Welcoming an HBCU for the first time ever to the Golden Dome, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shook off some early bugs to easily dispatch the Tennessee State Tigers by a score of 56-3 on Saturday. The easy win elevated the Irish to 2-0 on the young season, though the level of competition picks up for the remainder of the season.
As expected, the game itself wasn’t close, with Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman using a wealth of reserves. From that perspective, the opportunity for newcomers and rarely-used players to see action could be seen as beneficial. In addition, despite the one-sided nature of the contest, the groundwork has now been laid for other HBCU schools to be considered as potential Irish opponents down the road.
Below are some pertinent aspects of the win:
Early Stumbles for Notre Dame
Anyone simply looking at the final score of this contest might infer that there were no surprises in what was expected to be a Notre Dame cakewalk. However, during the first 15 minutes, some Irish fans might have fidgeted in their seats since the Tigers refused to roll over and take their punishment before heading back home.
Notre Dame did begin the game with a run-fueled, 10-play touchdown drive. That methodical march down the field took nearly six minutes but was quickly matched by a 15-play drive from Tennessee State that was extended by Thomas Harper getting flagged for pass interference. A Tigers field goal and Devyn Ford’s subsequent kickoff miscue gave Tennessee State the ball back at the Irish 12. However, three quick stops and a block of another field goal attempt shifted the momentum for good.
Second Quarter Eruption
When the first quarter ended, the Irish held a slim 7-3 advantage, but immediately took control on the first play of the new period when Audric Estime broke off a 50-yard run. That was soon followed by a Jadarian Price 11-yard grab and Sam Hartman’s five-yard scoring run. Ramon Hernandez’s interception then set up a scoring drive capped by a Chris Tyree touchdown grab.
A quick three-and-out for the Tigers led to a drive that was kept alive by a clutch third-down catch by Jayden Thomas and ended with an Estime scoring run. The final punch delivered came in rapid-fire fashion as Hartman took just 38 seconds to march 80 yards by completing six passes, the last to Holden Staes to make it 35-3 at intermission.
Spreading the Love
During the preseason, the projected depth at running back behind Audric Estime was made up of talented but largely untested players. After two weeks of action, Love is making his case to be the latest outstanding member of the Irish backfield. Last week, he carried the ball just four times, but averaged 10 yards and had the longest run of the game with a 21-yard scamper.
Against Tennessee State, Love managed to largely match last week’s numbers with 46 yards on five carries, the highlight being a 36-yard touchdown run to put Notre Dame on the board. He also grabbed one pass for four yards on the afternoon. At the moment, one of his main competitors, Jadarian Price, has been more effective as a receiving option.
Partly Calling Off the Dogs
The surge before halftime resulted in Freeman choosing to take Hartman out of the game and inserting Steve Angeli behind center. Angeli’s first series was a quiet one but quickly picked up on an 82-yard drive that ended with a Price 40-yard touchdown grab. A pick-six by Clarence Lewis then made it a 49-3 game.
Yet, that massive lead didn’t stop Angeli from taking to the air in his next series. Completing three of four passes during a seven-play, 87-yard drive, Angeli finished things off with a 42-yard scoring toss to Gi’Bran Payne. Barring a Hartman injury, this may be Angeli’s last action for quite a while, but he appears to be getting comfortable in a role he could assume in a starting capacity next season.
Next Up for Notre Dame Football
Making their first stateside road trip of the 2023 season, Notre Dame travels to Raleigh to face the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who won their opening clash last Thursday. That 24-14 road victory over the Connecticut Huskies marked a successful debut for transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong. The signal-caller threw for 155 yards and also led North Carolina State with 96 rushing yards, scoring twice on the night. The Irish and Wolfpack have only met three previous times, including just once in Raleigh. That 2016 clash, a 10-3 Notre Dame loss, was memorable for the hurricane-type conditions the teams endured.