Key Matchups: Drastic Changes for Notre Dame, Oregon State in Sun Bowl Matchup

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish complete their 2023 season with a Friday matchup against the Oregon State Beavers. The atmosphere for this game is anything but sunny, considering that both teams have taken major hits in the transfer portal. In addition, the Beavers will have an interim head coach, Kefense Hyson, who replaces Jonathan Smith, who left to take the top job at Michigan State.

Marcus Freeman knows all about taking over in time for a bowl game, having been on the losing end of a Fiesta Bowl matchup two years ago. This clash is only the third time the two schools have met, with Oregon State winning each of those two contests. The first came in a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl rout of the Irish in January 2001, followed by a 38-21 win in the 2004 Insight Bowl.

Below is a look at some of the key matchups among these drastically revamped lineups:

QB Steve Angeli vs. Oregon State Defense

Angeli became the start after the departure of Sam Hartman. Despite that status, even a standout performance likely won’t end up supplanting incoming signal-caller Riley Leonard. During this season, Angeli made appearances in no-pressure situations and will be working behind virtually a new offensive line in this game. He also won’t have Audric Estime as an option, so Jeremiyah Love needs to make some serious contributions.

Allowing 21.5 points per game, the Beaver defense ranked in the top third among FBS teams. However, they can be scored on with Washington State and California combining for 78 points against them. In addition, UCLA also rushed for 287 yards against them, which could mean a good day for Love and the remaining backs. The Beavers’ big-play capability is modest, with seven of their 12 interceptions coming in that UCLA contest and a rout of Stanford.

Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Ben Gulbranson

The Irish allowed the eighth-fewest points during the regular season, though breakdowns against Louisville and Clemson helped send Notre Dame down to defeat. This unit was largely able to avoid the transfer and opt-out carnage the team’s offense sustained. Due to that factor, they should be able to keep the Beavers’ offense in check, especially since they’re missing some key pieces of their own.

Gulbranson was the Beavers’ third-string quarterback until the two players ahead of him, D.J. Uiagalelei and Aidan Chiles, both headed to the portal. Gulbranson only threw one pass for six yards all season but has experience from 2022, when he started nine games. During that season, he had 122 completions for 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns, with critics tagging him as simply a game manager.

WR Jayden Thomas vs. CB Jaden Robinson

The severe depletion of the Notre Dame receiving department has made the potential of Thomas an important factor in this contest. He’s spent a good deal of this season dealing with hamstring issues but he showed before that he can provide a big-play option. Other wideouts like Jaden Greathouse, Jordan Faison and Deon Colzie also need to step up, but Thomas’ performance is especially important.

Robinson is in his fifth season with the Beavers though he’s only been a starter for the past two. He’s not a big-play type of corner since he’s still looking for his first collegiate interception. However, he does have seven pass breakups this season and has also made 32 stops, one of those behind the line of scrimmage.

MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Deshaun Fenwick

Bertrand’s impressive Notre Dame has seen him offer the Irish a solid competitor whose aggressive approach has provided fuel for the defensive unit. That’s translated into being the top tackler for three years running, so Bertrand’s name will likely be heard a lot during this game.

Fenwick is the the Beavers’ second-leading rusher on the season but he figures to get most of the carries during this game. That’s because their top back, Damien Martinez, won’t be playing due to off-the-field issues. Fenwick is the only other back the Beavers have who’s rushed for over 100 yards all season, so shutting him down effectively means stopping the entire Beaver running game.

T Charles Jagusah/Tosh Baker vs. Andrew Chatfield

With both Joe Alt and Blake Fisher opting out of the game, the insertion of Baker and Jagusah into their spots puts the spotlight on them. Jagusah’s play will be especially important to watch since the true freshman will be protecting Angeli’s blind side. He got limited reps during the latter portion of the team’s blowouts. Wagner could end up sharing time with Tosh Baker, whose usual spot is on the other side. Interim OC Gino Guidugli confirmed Baker will start at his press conference on Tuesday, though.

The reason for listing both tackles is that Chatfield is a weakside edge rusher who led Oregon State in sacks with nine. He also has enough range to get into pass coverage. The 2023 season has been a breakout campaign for him, so he no doubt is looking to finish the season on a strong note. He also has a pair of interceptions and has forced two fumbles this season.

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