JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, the Irish run game paved the way to victory with 264 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Logan Diggs finished the day with 89 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. He also added 81 receiving yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree also found success in the run game, finishing the day with 95 and 21 rushing yards, respectively.
Diggs scored his receiving touchdown off of a short pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. Diggs then raced down the sideline, beating the pursuit of multiple Gamecock players to the end zone. Diggs’ explosive touchdown cut the Gamecocks’ lead to seven and kept the Irish within striking distance at halftime.
Diggs described what went through his head during his touchdown.
“As soon as I got out of my release, I knew it was good. I have trust in Tyler that he’s going to put it where it needs to be. At that point I have to trust myself and trust my speed to capitalize, and I did, and it’s a blessing,” Diggs said.
Although the Irish only had 54 rushing yards in the first half, the second half saw the Irish rush for 210 rushing yards.
Diggs knew that the run game would have success after halftime.
“We always know the third and fourth quarters are our quarters,” Diggs said. “We had to be patient in the first half, but once your back is against the wall, that’s the type of games that we want.”
Offensive line steps up to provide crucial blocks
Diggs praised the offensive line for the team’s second-half success on the ground.
“When we were in that huddle and you see the O-line and they’re fixing their gloves and tightening their hands, you just know. I have the utmost trust in them and [offensive line] coach Harry [Hiestand] and their preparation,” Diggs said. “All I do is adjust my reads and trust my coaches and go out there and execute. They put us in a great position to continue to run the ball.
Buchner himself had a great day on the ground, rushing for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Buchner also credited his success in the run game to the offensive line.
“The big guys played their tails off. It’s great standing there in the huddle when they’re strapping their gloves and they’re ready to go. Having that look in their eyes gives you more confidence as quarterback that we’re going to be able to run the ball,” Buchner said.
Head coach Marcus Freeman loves the mentality of his offensive linemen late in the game.
“They want the pressure on. They want to run the ball in those critical moments, and hats off to them,” Freeman said. “They’re an excellent group. They’ve done an excellent job all season.”
In addition to praising his running backs and offensive line, Buchner praised the blocking of his tight ends and wide receivers as well.
“The boys up front were rolling today. Our backs had an unbelievable day,” Buchner said. “The tight ends and the wideouts had a huge role in the run game today, and I don’t know if people realize that. [Graduate student Matt] Salerno, [sophomore] Deion [Colzie], [sophomore Jayden] Thomas, [sophomore Lorenzo] Styles Jr…. those guys blocked their tails off all day long. Those are things that go unnoticed.”
Freeman touted his team’s ability to run the football against a South Carolina defense that was expecting them to run the ball.
“When you have the ability to run the ball when the other team knows you’re going to run it, that’s when you know things are rolling. They knew we were going to run the ball,” Freeman said.
On the game-winning touchdown drive, the Irish focused heavily on running the football, but they ultimately scored on a pass play to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans on a critical third down.
Freeman credited the run game with opening up the game-winning touchdown pass to Evans.
“I think it’s a credit to how we were running the ball,” Freeman said. “In that short yardage situation, to be able to leak Mitch out, that’s a tough play for a defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball.”
The success of the run game in the Gator Bowl bodes well for the Irish run game next season with the Irish returning their top three running backs in Diggs, Estime and Tyree. The Irish also return three of their starting offensive lineman next season with sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, senior center Zeke Correll, and sophomore right tackle Blake Fisher all expected to return. The Irish will need to replace graduate student right guard Josh Lugg and graduate student left guard Jarrett Patterson.
Contact Nate Moller at firstname.lastname@example.org.