(Photo credit: AJ Houk)
19 Weeks ago on a continent, far, far away, ND kicked off the 2023 season in festive Dublin, Ireland. The new guy on the block, Sam Hartman made a good first impression that day with four TD passes. The defense held up their end by keeping Navy out of the end zone and the Irish were off in fine style, 42-3.
Back in South Bend the next week, the Irish took on first time ever opponent Tennessee State. Hartman threw two TD passes and so did Steve Angeli. The defense pitched another “touchdown shutout” and the Irish moved to 2-0, 58-3.
On the road in week three at NC State, a thunderstorm made for a long afternoon. But Audric Estime came out of the locker room hot after a 90-minute delay and ripped off an 80-yard TD run. On the day, Hartman threw 4 more TD passes, and ND romped 45-24.
In South Bend for game four, Hartman remained in the zone by once again throwing four more TD passes. Estime rushed for 178 yards as the Irish took out Central Michigan, 41-17. The Irish stood at number 9 in the AP poll and were 4-0.
In week five the ND went toe to toe with Ohio State. I’ll stop there because there is no need to go into the painful details. The Irish fell 17-14, in gut wrenching fashion.
In week six at Duke the Irish looked to be suffering an Ohio State hangover. A lot of that hangover was caused by the passing and running of quarterback by the name of Riley Leonard. But ND managed to snatch a win, from near certain defeat, with a 10 play 95-yard TD drive in the last two and a half minutes. Hartman made a big play with his legs to convert a 4th down, and Estime did the rest with a 30-yard winning score up the middle. Howard Cross slammed the door on the day with a 13-tackle performance and was named national defensive player of the week.
Next the Irish traveled to then undefeated Louisville for game seven and that “Ohio State hangover” caught up with them. Hartman threw his first interception of the year, and his second and his third and the Louisville faithful stormed the field celebrating a 33-20 upset. The Irish were 5-2.
Game eight was back in South Bend against USC and defending Heisman trophy winner, Caleb Williams. Big plays and big performances ruled the day and they all favored the Irish. Chris Tyree scored on a 48-yard Hartman pass, Jadarian Price returned a kickoff 99 yards and Xavier Watts was the national defensive player of the week for his 7 tackle, 2 interception, 1 forced fumble and late game scoop and score performance. In all the Irish forced 5 turnovers and ND moved to 6-2.
Then a deep breath, because after eight games in eight weeks, the Irish had a week off.
Next game nine, and the Irish had hopes of a New Year’s six bowl game dancing in their heads and down went Pitt, 58-7. Xavier Watts was again national defensive player of the week and Audric Estime ran for 3 TDs.
New Year’s Six dreams ended in game 10 at Clemson. The Irish offense struggled as Sam Hartman threw two interceptions and only completed 13-30 passes and the Clemson running game ripped off some big plays leading to a 31-23 loss.
Following bye week number two, the Irish got things back on track with a senior day 45-7 win over Wake Forest. Sam Hartman tortured his old team with 4 TD passes, Rico Flores was the first ND wide receiver in two years to go over 100 yards in a game and the defense held Wake to under 100 yards passing.
For the season finale the Irish traveled to Stanford and dismantled the Cardinal 56-23. Audric Estime had a record setting night with 238 yards and 4 TDs.
ND’s regular season resume was complete at 9-3.
Since then it’s been near non-stop opt in, opt out, should I stay or should I go and the coaching carousel. But now, at last, it is getting near time to play some football with the Irish looking to build some positive momentum heading into 2024 against the Oregon State Beavers, in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.