Friday at 4: 40 Thanksgivings as Notre Dame’s ascending season comes to a close

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SAN FRANCISCO — This space has no Black Friday discount to offer. Free cannot get cheaper. Inside the Irish can, however, offer its usual listing of 40 things Notre Dame fans should be grateful for this year, with a number of personal pieces of appreciation from your resident rambler.

And, undoubtedly, as the No. 6 Irish (10-1) are one win at Stanford (8 ET; FOX) away from cementing a reasonable Playoff hope, there is plenty for their fans to be thankful for …

1) Those Playoff hopes almost died before they could begin when Notre Dame squandered an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter at Florida State in the season opener. Fifth-year kicker Jonathan Doerer, however, hit a walk-off game-winner in overtime, the first game-winning kick in overtime or the final minute of regulation for the Irish since the 2016 season against Miami, then a Justin Yoon boot.

Doerer was only on the field at all due to the pandemic eligibility waiver, and even with that option, his return in 2021 was never a sure thing.

Before Notre Dame’s idle week, Doerer doubled down on his impact, making a game-winner at Virginia Tech with only 17 seconds left.

RELATED READING: Pair of game-winners steady Doerer in uneven final season

2) Then the Irish Playoff hopes almost died in week two against Toledo. Trailing in the final minutes, quarterback Jack Coan dislocated a finger on his throwing hand. Notre Dame needed its veteran starter, and neither Coan nor trainer Mike Bean flinched at the idea of popping that finger back into place along the sideline between plays.

“It wasn’t sideways,” Coan said the next week to Jac Collinsworth on the ND on NBC Podcast. “It was sort of, the top part was popped up and back. It wasn’t sideways. Definitely didn’t look right.”

Football programs are more than the coaches and players, and never was that more readily apparent on a Saturday than in Bean’s composure.

3) Along with Bean, some credit should go to adrenaline.

“You kind of just feel it go back into place and it felt like normal,” Coan said. “I’m sure if my adrenaline wasn’t going so fast, probably would have been a lot more painful. But it didn’t hurt too bad at the time.”

4) More than 95 percent of the Irish roster received the coronavirus vaccine, protecting the locker room from both an outbreak and from extensive testing throughout the season, some of them receiving the vaccine despite some likely hesitation. Thank you to them for leading by example.

5) Thank you to all others who have also received the vaccine despite their own hesitations.

6) Some question if the need for “style points” and “game control” has rendered sportsmanship a memory of the past, but the scoreboard has never been the true barometer of sportsmanship. Rather, it lies within the, well, the sporting man, if you will. Consider Notre Dame junior safety Kyle Hamilton immediately after the Irish victory against Purdue, when he was asked about Boilermakers star receiver David Bell. Hamilton quickly praised Bell and offered concern for him after an unfortunate and unavoidable ugly hit from Hamilton in the closing moments of that game.

“He’s a really good player, he was a focal point of our game plan this week,” Hamilton added. “I think we did a pretty good job of shutting him down to the best of our abilities.”

7) On the other end of the spectrum may be junior running back Kyren Williams’ ever-running mouth. Irish head coach Brian Kelly insists Williams’ trash talk remains within the bounds of what the coaching staff encourages, but it is not hard to think the most energetic player in recent Notre Dame history might cross that line on occasion. He may not be alone.

“We have some other guys that you’d be surprised that don’t fit that mold and if you watch carefully, you know who they are,” Kelly said this week. “I don’t need to be pointing them all out at this point, but we have some guys that, because they’re mature enough and they handle themselves the right way — we don’t need to be throwing hand warmers into the front row after an extra point and getting 15-yard penalties — but other than that, we’ve done a good job.”

Kelly was exaggerating a personal foul flag drawn by junior left guard Andrew Kristofic against Georgia Tech, but there may even be value in that kind of mentality.

8) Personally, this season really got started at an Indianapolis tiki bar, the Inferno Room, that not only had rum selections that would make a pirate blush but also sweet’n’sour noodles with pork belly.

9) Not only am I thankful for that occasion, but also for the friend who recommended and joined there, only to then quote an article I wrote, quite literally, four years ago. That’s a rare level of retention of these ramblings.

10) It took the Irish about half the season to figure out its offense. Notre Dame fans still lament that, given that slow start played a key part in the loss to Cincinnati, but they overlook the fact that Wisconsin suffered the same delay, which is essentially why the Irish won in Chicago. If the Badgers had already figured out they should never throw the ball, Notre Dame would not have been gifted that rout of a fourth quarter.

