Well where do we begin? The 2022 Gator Bowl provided a ton for Irish fans to chew on and way more than I expected even given all the weird factors at play heading into the game.
Notre Dame ended up pulling out a 45-38 victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the last moments of the game. What we got to see on the field was largely an extension of what we’d gotten accustomed (if that’s possible) during the regular season from the Irish football squad. A team with pretty pronounced issues at key personnel spots but working things out collectively to pull out a win. It makes for entertaining football but particularly for dedicated fans it can’t be considered a healthy experience. I’m sure there got to be a support group of TV remotes, phones and innocent family and friends who watch this style of play alongside us and unanimously agree.
But in 2022, it was what was in the cards for the Notre Dame program and we can all take some solace in at least closing out the rollercoaster season with a victory. Definitely don’t think that the performance will have any real bearing on what we can expect from the team during its 2023 campaign but let’s dive through the data.
In terms of overall scoring, the Irish bounced back to their late season, pre-USC form. With 45 points, they scored notably above their full season average of 32 per game. The first half of play was very reminiscent to the early parts of the season with a pretty slow start on the offensive side of the ball. They were able to turn things around in the second half, though, scoring 28 points, compared with South Carolina’s 14.
Even though the overall score was really close, the underlying data overwhelmingly played in ND’s favor. Notre Dame’s offense accounted for 61% (558) of the game’s total yards. The Irish and the Gamecocks were almost evenly split in terms of passing yards while Notre Dame had the decisive rushing edge, tallying up 80% (264) of total yards on the ground. Two of the key underlying metrics where the Irish lagged behind were in quarterback completions and interceptions thrown
Quarterback Feast and Famine
Quarterback play was one of the most influential factors for both teams. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from this crazy college football season it’s that QBs will continue to have outsized abilities to make or break overall teams overall and that the rapidly revolving door of quarterbacks via the transfer portal is going to create more chaos than anyone involved would desire. Not making any critiques of the system, just an observation that continuing to switch up starting quarterbacks at this rate is probably going to have much more profound effects on the actual gameplay than any other shifting aspect of the sport.
Tyler Buchner and Spencer Rattler threw for comparable amounts of total yards with Buchner having the slight, 274-246 edge. In terms of efficiency, Rattler was better completing 63% of his 46 attempts compared with Buchner’s 55% completion rate for his 33 attempts.
Both players were exceptionally good when they were on. Buchner threw for three touchdowns and ran two in. He also threw three interceptions, two of which ultimately became pick-6s. When all things play out in the team’s favor its hard to focus too much on those passing down points but they were the main contributors to the notable differences between the offense’s detailed stats and the actual points put up on the board by both teams.
Another Solid Rushing Performance
The Irish put up another really solid rushing performance. Through the last 4 games played ND’s rushing collective experienced a lot of variance in total outcomes but in Jacksonville they were on the high end of the spectrum. They out-rushed the Gamecocks 264-65.
Even though the utilization of the Irish’s ground attack didn’t ramp up until later in the game they were slightly above their full season average of 41 attempts with 46 total attempts in the Gator Bowl.
In terms of efficiency in the ground game, Notre Dame hit their second highest game total for the season with 5.7.
Audric Estime and Logan Diggs once again played the most dominant role but Tyler Buchner added layer of quarterback involvement in the running game that we haven’t been accustomed to recently. Estime and Diggs’ outputs were pretty much identical, with both close to hitting the 100 yard mark. Buchner helped out quite a bit, averaging 5.1 yards on 12 carries and accounting for 23% (61) of the Irish’s total yards on the ground.
Diverse Receiving Corps
A lot of individuals and positions got in on Notre Dame’s receiving action down in Jacksonville but there wasn’t a strong correlation between targets and actual output. Jayden Thomas led with 5 receptions and averaged around 13 yards per catch. Braden Lenzy hauled in 4 catches with an average of 22.3 yards per catch while Mitchell Evans saw his first receiver utilization of 2022. Evans tallied up 3 receptions with an average of 13 yards per catch.
Braden Lenzy led with overall output, tallying up 30% (89) of the Irish’s totally yards through the air. Logan Diggs only had two catches but ended up with 28% (81) of the team’s total receiving yards and 40.5 yards averaged per catch.
Solid End to a Strong Defensive Season
While the offense’s production in the 2nd half played a big role in the victory, the defense’s ability to stall out Shane Beamer’s offense played a significant role too.
The defensive unit performed in the middle of the pack compared to its total yards allowed per game throughout the full season.
From a 30,000 foot level, it wasn’t the greatest night for the Irish secondary. But at a more detailed level, a bunch of South Carolina and Rattler’s passing success came very early in the game while the Irish secondary played pretty lights out through the home stretch.
The last four games were feast and famine for both the Irish’s offensive rushing attack and ground defense. The ND defense, similar to the rushing collective, ended up on the right side of this pendulum in the Gator Bowl. They held the Gamecocks to 65 yards on the ground and the pressure they were able to apply up front through the game’s late stretch was a big reason for South Carolina’s offensive production on the ground as well as through the air.
In the end a win is a win, even though the uniqueness of this season’s bowl games really limit the relevance of the Irish’s Gator Bowl victory. The defense appears to be in position for continued success next season.
But the offense will be the biggest wild card. The rushing and receiving groups both have high ceilings but with the significant question marks about the quarterback situation, it’s hard to gauge what the floor for the offense will be moving forward. So here’s to a solid end to 2022 on the football field, welcoming of the New Year and hopefully a solid 2023 season for Notre Dame.
Cheers and Go Irish!!