change the Cardinal ceiling in 2023, which is saying something considering how low that ceiling already was.

Central Michigan: Running back Lew Nicholls III did not have the statistical profile of someone who should head to the NFL already, with all of 616 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but look back to 2021 and his choice makes more sense. He ran for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns with another 338 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Navy, Tennessee State, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest did not lose players to any early NFL decisions.

If this list seems abbreviated, that’s because it is throughout college football. Name, image and likeness rights have made it more enticing for players to return to school Reportedly, fewer players entered this draft early than at any time in the last decade.

To think, so many people insisted NIL rights would ruin college football. Here is hard evidence it has upgraded the talent in the sport.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Trio of early-enrolling Notre Dame receivers most likely of dozen arrivals to impact 2023
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: ND’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

OUTSIDE READING
2023 NFL Draft Big Board: PFF’s top 100 prospects
‘Everything’s on fire’: NIL collectives are the latest patchwork solution for college athlete pay
Numbers show NIL benefits college football
Has legalized betting led to more hurtful social media actions? Some admins think so.
Best college football games of 2022 season
Blazers’ Justise Winslow’s ‘giant, little steps’ out of the darkness

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

Marshall v Notre Dame
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To continue a final look back at Notre Dame’s 2022 season through the lens of preseason predictions and the expectations they framed …

11) The most underappreciated part of the Irish resurgence since 2017 and thus Brian Kelly’s final years coaching in South Bend was that Notre Dame won 42 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest streak in the country. It was so taken for granted, this prediction thought the Irish would run that to 50 games in 2023.

Instead, Marcus Freeman lost his very first game against an unranked opponent. (8 correct predictions out of 11.)

12) A few predictions always delve out of college football, for variety’s sake. Maybe that should be forgotten moving forward, considering the Packers neither beat the Vikings to open the season nor won the NFC North. To make matters even worse for this scribe of a lapsed Packers fan, they also were not bad enough to draft a good quarterback in 2023. (8 out of 12.)

13) North Carolina leaned on dynamic receiver Josh Downs to prodigious amounts in 2021. An early-season injury slowed him this year, thus ruining any chance of him having “the most catches in a game against the Irish this season, though not the most yards.”

He caught five passes for 32 yards.

Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka set the catches mark with nine for 90 yards to open the season, while BYU’s Kody Epps caught four passes for 100 yards, the season high in yardage against Notre Dame. (8/13)

14) Notre Dame played a multiple-look defense this season, a layup of a prediction given the linebacker depth and versatility led by Jack Kiser and (eventually injured) Bo Bauer. That was emphasized at USC when the Irish leaned into a 3-3-5 look without both cornerback Cam Hart and nickel back Tariq Bracy. Kiser’s speed became the defense’s best chance.

It was not enough, but it was a valiant effort, and one to keep in mind in 2023. (9/14)

15) “The math says at least one Irish player will be ejected for targeting in 2022.”

Enter JD Bertrand, twice. (10/15)

16) “Notre Dame will beat BYU in Las Vegas.”

Despite a lackluster second-half, check.

“… This space will miss at least one day of publishing the following week. Who can say why.”

Let’s check the running content calendar. For Tuesday, Oct. 11, it reads, “Vegas won this round.” Sometimes it is best to foresee your own personal failures. (11/16)

17) Marcus Freeman’s recruiting emphasis never waned, underscored by the last two years of recruiting topping anything the Irish have ever done. (12/17)

18) The only area in which Michael Mayer fell short in his Notre Dame career was of this prediction, one saying he would casually break two of his own three Irish single-season records. To do so, he needed to exceed 71 catches, 840 receiving yards and/or seven touchdowns.

The surefire first-round draft pick merely caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine scores.

Would he have reached all three metrics if he played in the Gator Bowl? Almost assuredly. But then again, he played in only 12 games in 2021, too. The prediction was wrong, regardless. (12/18)

19) Another thought about an individual record, defensive end Isaiah Foskey did not exceed Justin Tuck’s record of 13.5 sacks in a season. He did take down the quarterback 11 times, reaching double digits for a second consecutive season while setting the Notre Dame career mark. (12/19)

20) Similar to prediction No. 11, an underappreciated part of Kelly’s final five years in South Bend were that the Irish won 39 straight games when favored at kickoff, covering all of the 2018-21 seasons.

Both to suggest that would continue and to guess how many times Notre Dame would be favored in 2022, arguing that streak would reach 48 was right in that the Irish were favored in nine of 13 games. They just happened to lose the first of those (and then again against Stanford, the fourth time they would be favored this season).

Such blunders should have been expected from a first-year head coach. Those missteps seem to catch just about every such rookie. But forgetting or overlooking that led to dashed expectations in 2022. (12/20)

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina
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Delayed accountability is better than no accountability, and with the modern college football calendar, this accountability is barely delayed. Notre Dame’s season may have ended nearly three weeks ago, but the combination of the College Football Playoff and the ever-flowing transfer portal kept those three weeks busier than not.

