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Cal Football

Cal Visits the Golden Dome for the First Time in 55 Years

September 15, 2022
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Of all the storied programs in college football, none conjures up quite the mystique of the University of Notre Dame. The list of coaches reads like a Who’s Who of CFB: Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy, Joe Kuharich, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz…a 918-329-42 record over 131 years of games.

The school has also produced seven Heisman Trophy winners --- but none since 1964 – 58 seasons and counting. Saturday, Cal renews a series that dates back to 1959, and they are looking for the program’s first-ever win against the Fighting Irish, having lost in 1959, 1960, 1965 and 1967, while scoring the rather miserable total of 27 points in the 4 losses, combined.

One prediction I feel very safe in making: the 2022 California Golden Bears will be the first team in school history to score in double-figures against Notre Dame.

Beyond that, it gets dicey. If you were to go to the NCAA website, as did I, and look up team stats for Cal and Notre Dame, you’d be hard-pressed to learn much – neither ranks in the top 50 on offense or defense. What IS notable is that ND’s two previous opponents, Ohio State and Marshall, both do rank highly on offense.

Last week’s loss to Marshall at home (there is NO truth to the rumor Touchdown Jesus flung his hands in disgust after the game) was, in a sense, a battle of backups, as the Fighting Irish lost their starting quarterback, Tyler Buchner, for the remainder of the season after surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Stepping into the breach is redshirt junior QB Drew Pyne. Pyne is 5’11” and 198 lbs., out of the State of Connecticut. He has seen limited action as a backup the past two seasons, compiling stats of 20-for-39 for 256 yards and 3 TDs with one interception in the prior two seasons. In his first significant action for the Irish, Pyne stepped in against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago last season and completed 6-of-8 passes to rally Notre Dame from a 10-13 deficit to a 41-13 win, aided by a pair of pick-6s from his defense.

The Fighting Irish have been outscored (obviously, with a 0-2 record, their worst start after starting the season ranked since Gerry Faust’s terrible 1981 campaign, where they were #1 in week 2 but finished 5-6 and unranked), outgained on the ground nearly 2-1, and have racked up just 15.5 points per game, “good enough” to rank 117 out of 131 FBS teams in both scoring per game and total offense per game.

Not quite the marquee matchup Cal fans circled on their calendars back during the pandemic.

Nonetheless, this is not a team to be taken lightly. Pyne has shown to be an accurate passer and a good decision-maker in his limited time, which will have to suffice as he trailed behind Buchner in arm strength, athleticism, size, and most certainly, rushing ability (Buchner is the Fighting Irish’s leading rusher to this point in the season).

A name to watch: Chris Tyree. The 5-9 ½, 197 lb. junior out of Chester, VA., is a true all-purpose threat, with 4.3 speed in the 40. Tyree has averaged 5.5 yds per carry over his career and has a 100-yard game to his credit. He finished the 2021 season with 1017 all-purpose yards.

When Pyne drops back to pass, one of his favorite targets will likely be sophomore wideout Lorenzo Styles, who had 7 catches for 69 yards (47 yards after the catch) against Marshall and added 22 rushing yards as well.  6-4 ½, 265 lb. tight end Michael Mayer, Notre Dame’s leading receiver with 13 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, is one of the nation’s best at the position. Mayer logged his third career 100-yard receiving day against Marshall.

The Irish defense, ranked #6 nationally by ESPN last spring, has underwhelmed. Currently ranked 85 out of 131 FBS teams, they have acquired no turnovers so far in two games. Notre Dame has allowed sacks on almost 1 of 11 pass attempts and has thrown an interception on about one of every 19 pass attempts.

Still, the Fighting Irish are a 10.5-point favorite as of this writing.  Many Notre Dame fans, already disenchanted with head coach Marcus Freeman, are predicting a straight-up Cal win; even though ND quarterbacks are 14-5 in their first career starts at home, that spread seems a bit high. Look for Jaydn Ott to light up the green-clad Irish defense and make a name for himself on the national stage. The over/under of 45 points seems high to me, also.

The game will be televised nationally on NBC and also available on the Peacock streaming service. Kickoff is at 11:30 Berkeley time.

 
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