Notre Dame Football Primer: Scuffling Irish face California Golden Bears

The Fighting Irish are seeking their first victory as they host Pac-12 opponent, the California Golden Bears.

All the tremendous recruiting in the offseason and optimism around Notre Dame Football has slowly faded. This week will mark the 4th game of the Marcus Freeman Era, and there is still a lot of potential. With that being said, losing to Marshall at home is unacceptable. There are a lot of great matchups left on the schedule, and for the Irish to turn the season around it starts against an inspired California Bears opponent on Saturday.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Saturday, September 17th at 2:30 PM ET on NBC
  • Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Matchup History: Notre Dame is 4-0 all-time against the Cal Golden Bears (Last Meeting 1967: Irish won 41 to 8)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -12.0

California Details:

  • Conference: Pac-12
  • Head Coach: Justin Wilcox
  • 2022 Record: 2-0
  • 2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5)

Weather Forecast

The current GameDay forecast shows a 5% chance of rain with a high of 87 degrees and low of 64.

California Storylines

California travels to South Bend for the first time since 1967. The Golden Bears enter this matchup with a 2-0 record, albeit against UC Davis and UNLV. Justin Wilcox’s team defeated UC Davis 34 to 13 and UNLV 20 to 14 last week.

Expect Coach Wilcox and his group to be energetic and poised for another upset at Notre Dame Stadium.

There are several key players for the Golden Bears. The Cal Offense is headlined by quarterback Jack Plummer who is 51 for 74 (69%) with 4 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and 6 sacks taken. His top receiving targets are wide receivers Jeremiah Hunter and J. Michael Sturdivant. On the season, Hunter has 11 catches for 157 yards and 1 touchdown, while Sturdivant has 10 receptions for 104 yards with 0 touchdowns.

The Golden Bears rushing attack is led by running back Jaydn Ott who has 24 attempts for 156 yards (6.5 yards per carry) with 1 rushing score.

Notre Dame Storylines

Another new starting quarterback for Notre Dame. Notre Dame will have its second quarterback make his first career start at quarterback in three games this weekend. Tyler Buchner was lost for the season after suffering a shoulder injury against Marshall that ended his season. Notre Dame turns to junior Drew Pyne who played well in spot duty last year, but struggled immediately after coming off the bench against Marshall before thrrowing Notre Dame’s first touchdown pass of the season.

Marcus Freeman’s team lacked energy against Marshall. Yes, it is easy to blame the loss on motivation, but anyone who watched the game knows it was a driving force. Notre Dame undoubtedly played with tenacity and heart against Ohio State but they were pushed around facing a smaller Marshall program last week.

The Irish Offensive and Defensive Lines were not physical and did not impose their will on Marshall. Ironically, the Thundering Herd had 219 rushing yards and held Notre Dame to only 130 yards on the ground (44 yards were from quarterback Tyler Buchner).

Can Tommy Rees fix the Irish Offense? Many expected growing pains from Tyler Buchner but the inaccuracy, locking in on a single receiver, and failure to leave the pocket has been horrendous. And now Notre Dame has a new quarterback. Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment has been the offensive line. This was supposed to be one of the best units in college football and the Irish only averaged 3.5 yards per carry last week.

Meanwhile there has been a major drop off with Kyren Williams in the NFL. Chris Tyree was thought to be a future superstar out of high school and only had three attempts last week, while Audric Estime averaged 3.3 yards per carry, and Logan Diggs had 1 yard per carry.

The Notre Dame Defense took a step back. Al Golden’s unit has yet to force a turnover in eight quarters of football. The Irish defense only tallied 3 sacks on Saturday against an inferior offensive line. For a group that played admirably against Ohio State, they seemed unmotivated against Marshall. The sad part was Notre Dame Football was ranked #8 and still in the playoff hunt, did they not understand that?

Head-to-Head Matchups

Notre Dame Offense vs. California Defense: The Fighting Irish are averaging 15.5 points per game, while the Golden Bears are allowing 13.5 points per contest. California has the advantage in this matchup as Tommy Rees tries to get this offense figured out in week three.

Besides a few players like Michael Mayer and Lorenzo Styles, the entire offense has played inadequately this season.

Advantage: California

California Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: California’s Offense is scoring 17 points per game, while Al Golden’s Defense is allowing 23.5 points per matchup. The Golden Bears have faced awful competition and if Notre Dame’s Defense can play to their potential, they will have the advantage.

The Notre Dame Defense must force a turnover this week and get more pressure on the quarterback, if only to help set up the Irish Offense with better field position.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: Notre Dame’s kicker Blake Grupe is 1 for 1 this season with his conversion coming at 33-yards. Conversely, California’s kicker Daniel Gutierrez is 1 for 1 with his longest make at 39-yards.

There is no distinct advantage on special teams.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction

It is another week where the Fighting Irish will play a highly motivated team, and if they come out with no intensity again, they will lose. Notre Dame Football was in the playoff picture last week and did not seem to play inspired, so it is hard to tell how motivated they will play for a New Year’s Six Bowl game at best.

I have Notre Dame winning by three points. The Fighting Irish still have loads of talent and just need to find a better way to utilize the players they have on offense. Hopefully, the team is embarrassed about their performance the past two weeks and will show some enthusiasm. If not, this season could turn into Notre Dame Football circa 2016 or 2007.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27 California 24

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2 Comments

  1. This game will tell us a lot about where ND is headed this year for sure. If they lose this one then I fear we may be headed for a debacle of a season with more losses than wins. I hate to say this game is a must win, but I think it is. I’d really like to see them kick the crap out of Cal. But a win at minimum is necessary to keep the Irish from spiraling down a hole that will cost them recruits and call their future success into question.

    It’s too early to say how things will turn out for Freeman (or any of the coaches at this early juncture). Hopefully we will look back at the Marshall game and see it as a WTF anomaly, and not a sign of things to come. This game will tell us a lot about what the future of this season holds.

    And it’s almost tragic. If there was ever a ‘good’ loss, it was their loss against Ohio State. It was good enough that they were still in the playoff hunt had they won out. I know an Ohio State fan who said ND played a good game despite losing and they were worried for a while the Irish might pull out the win. But then Marshall happened and it all went down the toilet.

  2. Maybe the lazy recruiting of Bayou Brian these last few years has caught up with ND, or the inconsistent game plan of TR not staying with what worked was also an issue.
    Better execution by the players and ND would have won.
    The LOS will determine the outcome of this game.
    Some have bought that their recent success had little to do with historically weak schedules lately.
    Holding onto the elite recruits is vital.
    Or maybe last week was just a letdown from tOSU, and Marshall is better than pundits gave them credit for. A lot of answers this week will be revealed. A new QB and a new energy will be featured this week. It really sucks that Buchner went down. Go Irish.

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