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Notre Dame vs Cal: Time, TV, Preview & Prediction as Irish seek first win of Freeman Era

Marshall v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Marcus Freeman of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes the field prior to the game against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — So begins the Drew Pyne Era for the Notre Dame Irish. Stepping in for injured starter Tyler Buchner was never how Pyne wanted to take over the QB1 role, but the Irish (0-2) will need him to exceed all expectations, regardless.

“It’s an honor to be able to help this team win,” Pyne said Tuesday. “But for me, it’s easy to fall into a trap and have this affect me many different ways. I’m focused on one thing and that’s preparing as hard as I can for Cal and practicing as hard as I can to be able to have success this week.”

The unbeaten Cal Bears have relied on a stout defense for years, the specialty of head coach Justin Wilcox, so suffice it to say, Pyne is being thrown into the deep end.

TIME: 2:30 ET, with kickoff officially slated for 2:39 ET. This NBC-specific kickoff time will be missed next week when Notre Dame faces North Carolina later in the afternoon.

Winds may kick up during the game, blowing from the southwest, but otherwise, the weather will remain ideal for mid-September football with temperatures cresting in the mid-80s.

TV: NBC will broadcast the Irish chase of their first win of the season and of the Marcus Freeman Era, while Peacock will also carry the game live if preferring to stream it. Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett will man the booth with Zora Stephenson along the sidelines.

PREVIEW: As much as the Irish offense has struggled this season, and there is no way to look at it otherwise, Buchner’s legs had been a consistent catalyst. He had rushed for two touchdowns and six first downs this season, with the chains moving a seventh time due to drawing a penalty, while Notre Dame’s running backs have managed just one touchdown and four first downs.

With Pyne stepping in for Buchner, it becomes nearly impossible to project the Irish offense at the moment. So little has been seen of Pyne behind center.

Since stepping in for Jack Coan in the second halves of back-to-back games early last season, Pyne did not see action again in Notre Dame’s final eight games, just as he didn’t in the season opener at Ohio State. His late action against Marshall included a touchdown pass, but an interception before that snuffed out the last genuine Irish hopes.

Head coach Marcus Freeman said Notre Dame’s offense should not change much with Pyne in place of Buchner, even if the latter’s mobility was a differentiating factor in the preseason quarterback competition.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner out for season with shoulder injury; Drew Pyne to startNotre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

“I don’t see the offense, in terms of the entire package, changing because of Drew being the quarterback,” Freeman said Monday. “But I do want to try and look and say, ‘Okay, where can we do more for them as an offense?’”

But offensive coordinator Tommy Rees hinted at some possible changes on Tuesday. Frankly, Freeman’s coachspeak aside, it is hard to envision Pyne carrying the ball on as many designed runs as Buchner does, even if Rees described Pyne as “niftier than people give him credit for.”

“We know what [Pyne is] good at,” Rees said. “He knows what he’s good at. We have to make sure that he keeps that in the front of the mind. I have to call a game that highlights that.”

Rees understandably would not delve into those details. Facing a defensive mind like Wilcox’s is difficult enough without giving him bullet points to ready for.

The greatest attributes often assigned to Pyne are his confidence and care level. Positive characteristics, to be sure, they matter less on the field on Saturdays. At that point, his arm strength may be near the top of the list, as is an ability to keep his eyes downfield while buying time outside the pocket. Playing for both the Blue and the Gold in Notre Dame’s spring game, Pyne’s 22-of-33 for 185 yards was an ugly showing, but the required red jersey reined in his prediliction to ease away from pressure.

How he is able to show that tendency against the Bears may be the greatest determination of if the Irish offense will be ineffective all season or if it starts to show signs of life.

PREDICTION: The sportsbook valuation of Buchner vs. Pyne has been an intriguing one to watch this week. Notre Dame had been a 13.5-point favorite when looking ahead to this game, but with the news official on Monday that Buchner will miss the rest of the season, the line fell as low as -9.0.

As the week progressed, that ticked back upward. Consider it a correction to an overreaction, with PointsBet favoring the Irish by 12.0 as of Friday evening with a combined points total Over/Under of 40.5.

That total has not moved back and forth throughout the week. It simply fell on Sunday. No one expects this game to take on an offensive tilt.

But what if Rees is most comfortable calling an offense with a quarterback with a skill set like Pyne’s? That approach may not maximize the talent on Notre Dame’s roster, but at the present moment, Rees and the Irish have no choice. Buchner is out. Pyne is starting. And his game is awfully reminiscent of not only Rees’ but also Ian Book’s, with whom Rees enjoyed great success.

Supposedly undersized quarterbacks with more mobility than realized, though far from dual-threats, may just be how Rees works best. At least, to this point in his career it may be how he works best.

If that is the case, then the correction to the overreaction makes sense, and that total could be threatened.

It would still be a surprise, of course. The Irish offense has not produced through two weeks, and putting faith in it has very much become a “Believe it when I see it” proposition. The same can be said for an opposing offense finding regular success against Notre Dame’s defense.

The Irish have given up just 40 points through two weeks, most of which came via long touchdown drives reliant on the run. That is one threat Cal will not bring into Notre Dame Stadium. A week ago against UNLV — a defense that gave up more than 215 rushing yards in four separate games last season and at least 5.4 yards per carry in five different games — the Bears ran for only 92 yards with 2.9 yards per rush.

The greatest Irish defensive weakness, and not one of wholesale concern at that, is not something Cal will be able to exploit. With that in mind, Rees and Pyne may not need to scheme their way to many points to find Freeman his first career win.

Notre Dame 24, Cal 10
(Spread: 1-1; Over/Under: 1-1; Straight-up: 1-1)

Notre Dame will be in green today. No, this is not a motivational ploy. The Irish announced this choice back in June in response to the common refrain that Notre Dame would encourage fans to wear green once a season without wearing green itself.

If there is a difference to note in the jerseys today, it is not the color. It is that the Irish will have nameplates on the back of the jerseys for a game at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since … no, really, we’re not sure.

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