Notre Dame is missing two of its best players after Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey opted out of the bowl game. They’ll have a new, old quarterback, with Tyler Buchner returning from injury to start his third game of the season after Drew Pyne transferred to Arizona State. South Carolina, Notre Dame’s opponent in Friday’s Gator Bowl, is also missing 11 starters of their own. Despite the Irish being down some players, they’ll still have plenty of starters who played prominent roles throughout the 2022 season available. Beating the Gamecocks, though, will likely require the Irish to have some significant contributions from some players who played lesser roles throughout the season.
I left Bucher off this list because it’s obvious that Notre Dame needs a big game from its starting quarterback. Here are six other players who played lesser roles in 2022 that could have an impact in the Gator Bowl.
Deion Colzie (WR) – Colzie started to make some noise halfway through the season, culminating in a breakout performance in the loss to USC. Colzie hauled in three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Trojans. After being slowed by an injury that kept him off the field at the start of the season, Colzie ended the season with nine catches for 192 yards and that touchdown versus USC.
Despite hauling in just nine passes, most felt like big catches – all nine went for first downs. Colzie wasn’t getting short passes to convert third and shorts, either. His average depth of target was 15.4 yards. Only Tobias Merriweather’s 26.4 (5 targets) and Mitchel Evans’s 22.0 (1 target) were deeper. When the ball came to Colize, he caught it too. Colzie caught those nine passes on just ten targets.
If there’s a receiver on the roster who could go all Miles Boykin Citrus Bowl on us on Friday, I think it’s Colzie.
Holden Staes (TE) – Mitchell Evans will get the start for Michael Mayer on Friday based on the official depth chart for the Gator Bowl, but Notre Dame will still use a lot of multiple tight end sets even with Mayer opting out. States only caught one pass on the season for 11 yards but is an intriguing receiving threat who will be fighting with Evans for the starting role in 2023 along with Eli Raridon. Evans logged 250 snaps in 2022 but was targeted just once and didn’t have a catch on the season.
Notre Dame isn’t going to replace Mayer’s production in the Gator Bowl, or even next season, for that matter. Mayer was that dude, and it’ll be a while before there’s another like him. Notre Dame still has a lot of talented tight ends on the roster, though, who will be given a lot of opportunities to make plays. For Staes, that could be as soon as Friday.
Tobias Merriweather (WR) – We finally got to see a deep bomb called for the true freshman against Stanford, and it resulted in a 41-yard touchdown. It was the only catch for Merriweather on the season. Unfortunately, a concussion cost Merriweather the final few games of the season, and he couldn’t capitalize on that score against The Cardinal.
Merriweather is healthy and could easily outproduce his 2022 totals in the game. Drew Pyne wasn’t known for his deep passing, and Merriweather is a downfield threat. Having Tyler Buchner behind center could unlock a few big play opportunities for Merriweather against South Carolina.
Jordan Botelho (VYPER) – Botelho only played 79 snaps on the season, but he still managed to collect three sacks in those snaps. He played a lot more as the season progressed as well. Over the first eight weeks of the season, Botelho registered just 19 snaps. However, over the final five weeks of the season, he had 60 snaps.
With Isaiah Foskey opting out for the bowl game, there will be a lot of snaps up for grabs between Justin Ademilola and Botelho. We don’t know yet if Ademilola will return for a 6th year in 2023, so the staff would be wise to get as good of a look as they can out of Botelho and see if his production holds up with more snaps.
Junior Tuihalamaka (LB/VYPER) – Speaking of VYPERs who could see a usage bump with Foskey out, freshman Junior Tuihalamaka has been practicing on the EDGE, and that could be his future after being recruited as a linebacker.
Most of Tuihalamaka’s 60 snaps came against Navy (29) and Boston College (14) after Notre Dame was without JD Bertrand against Navy and then blew out Boston College, creating some garbage time reps.
I doubt Tuihalamaka gets a ton of volume on Friday, but he should get some looks. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks at VYPER.
Jaylen Sneed (LB) – Notre Dame fans were hoping to see Jaylen Sneed earlier in his freshman season, but after arriving at Notre Dame under 200 lbs, it seemed clear that a monster freshman campaign wouldn’t be in the cards. Still, Sneed worked hard throughout the season and earned playing time by the end of the season. The bowl game feels like the perfect opportunity to get a more extended look at Sneed after he logged just 22 snaps on the season – all against Navy and Boston College.
Linebacker play for Notre Dame was largely disappointing over the second half of the season, and the Irish desperately need more playmaking ability in the group next year. Sneed is the kind of athlete who could provide that for the Irish defense if he continues to progress.