Well last Saturday could have gone better huh? Buchner’s out. The playoff hopes dashed. The honeymoon with coach Freeman is over. The Irish have their backs against the wall. Adorned in their finest green livery, Notre Dame looks to get into the win column for the first time this year. Enter the Cal Bears. Fresh off a thrilling(?) victory over the Rebels of UNLV, 20-14, sixth year head coach Justin Wilcox brings his 2-0 Golden Bears for to Notre Dame stadium for the first time since 1967. It’s the Irish wear green game, with the carpet finally matching the drapes.
Grin and Bear it
When you look at this Cal football team, you can’t help but to come away unimpressed. Could I dunk on their middling offense that is 89th in scoring, 98th in rushing offense and 47th in passing? Sure, but that would open myself up to pointing out that Notre Dame is essentially worse in all three facets. Granted, Cal has played FSC opponent UC Davis and perineal bottom feeder UNLV but we can’t sit here and throw rocks in this glass house that Harry Heistand has built. The trigger man of their offense is someone we actually know quite well, ex-Purdue quarterback Jack Plumber. Seemingly accurate but otherwise unimpressive, he lost his job after the Illinois game last year and now finds him as the motor to this Cal offense. He has to be because their offensive line might actually be worse than the one on the Irish sideline. They gave up an astounding four sacks to UNLV last week to go with the two they surrendered to their FCS foe. Their offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave must shop at the same play call store as Tommy Rees, they ran the ball 32 times against UNLV despite finding almost no success(92yards). Defensively, the are...sound? They are anchored by their linebackers, headlined by Washington transfer Jackson Sirmon, who’s 91 tackles last year are the second highest of Pac-12 players returning in 2022. When I watched the UNLV game, Cal didn’t seem to get a ton of pressure, they had three sacks but it just didn’t feel like they were particularly disruptive. It might be that it’s because they didn’t really blitz a whole lot and were content to just sit back in zone, which might actually be an issue on Saturday if the ND line doesn’t shore itself in a hurry.
Riding the Pyne Pony
If the loss to Marshall was a kick to the groin, losing Buchner in the process, was throwing up from the pain and falling face first in it. For a literal decade we’ve craved a quarterback of Tyler Buchner’s talent ceiling and to see it all blow up just two games into the season was rough. But this is what Notre Dame does, we watch as the QB we wanted drops out(Crist, Golson, Zaire, Wimbush, Jurkovec) and we end up getting the QB we need(Rees,Kizer,Book). Is Drew Pyne going to be that next QB in that line to find success? I’m not sure we’ll find out that answer this weekend, not fully at least. The first place to check, is his rapport with Braden Lenzy. One of the issues in the pass game is Notre Dame is 2 for 11 targeting Lenzy. Some of that was on Buchner and some was on Lenzy. It has been well reported that Lenzy and Pyne are close friends. Having a good rapport with your receivers sometimes goes under the radar, knowing where they like the ball, speed, breaks, ect.
I have faith Michael Mayer will be Michael Mayer, I also have faith that Lorenzo Styles will continue progress. That just leaves the 1578lb elephant in the room, the offensive line. If the offensive line doesn’t start to show pretty drastic improvement, Pyne is going to be behind the sticks all afternoon. They are going to need to be able to run the football, to ask Pyne to go out there and win the game with just his arm is going to result in a pick or two. That said, I’m mildly excited to see what he shows with a full week of prep running with the ones. By all accounts Pyne is a kid with a ton of moxy and a lot of respect from his teammates. I don’t dare to toss out the alpha label lightly but this kid has a ton of confidence. My gut tells me that we see his swagger on full display and the passing game turns a corner.
I’ve seen a few people already cash this chips in on Marcus Freeman just two games into his first season. Weak and soft, the whole lot of them. The playoff dream has ended but the season has not and the long climb back starts on Saturday. I am confident that they are going to figure this thing out and against a team as offensively challenged as Cal, it starts this Saturday. The offensive line is going to be a work in process all year but at some point the running game will get going. An expanded load for Chris Tyree and Audric Estime finding breathing room will be as much as a story this weekend as Pyne making his first start. Pressure from Isaiah Foskey and Rylie Mills will be evident causing a couple of turnovers from Plumber. The Irish win 27-13 and the steep climb to ten begins.