Consider, Wisconsin is on a seven-game winning streak and covered the spread in five of those seven games, including four straight beginning the week the NBA season started.

11) Speaking of spreads, the haphazard state-by-state legalization of sports gambling has created many headaches, but it is also the reason promotional signup offers exist in a similar, haphazard, state-by-state manner. Using some logic to attack that capitalistic generosity can yield enough profits to pay for a new (to you) car.

12) Why need a new (to you) car? Let’s just say we should all be thankful for airbags and seatbelts. We never quite realize how effective they are until we need them, like when a seemingly indestructible Ford Ranger is proven destructible on the side of the interstate.

13) And in moments like those, having a best friend who will not hesitate to speed 20 minutes to the scene of such an accident to get you and your belongings off the side of the interstate is a blessing that cannot be overstated.

14) Sometimes the writing helps itself. This is vaguely intended to go chronologically, and only now do I remember that accident — that frustratingly led to a couple days of in-season silence around here, the likes of which not seen since 2018’s idle week after that same best friend’s bachelor party — occurred the day after the Irish lost to Cincinnati.

It’s nice when the writing helps itself.

15) Notre Dame’s defense continued to be publicly criticized, terribly mistakenly so, throughout October. The casual observer missed that the defense had already flipped from its opening two weeks of struggles. The transition to Marcus Freeman from Clark Lea was pulled off quicker than many realized.

Recognizing that as the Irish have not given up a touchdown in the last three weeks is understandable, though.

16) Senior linebacker Bo Bauer may have been the biggest beneficiary of that transition, shining with 18 tackles in the last two weeks.

“Coach Freeman is a great coach,” Bauer said this week. “He always says we’re going to work with who we have and what their strengths are. He’s just tailored the defense to things I do well and I think our defense is inherently aggressive, so I think that plays to my strengths.”

17) Yes, Bauer could return in 2022. No, he has not decided if he will.

“Obviously it’s something I have to consider, but right now, I just love my team and my teammates and I want to be where my feet are, so I just want to focus on being the best teammate I can be, trying to push this team to be its best.”

18) Another beneficiary? Ohio State grad transfer Isaiah Pryor could not get into the linebacker rotation under Lea, but he has become a key piece of Freeman’s scheme, with 37 tackles this year in a safety-linebacker hybrid role, compared to the usual linebacker-end hybrid of Notre Dame’s rover.

19) Yes, Pryor could return next season, thanks to the pandemic eligibility waiver, but at some point, players have to move on to the next step in their lives, and logic suggests that time may have come for Pryor.

20) One of the joys of travel lost during the pandemic? Trying a dozen different beers throughout a football season. Beers like a Mai Tai PA in the corner of your favorite South Bend bar, or an oak and orchard ginger lemongrass sour beer at your favorite brewery in Denver, or a raspberry sour at a riverside brewery in Minneapolis.

21) Shouts to the entire staff at the LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern. Missed y’all these last two years.

22) Shouts to Parker, for joining for one at Epic Brewing in Denver, though that one became more than one, always a risky choice during the season.

23) But no shouts to the drinking relief in Minneapolis who pointed out this and led to a personal identity crisis.

24) Speaking of Parker, a better understanding of his work with EPA (expected points added) at cfb-graphs.com has led to a better understanding of this sport. That might be the best thing gained this season, a few points on the college football IQ.

25) But not all college football IQ points come from advanced metrics. Never underestimate the joys of working through winsipedia.com. For example, a comprehensive look at the Notre Dame-Stanford series history.

26) Back to the look at the season, that’s the intention here, right?

Losing Hamilton for half of it has not been the calamity immediately assumed, and particularly dreaded by those closest to him on the sideline as he went down awkwardly in the first quarter against USC, lest his injury be misconstrued as somehow their doing.

While it has robbed the Irish of the joys of watching a unanimous first-team All-American, as Hamilton was going to be, it has given them a look at something unexpected and somewhat delightful: Hamilton the coach. When sophomore cornerback Ramon Henderson moved to safety a few weeks ago, he turned to the star for help.

“He’s more so like a coach now,” Henderson said. “He’s telling me what to do, what to take away, what I should be looking at on this play, what I should be looking at on that formation.”

Henderson then revealed some of what made Hamilton so good on the field.

