Despite some queasy moments both early and late, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish wrapped up their 2022 season with a wild 45-38 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Irish were five-point favorites in this Gator Bowl clash and struggled to get their footing against a high-powered South Carolina offense.
A disastrous first quarter in which the Notre Dame offense gained only 78 yards evolved into a final offensive output of 558 yards by the Irish. A good portion of the second-half surge came courtesy of a running game that came to life after the break. Prior to halftime, Notre Dame runners had gained just 56 yards but then collected 208 in the final two periods.
Below are some of the key aspects of the victory:
Notre Dame began the game on defense and struggled to contain the potent South Carolina for much of the first two quarters. The Gamecocks racked up 249 yards of offense for the first half. They had no problems scoring the contest’s first touchdown a little more than three minutes into the game. Then, on their second series, South Carolina again started strong, but a fumble allowed the Irish to notch their first touchdown–a 15-yard scoring run by Tyler Buchner.
South Carolina answered that with another scoring drive that came about on a fake field goal. That special teams’ lapse was compounded when Buchner then threw a pick-six in the final minute of the first quarter that increased the Notre Dame deficit to 14 points at 21-7. That jolt seemed to wake the Irish up and allowed them to slice that margin in half by intermission at 24-17 in favor of the Gamecocks.
After being out of action for nearly four months, Tyler Buchner could be excused for some rustiness that was evident in the early going. He ended the game by completing 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and threw for three touchdowns. Prior to his September injury, Buchner was more prominently known for his mobility. In this contest, he rushed for 61 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
However, Buchner’s performance did have flaws, most notably watching two of his three interceptions get returned for South Carolina touchdowns. The first came in the opening quarter, while the latter changed the momentum on a potential touchdown that would have meant a 14-point lead late in the game. Instead, the forced throw was grabbed at the goal line and returned 100 yards to once again deadlock the game.
Entering this game, Notre Dame running back Logan Diggs topped the list for most carries and wasn’t far behind Audric Estime when it came to yardage. Against South Carolina, Diggs showed how important he was to the Irish offense by scoring both on the ground and through the air and finishing with 89 rushing yards on just 13 carries.
The first major contribution by Diggs came with just over five minutes left in the first half. He caught Buchner’s short pass on the first play of the Notre Dame drive and then simply blew past every South Carolina defender for the touchdown. In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Diggs gave the Irish their first lead when he sprinted up the middle out seemed n third-and-two for a 39-yard score.
Trick Plays on Both Sides
In each half, both teams offered a trick play that ended up paying dividends for both squads. In the opening quarter, South Carolina seemed ready to take a 10-7 advantage but instead turned the fake field goal into a touchdown pass and tacked on four more points.
Notre Dame would eventually answer that in the fourth quarter when they pulled off a fake punt. Braden Lenzy took Davis Sherwood’s flip on fourth-and-four and raced 20 yards to help set the stage for Diggs’ scoring run.
Offensive Line Struggles
Getting Buchner comfortable in his first game back was undoubtedly the plan of the Irish coaching staff. The problem was that even though South Carolina finished with just two sacks, they delivered plenty of heat on Buchner in the opening quarter. That forced the signal-caller to rush some of his throws.
The Irish line had begun the year with some rough edges but seemed to gel as the season went along. The possible reason for the early issues in this game might be attributed to the five-week layoff or simply trying to get in sync with a new quarterback. However, Buchner’s numbers as the game progressed indicate that the problem eventually subsided.
The end of the 2022 campaign now transitions into preparations for next season. In reality, that process has already begun, with Marcus Freeman having acquired a Top Ten recruiting class with more additions through the transfer portal coming soon. The arrival of spring ball is just months away and is geared toward starting off on a better note than this season. That first game will be in Ireland on Aug. 26, with major home games against Ohio State and Southern Cal also offering an imposing challenge.