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Five Days of Notre Dame Takes: Best and Worst Moments of the 2022 Football Season

It was a hell of a ride

NCAA Football: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll wait until the dust settles on the early National Signing Day before I offer an opinion on the festivities. So in lieu of that, here’s a list of the eight best and four worst moments of Notre Dame’s 2022 season, one for each win and loss, respectively.

Worst Moment No. 4: Audric Estime fumbles against Stanford

I couldn’t find any footage of this one and probably for good reason. Every second of this game should be wiped from the collective memory of the poor viewers who witnessed it. But this stands out as the singular moment where it felt like the Irish would actually lose to Stanford.

Driving to take the lead with a field goal or touchdown, Estime gave the ball away at the Cardinal 43-yard line with less than seven minutes remaining. It was his second fumble in three games and would be followed up by another against UNLV the following week. Aside from marking a low point for Notre Dame’s workhorse running back, it essentially sealed the worst loss of Marcus Freeman’s debut season—and, honestly, it might go down as the worst loss of his entire career when all is said and done.

Worst Moment No. 3: Khalan Laborn’s 42-yard run for Marshall

Notre Dame had just taken a three-point lead on Marshall after a successful two-point conversion. On the ensuing drive, the Irish defense got complacent and gave up a 3rd-and-9 conversion deep in Marshall territory as well as this play which set up a go-ahead score. The Thundering Herd would record a pick-six on the ensuing possession as the Irish started pressing.

This was the second consecutive game in which Notre Dame’s defense collapsed in the fourth quarter when they needed a stop. To do so against Ohio State was understandable; to do it against Marshall remains mindboggling.

Worst Moment No. 2: Marshall’s pick-six in Notre Dame Stadium

In the second game of Notre Dame’s 2021 season, Jack Coan led a masterful go-ahead touchdown drive against Toledo to save the Irish home opener. Tyler Buchner found himself in a repeat scenario this season with completely opposite results.

There aren’t enough Worst Moments on this list to cover all the bad stuff that happened against Marshall, but this one is definitely up there (although not No. 1). Buchner misses Michael Mayer running wide open and all but seals the Irish loss. The nail in the coffin came on the next drive.

Worst Moment No. 1: Drew Pyne’s Marshall interception

The most deflating moment I can recall as a follower of Notre Dame. Tyler Buchner leaves the game with an obvious shoulder injury and Drew Pyne—the peoples’ champion who led comebacks against Wisconsin and Cincinnati in 2021—takes the field to cheers and ovations. He then promptly throws an interception directly to a linebacker.

The Irish would still probably have lost even if they managed to score on this drive, but it was emblematic of the hilariously ill-prepared state of Notre Dame’s first-year head coach, third-year offensive coordinator and entire quarterback room entering the 2022 season.

Best Moment No. 8: Lorenzo Styles’ 54-yard catch-and-run

This play got many Notre Dame fans’ hopes up, especially as the first offensive snap of the season. It at least boded well for the first half of the game as the Irish took a 10-7 lead into halftime at Ohio State. Despite the eventual loss and Styles’ late-season decline in production, it was a memorable opening that held great promise.

Best Moment No. 7: Mitchell-Palooza (a.k.a. Mitch-a-Palooza)

A catchy name for a fun little wrinkle in the offensive playbook. Sure, it simultaneously indicated how unprepared Steve Angeli was to take a collegiate snap for an injured Drew Pyne, but a tight end sneak is always a welcome sight at Tight End U.

Best Moment No. 6: Jayden Thomas’ first career touchdown

Thomas was the first “unusual suspect” to record a touchdown for the Irish in 2022, and to do it by Moss-ing a defender was all the more impressive. In a win that looks less impressive in hindsight, Thomas had his breakout moment and continued to be a productive contributor to the wide receiver room for the remainder of the season.

Best Moment No. 5: Brandon Joseph’s pick-six

A short-lived glimpse at what Joseph was supposed to be for the Irish after coming in as a transfer from Northwestern. The heir apparent to first-round NFL Draft pick Kyle Hamilton, Joseph’s only interception of the season fell right into his hands. To his credit, he took advantage, but he still left a lot of expectations unfulfilled during his first (and possibly only) season in an Irish uniform.

Best Moment No. 4: Michael Mayer’s one-handed catch

To be fair, Mayer had enough touchdowns to make up every Best Moment on this list with one to spare. He set every tight end receiving record at Notre Dame and was the best at his position in the country.

But it wouldn’t be as fun to give him a monopoly on this list and this catch was insane, regardless of the fact that it was against UNLV. Farewell to the greatest tight end in Notre Dame history.

Best Moment No. 3: Prince Kollie’s punt return touchdown

The craziest thing about this play is that we all kind of saw it coming. Well, not so much the ensuing touchdown as the punt block that preceded it.

It marked the fourth straight game in which Notre Dame blocked a punt—a streak which would be extended the following week against Navy. And after Jordan Botelho broke through to make the play it gave Kollie a chance to relive his high school days as a ball carrier by running it in for a score.

Best Moment No. 2: Braden Lenzy’s Houdini touchdown

After the treatment he got from his quarterbacks this season, no one deserved a touchdown more than Lenzy. But pulling off this magic trick of a catch to do it was… unexpected, to say the least. Lenzy’s production never matched expectations during his time in an Irish uniform, but it’s fitting that he gets to go out on his (probably) final season with at least one score.

Best Moment No. 1: Benjamin Morrison’s pick-six

A star was born before our very eyes, under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium against a then-top-5 team. Four of Morrison’s team-high five interceptions could have made this list, but like Mayer it isn’t fun to give one player all the glory. Still, this play was pretty insane considering it put the unranked Irish up 28-0 on the No. 4 team in the country.

For a program that has struggled to recruit the defensive back position consistently well, Morrison was a revelation from the season opener onward.