“He’s a good eye guy. He’s very good at recognizing formations, recognizing tendencies really quickly. I wouldn’t say I have the necessary hang of that while playing, but on the sideline, he is like, ‘Yo, if he comes out here this way, he’s going to do this.’

“With him, just watching everything I do, and critique it to the fullest so I can not mess up the next time they come at me with it, that’s a major blessing. It’s the best to have a guy like that in your corner. He’s trying to get me to where he is at this point. I thank him for it a lot.”

27) Hamilton has made more of name, image and likeness opportunities than anyone else on Notre Dame’s roster, expectedly so given he is a certain top-10 draft pick this coming spring, but that is also somewhat a result of his personality. Others would rather not deal with it as much as possible.

No one would describe Williams as modest — see the above thoughts regarding his on-field demeanor — but his prioritization of social media and pizza is something more people should hold.

“I don’t like posting on social media,” Williams said Monday. “When I gotta post a picture of me with some pizza, I’m like, ‘Come on, really, do I have to do this? I’m just trying to enjoy my pizza.’”

28) Do not for a moment think the media overstates Williams’ personality. Fifth-year right tackle Josh Lugg found the tone of an exasperated parent when discussing Williams this week.

“You want to talk about someone who has energy every — single — day, it’s Kyren,” Lugg said, those dashes intended to mimic his emphatic pacing.

“On Saturdays, it’s pretty rewarding to run 16 yards and pick him up and be like, ‘Great run man,’ and some other expletives in there. To be able to be like, let’s get the next play call, and oh, it’s the same play call, let’s do it again.”

29) That has been the story of the second half of the season for the Irish, a dominant running game and an even more dominant defense. Development through the year makes finding storylines easier.

30) Speaking of infectious attitudes, here’s to Anthony Edwards, and we are not talking about the lead actor from “E.R.”

31) And speaking of promising young talents — no, this is not to put her on the same plane as Anthony Edwards but the transition otherwise worked — Caroline Pineda has made life easier in these parts the last two years, and for that, the greatest of thanks. When you read her story on Notre Dame’s equipment truck and its annual drive to California, you should realize not only did Caroline write that story and write it cleanly, but she thought of it on her own, pitched it and then pursued it.

All her editor had to do was slap a headline on it.

32) She also works thoroughly enough to send unused quotes for any future purposes, things like how junior linebacker JD Bertrand views his Oura ring as proof of what was already his lifestyle. The Oura ring tracks a player’s sleep, quality of sleep and other various health items that most of us assuredly neglect.

“It’s always been a thing for me,” Bertrand said last month. “But the Oura ring just allowed us to kind of put a number to it, and so you can see if you need to just put a bigger emphasis on sleep for that week or that day just because you’re behind or something like that.”

33) Bertrand’s habits rubbed off on roommate Isaiah Foskey, helping the junior defensive end become a possible first-round draft pick already.

“Luckily, I also have roommates that are trying to prioritize, so our lights are out almost every night by like 10, 10:30,” Bertrand said.

The two compare Oura stats “like four or five times a week,” per Bertrand.

34) Dry rub chicken wings. That has nothing to do with Notre Dame or Oura rings or sleep, but they are underappreciated and thus, we should be more grateful for them.

35) The Irish recruiting class of 2017 should go down as one of the most crucial in program history. It may not have been ripe with clear NFL talents, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah aside, but it stayed committed through the 2016 faceplant and then led the way to 53 wins, and counting, in five years with two, perhaps three, Playoff appearances.

36) Of that group, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa may be one of the most special and deserving players I have covered in a dozen or so years on this beat. That young man has gone through the worst parts of life and some of the best this fall, and he has never been anything but a kind soul in the process.

37) Friends who understand they will not see you for most of the fall, stay in touch as they are able and do not hold that absence against you. Not everyone understands dropping off the social map for 13 or 14 weeks, but those that do, please know it is appreciated.

38) PointsBet had no reason to reach out about making a weekly Notre Dame prediction, but it was a welcomed opportunity.

39) The Irish home finale represented 25 years of yours truly going to games at Notre Dame Stadium, and it hasn’t lost all its appeal just yet. After the 55-0 Irish win against Georgia Tech, a few extra minutes were intentionally spent on the field, lest six-year-old Douglas find a time machine and express displeasure at taking such a luxury for granted.

40) Lastly, I’m still thankful for all you readers, even when you get angry at me for insisting 11-2 Alabama will have a better Playoff claim than 11-1 Notre Dame.

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

HART CAREER STATISTICS
2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
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There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.