Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Shamrock Series - Notre Dame v Wisconsin
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 190 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Tyree played in 12 games in each of his first two seasons, though of course the universal pandemic eligibility waiver spared him a year of technical usage in 2020, meaning he has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Tyree will be listed as Notre Dame’s starting running back in 57 days as the Irish head to Ohio State. Sophomore Audric Estime will be his biggest, if not only, early-season challenge, given the shoulder injury suffered in April by sophomore Logan Diggs and the Achilles injury that will keep early-enrolled freshman Jadarian Price sidelined this fall. Diggs’ return could spare Tyree some carries, and perhaps even that top-listing, in October, but “could” may be doing some heavy lifting in that speculation.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and at one point the No. 1 running back in the class, Tyree narrowed his recruitment to Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Alabama, most heavily considering the Irish and the Sooners. He committed to Notre Dame seven months before the early signing period, and despite his high-profile status in the cycle, he never wavered from that pledge. Though downgraded to the No. 4 back in the class and No. 78 overall prospect, per rivals.com, by the end of the cycle, Tyree was the second-highest running back recruit of the Brian Kelly era.

CAREER TO DATE
Tyree’s speed mandated he play right away for the Irish, given the general lack of it on recent rosters. He played largely out of the backfield as a freshman before becoming more of a do-everything option in 2021, both years serving as a successful complement to Kyren Williams’ brilliance.

2020: 12 games; 73 rushes for 496 yards and four touchdowns; 8 catches for 65 yards; 456 kickoff return yards.
2021: 12 games, 2 starts; 56 rushes for 222 yards and one touchdown; 24 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns; 347 kickoff return yards including a 96-yard touchdown return to spark the blowout of Wisconsin in late September.

RELATED READING: Chris Tyree’s choice to break loose that touchdown return against the Badgers

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Notre Dame changed some of its marketing tactics in 2021, a byproduct of NIL rights finally being a reality, giving its players more access to photos and videos taken from the sidelines. Of the many advantages to that approach, it leads to more photos and videos reaching the public, including shots like this from Tyree’s game-breaking touchdown at Soldier Field.

There may be no direct payout associated with that change, but it buoys the players’ social-media platforms, which then leads to larger payouts for them, all good things.

One of those more typical NIL moments, a roster-wide sponsorship with a poster brand, led to Tyree picking out a poster of Dennis Rodman at his finest, a unique choice for a Virginia-native speedster born after Rodman last appeared in the NBA.

Oh, and apparently Tyree has picked up some wheels via NIL, though a more practical version than may be typically expected.

QUOTES
Kyren Williams was a clear leader for Notre Dame the last two seasons. His animated sideline presence made that clear on Saturdays, but it permeated well beyond those 13 annual occurrences, as well. Tyree is expected to replace Williams in the backfield — asked in the spring if Tyree is ready to be the starter, new Irish running backs coach Deland McCullough simply said, “That’s what the plan is. … Chris has the attributes to be the starter here at Notre Dame, clearly.” — but the off-field, locker-room and meeting-room aspect of that may be the real challenge for Tyree, naturally more soft-spoken than Williams’ demonstrative demeanor.

“It’s just been up to me being more vocal,” Tyree said this spring. “Leading by example is not just one thing that a leader does, it’s not what we do here. I’ve been pushed to be more vocal and hold people accountable.”

The push extends past Tyree to the entire running backs group. Williams could provide enough energy to spur all of them. Now, they all need to step forward a bit.

“We’ve grown a lot, especially the last couple months with Kyren being gone,” Tyree said. “I think we understood everyone had to step up a little bit.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Tyree’s freshman season was unprecedented during the Kelly era, and that should be taken more as a reflection of Tyree’s talent than anything else. Coming a carry short of 500 yards in a year in which Notre Dame clearly and admittedly struggled working new players into the offense due to the lack of a true offseason during the pandemic suggests Tyree should be primed for much more in 2021, particularly given his added muscle as a result of that thorough offseason.

“But with an inexperienced offensive line that will need to develop some chemistry, not everything will be as easy for Tyree.

“Tyree should still eclipse 500 yards easily this fall, simply because the Irish will lean on him and Williams to lead an unproven and developing offense. If Tyree ends up near 800 yards, with another couple hundred receiving, then Notre Dame should be scoring plenty to supplement what preseason prognostications expect to be a once-again dominant defense.

“With the mindset of prognosticating, let’s predict Tyree will gain more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage, as well as return at least one kickoff to the opponent’s half of the field. Williams may get the headlines, and deservedly so, but Tyree being even more potent as a sophomore will play a key part in enhancing Williams’ final collegiate season. …

“Yes, this will be Williams’ final year at Notre Dame, barring injury. Running backs simply should not bypass the NFL draft when they have a chance to hear their names called; a running back’s shelf life is too short.

“That will put Tyree in the primary running back role in 2022, which should be his final season. If he can prove to be durable in the next two years — not that Tyree was otherwise in 2020, but at his size, he needs to prove and reprove that trait to the NFL — then his speed will garner attention from the next level.

“He will have assistance. Incoming freshmen Audric Estime and Logan Diggs both look ready to contribute from their arrival, Estime more than Diggs, though neither to the extent that Tyree did. By 2022, at least one should be the reliable backup to Tyree that he and senior C’Bo Flemister are to Williams.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Last year, honing in on a prediction for Tyree’s 2021 output provided an angle for this 99-to-0 entry, but doing so now could simply turn into an exercise of demeaning the rest of Notre Dame’s offense. Tyree and junior tight end Michael Mayer are the only pieces of the Irish attack that are known commodities, and the injuries to Diggs and Price have made it clear, Tyree may need to be a bellcow for Notre Dame, always a risky proposition for any running back, let alone a speed-based running back.

Tyree has more physicality than his speed belies, but his best asset is still his ability to burn down the sideline. Turf toe last season cost him that explosiveness for a bit, just as a sprained ankle did this spring. Nicks impede any running back, but they slow speed backs the most.

A healthy Tyree could blow past 1,200 yards from scrimmage next season. A banged-up Tyree could struggle to roll past 700.

But the Irish will need him healthy. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees seems poised to attack with a vintage offensive line this season, something that will always be Rees’ underlying preference, though one indulged only when applicable. With just Estime to join Tyree as an established back heading into the season, that approach from Rees will wear on the duo.

Notre Dame could slow down its offense to ease that burden a bit, and against the Buckeyes in particular, shortening the game will be prudent for the Irish, but that can be effective to only an extent.

Tyree will get plenty of opportunities this season. If healthy and spry, that could turn into a prolific year. His injuries have not been the kind to justify concerns about his durability, but the injuries to other Irish running backs do justify concerns about anyone’s durability in the pivotal role Notre Dame needs Tyree to fill this year.

DOWN THE ROAD
A healthy Tyree with a couple big plays this season would garner enough NFL interest to entice him to make that jump. His speed alone will make some front offices elevate his draft grade.

Any running back receiving even a middling draft grade needs to strongly ponder that decision. Tyree going to the NFL after 2022 bodes well for Notre Dame this season, in large part because it suggests he plays most of the season healthy, even if it may worry Irish fans for 2022.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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    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.