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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

What to expect from the Irish offense

For the first time in four months, the Irish will be back in front of fans for Saturday’s Blue and Gold game. On Jan. 1, 2022, the discussion of Notre Dame football centered around Marcus Freeman, the shape of his staff and what the offense would do without its leading running back as the Irish prepared to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Four months later, Freeman has a game under his belt in the head coaching chair. Recruitment has stayed on pace as upperclassmen leave for the draft. That allows us to focus on the biggest question of the immediate future: Who steps up in the 2022 season? Especially on the offensive side of the ball?

Any semblance of an answer to that question starts to take shape on Saturday. And, despite a few key names taking fewer snaps (or none at all) this weekend, due to injuries, Saturday’s game will shed some light on the season and may answer some questions we already have.

What we know: Tyler Buchner will not play. Drew Pyne is on both rosters.

Since Jack Coan set Fiesta Bowl records in the Jan. 1 matchup with the Cowboys, Irish fans have been asking who will take his place at the helm of the office. In a definitive moment of deja-vu, there has not been a clear answer, at least not in front of the public. Saturday was supposed to be our chance to see the junior Pyne and sophomore Buchner battle it out for the top spot — allowing all of us at home to pick a side and chastise the outcome whether we were right or wrong. But Buchner fell victim to another extraneous ankle roll. That means this weekend will be a chance for Pyne to prove that he should be our guy.

What does it mean?

While the events of the last 48 hours change the QB battle, that’s not to say that there won’t be one. Especially if things go well early for Pyne. The other quarterbacks, sophomore Ron Powlus III and freshman Steve Angeli are listed second on the Blue and Gold rosters, respectively.

If Pyne can make his case quickly, Powlus and Angeli will be there to make their Spring game debuts. It will be interesting to see if either of them gets the chance to stand out on Saturday and what that can mean in terms of backups on the season. Does it matter that Angeli was selected before Powlus, or is that just how the cards fell? The only way we’ll know is if Pyne shows out. In what is seemingly his last chance to make this team his and for reasons beyond that each fan personally holds – Pyne needs to show out on Saturday.

What we know: Michael Mayer is back.

Arguably the best tight end in the country, the junior Mayer resides on the Gold roster for this weekend. That selection immediately shifted his team up 14 points alone. Mayer has made it clear he has returned to the Gug with a vengeance matching the program's new energy. Immediately, on Saturday, Mayer will ensure his role is obvious, making every member of last year’s Mackey award decision eat their words.

What does it mean?

With Mayer on the Gold team, freshman tight end Mitchell Evans will have lead control on the Blue team. With sophomore tight end Cane Berrong injured, it will be Evans’s space to stand out and fulfill a role that can prove complementary to Mayer’s facing a real opponent. Being on Team Blue also puts Evans with existing running back duo of sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. At 6’5” and 250 pounds, Evans has proven himself with in-line blocking. He can continue to do that, especially with such stellar runners at his back. But without Mayer as a catching option, Saturday can be his moment to prove he’s a dual-threat.

What we know: Logan Diggs and Audric Estime are both on the Blue squad.

When the Irish and the Cowboys met to close their 2021 season on the first day of 2022, the Irish did so without their Kyren Williams, their beloved lead running back. For the first time, junior Chris Tyree led the running back room. In addition to him, the Irish saw Diggs and Estime take the field together. Diggs continued to be his creative self. Meanwhile, Estime took the power in his legs and used it for everything it was worth.

What does it mean?

Having Diggs and Estime on the same team could either just be because that’s how the order shook out. Or it could be the Blue team is taking advantage of the potentially advantageous pair rather than a questionable Tyree who, when healthy, has outshined the two in the past. If it is the former, though, that might mean that coaches feel freshman running back Jadarian Price has leapfrogged Estime. If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see what he can do on snaps that Tyree is out, or if Tyree doesn’t take the field at all.

What we know: The wide receiver setup is interesting, especially with two players out.

Graduate students Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins Jr. will not play on Saturday. Sophomores Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie are lining up on the same snaps. That leaves the Gold team with graduate student Braden Lenzy and all the young guys (in addition to Mayer).

What does it mean?

The Blue squad seems to be taking advantage of every potential complementary pair, seeing if they can find a rhythm together. Styles and Colzie will be the wide receiver edition of that test. The pair saw the field a bit last year, especially as the receiving corps thinned from injury. Meanwhile, Lenzy gets to be his reliable self on the Gold squad. Sophomore Jayden Thomas gets to spend some real quality time on the field for the first time.

What we know: The offensive line depth needed to be stronger last year.

The offensive line was put to the test time and again last year. Between injuries and inexperience, it was a little more than halfway through the season that they found a rhythm.

What does it mean?

Splitting into two drafted lines will be the very best thing to happen to the offensive line for this weekend. With the opportunity to get some experience against a defensive line that is as strong as ours at a pace that’s a little quicker than practice, every member of the offensive line will be able to see what they need moving forward.

Every spring game has its promises and its disappointments. Some players look nothing like the players they were four months ago. Others are nowhere near the player they will be at the first snap of the season. Regardless, everyone has the success of the season at the top of their mind. Fans will have opinions on it Monday morning — opinions that could change three different times in the off-season.