After the highest of highs and lowest of lows that were experienced this season, was there a more perfect way for it to wrap up than the way it did last night? If you ask me I say no. I feel like I have said this after multiple games this season but that was one of the weirder games I can remember watching. And even though both teams were missing plenty of starters from the season, I think there is some good info to take from this game. In the end, coming out with the win I believe was huge for the momentum of this team/program going forward and we will get to that as well.
Before we talk about what this means going forward, we have to talk about the game itself because this was a fun one. Obviously coming out on top helps regarding the perception of this game. Had Notre Dame not been able to pull this one out, it would’ve been one of the more frustrating losses that I could remember. It wasn’t just one or two things that went wrong for the majority of the first half. They came out flat, they weren’t executing, and like I said up top - South Carolina was throwing every single thing they had at them and they were succeeding in every aspect. I had a very bad feeling after the first few drives of this game. I was extremely worried that it was going to go south fast. But after realizing what had gone wrong for ND and what had gone right for the South Carolina Gamecocks, it was only 21-7. I knew if we could snap out of it we could dominate this game. I would argue for the most part the Irish did in the end. Without the pick 6’s this could’ve been a 52-24 game. Also, add in the positives Buchner had, as well as the key reps for young guys heading into next season, and would say it was quite a positive and productive day. It’s hard to be super critical just due to what the bowl games have become in recent years. I’ve started to think of it as a hybrid exhibition/spring game which has allowed me to start enjoying them more. It also prevents me from getting too high or too low based on these matchups so it’s harder to go into an actual breakdown and what it means going forward. In closing what a fun game to watch. Us as fans I know we were all tearing our hair out, but objectively this was an exciting game to watch and I hope everyone can head into the new year with a positive taste in their mouths.
So, if it’s so hard to break down what bowl games mean nowadays, what does this mean for the Irish going forward? First, with all the smoke around Sam Hartman, and the addition of Kenny Minchey to the roster, Buchner showed a lot of positives and gave us a decent amount to chew on going into this offseason. There were plenty of moments yesterday where you saw exactly why they believe in him. With the limited snaps he has, he needed to be able to go out in live game snaps and make some plays. Yes, he made some big mistakes but this was the time for him to iron that stuff out before heading into the spring. That goes for all the young guys who were able to get some key playing time. That’s another reason to look at this in a positive light, the fact that a team that was missing key leaders was able to shake off a slow start and close out strong. That is one thing I have noticed about Marcus Freeman coaching Notre Dame vs Brian Kelly coaching Notre Dame. If Brian Kelly was coaching yesterday I would put money on it that the Irish lose 31-17 or something dumb like that. When Kelly coached teams got punched similarly to how they were yesterday, they folded. Not only did they keep fighting multiple times this season, but they also did it in a bowl game with no real repercussions while missing key players at multiple positions. So even though there are a lot of weird variables regarding these bowl games, I was able to draw quite a lot of positives after walking away from viewing this game.
There is going to be a lot of work before the Buckeyes come to town, but at least we can sit on a win for the next 8 months. I hope that everyone has a great New Year’s. Even though the season is complete, we all know the College Football news cycle is year-round nowadays. Hopefully, we will all receive some more positive Irish news soon. Until then, enjoy this Gator Bowl win because it was fun and well-earned.