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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Miller: Different motivations power Irish to big Sun Bowl victory


Graduate student kicker Spencer Shrader, senior defensive lineman Jordan Botelho and freshman wide receiver Jordan Faison (from left to right) receive awards for their performance in Notre Dame's 40-8 win in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Typically, every great team comes together with a shared goal or commitment to achieve something great. Often though, that doesn't happen. For Notre Dame, the goal was to end the season in the College Football Playoff, not in El Paso, Texas. Winning is especially difficult if the outcome is devoid of any substantive effect. Regardless, the Irish pulled through, and the collective performance of the unit propelled the team to Freeman's first 10-win season and the program's sixth in the last seven years.

Vastly different motives and storylines fueled Notre Dame's success. For sophomore Steve Angeli, the Sun Bowl represented a tryout or an audition. Of course, Notre Dame would be thrilled to have Angeli back next year, especially considering he has up to three years of eligibility remaining. At the same time, Riley Leonard is the clear starting quarterback next year. CJ Carr looks like the program's future.

Where Angeli lands in that landscape is unclear. Angeli beat an Oregon State team that played most of the defensive starters that got the team this far. Angeli showed that he could compete, even though he took more risks than he needed to at times, running several times and taking big hits. Right now, we have no indication that Angeli will be moving on from Notre Dame. Yet if news of his departure breaks in the next few weeks, no one should be surprised. When asked about the future at the bowl's postgame press conference, Angeli gave no clear answer, instead trying to emphasize the present.

For some, it represented a preview. Sophomore Jadarian Price received the lion's share of the snaps, ending up with 106 rushing yards on the day, including a mix of runs to the outside, up the middle and motions. Price has room to improve, though. Late in the second quarter, he dove for a first down near the marker, ending up out of bounds. In doing so, he was also hit hard (the referees initially called it targeting before overturning the call on replay). Additionally, the clock stopped, allowing Oregon State to keep a timeout in hand. Freshman Jeremiyah Love and sophomore Gi'Bran Payne received snaps at running back as well.

To others, it represented a send-off. Graduate student defensive lineman Javontae Jean-Baptiste played well in his only game as an Irish captain, ending the contest with a sack and tackle for loss. Walk-on senior running back Chase Ketterer scored the first touchdown of his career late in the fourth quarter.

For head coach Marcus Freeman, the win affirmed the work he's done so far. Now 2-1 in bowls, Friday's win was a step in the right direction ahead of next year's sky-high expectations. Freeman has had some nice wins so far, although none look like great wins in hindsight. This game goes into the “nice” category. Every win counts.

Collectively, the group got their tenth win on the season, but Marcus Freeman continuously emphasized that the team was playing for one another and the “brotherhood” established throughout their time together. This was especially pressing following the passing of Jaden Mickey's mother, Nilka, to colon cancer. She died early on Friday morning. In a show of support, fellow sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison wrote “MICKEY” on the wrist tape he wore during the game. After a dominant performance, there's no doubt the Irish played together — for the team and each other.

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