By hauling in five starter-quality transfers, the Irish and the modern college football calendar provided some newfound content in the stretch. That does not mean 40 preseason predictions should be forgotten.

Acknowledging each mistake should never be skipped, particularly since many of them shed light on where Notre Dame fell short in Marcus Freeman’s debut season. All 40 will be tackled in time. For today, the first 10 …

1) The first preseason prediction tied back to Freeman’s first day as the Irish head coach, expecting the highlight of his introduction to his new team to be featured on the first two broadcasts of Notre Dame’s season. NBC had the raspy introduction in hand for the opener, but I am not certain it actually aired. (o/1)

2) The expectation that Notre Dame’s rushing effectiveness would improve compared to 2021 took some time to bear fruit, and that delay clouded the statistical betterment. In 2021, the Irish finished No. 99 in the country in expected points added per rush. This past season, that rose to just No. 89.

Blame the first three games. At Ohio State, Notre Dame gained only three first downs via rush and then eight (compared to 11 passing first downs) against Marshall in Freeman’s home debut. The Irish averaged 2.5 yards per rush against the Buckeyes, 3.5 against the Herd and 3.6 against Cal.

That all changed at North Carolina, exploding for 287 rushing yards on 51 carries, gaining 17 first downs on the ground. In the following nine games, only twice would Notre Dame fall short of at least 4.4 yards per carry: Leaning on the passing game to blow past Navy (1.9 yards per rush) and on the same aspect to try to keep up at USC (3.5 yards per rush).

The Irish averaged 4.6 yards on 532 carries with 139 first downs. Let’s put those into some comparison. Adjusting for sacks, Notre Dame gained 20 more yards rushing than passing and averaged 5.06 yards per carry. It gained 16 more first downs on the ground than through the air. Oddly, the Irish scored 25 touchdowns through each method.

The preseason prediction emphasized, “Reclaiming effectiveness on the ground will be crucial.” Some of that is relative, but in this instance, relative to 2021.

A year ago, adjusting for sacks, Notre Dame gained 1,803 yards fewer rushing than passing. It gained 167 first downs passing and just 92 rushing. Touchdowns tilted toward through the air, 30, rather than rushing, 23.

The Irish returned to the ground in 2022, partly because its change in quarterback demanded it and partly because that will forever be how offensive coordinator Tommy Rees prefers to operate. (1/2)

3) “Sophomore Audric Estimé could be the key to the Irish ground game.”

He led Notre Dame with 920 yards, 5.9 yards per rush and 11 rushing touchdowns. Nailed this one. (2/3)

4) “The Irish will score first [at Ohio State].” Blake Grupe’s 33-yard field goal made this accurate, but stay tuned on the sentiment. (3/4)

5) “And they will still lose at Ohio State.” That 21-10 momentary moral victory was still a loss. (4/5)

6) “The Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff.” Not all these predictions will be so clearly correct. (5/6)

7) And Playoff expansion will once again dominant too many thoughts in the season. This will be the case until the first season of the 12-team Playoff. And when that day comes, for the sake of enjoying unique football atmospheres, let’s hope Notre Dame is one of the top-eight teams in the country, thus hosting a quarterfinal Playoff game most likely on Dec. 21.

There is precedent for the University allowing students to stay an extra day for a sporting event the weekend before Christmas. When the Irish hosted UCLA on Dec. 19 — the day after classes had ended and when students are usually required to be out of the dorms by the afternoon — anyone going to the men’s basketball game could stick around until Sunday. (6/7)

8) Did you stay tuned on that score-first sentiment?

“Notre Dame will score first in at least nine games this season.” The opening script used to be a Rees strong point. It was not in 2022. Yet, the Irish still almost made this prediction correct, even if the sentiment was wildly off base.

The Irish would not score again in the first quarter until the fifth game of the year, against BYU, another Grupe field goal. They would not enjoy a first-quarter touchdown until the seventh game, against UNLV.

Charitably, Brandon Joseph’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown at Syracuse came on the game’s first play, but then Notre Dame’s offense would need until halfway through the second quarter to find points. The same could be said against Clemson, a punt block in the first quarter that summed up the game until a last-minute touchdown before the half.

A strong first half against Navy and a shutout of Boston College changed this trend, but then this prediction died an early death when the Irish fell behind early at USC, though they did the same against South Carolina.

All in all, Notre Dame scored first seven times this season, but the prediction was worse than simply being off by two given the repeated first-half struggles from Rees’ offense. (6/8)

9) The Irish were expected to be heavily favored against Marshall, predicting by at least 17 points. They were favored by 20 points.

Separately, prediction No. 9 simply said, “Some favorite of at least 13 points will lose by the end of [the second week of the season].”

This is, uhhh, awkward … (7/9)

10) “Jac Collinsworth will provide the one characteristic that is most vital to a broadcast booth. He will be excited to be there at Notre Dame Stadium.”

Collinsworth absolutely provided that excitement in the broadcast booth, the one characteristic that no production magic can manufacture. (8/10)