On Saturday, Notre Dame started 0–3 for the first time since 2007 before scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to beat California 24–17. It was a much needed victory on several levels; Avoiding their worst start since Charlie Weiss, the Fighting Irish also gave Marcus Freeman his first career win after becoming the first coach to make his South Bend debut with a 0–3 record dating back to last season’s Fiesta Bowl loss from the state of Oklahoma. .
The Fighting Irish trailed 10–7 at halftime, with quarterback Drew Pine starting his career for the first time. The deficit antagonized supporters, but the Irish scored goals in their first three possessions in the second half to take the lead. From there, their defense was boosted repeatedly, shutting out the Golden Bears for the last 24 minutes of playing time.
Cal quarterback Jack Plummer passed to the end zone on the final play of the game, which was played before he hit the turf after being nearly caught and nearly intercepted. Cal’s touchdown would have been especially harrowing after the Golden Bears’ two losses to the Fighting Irish had been wiped out by video reviews earlier in the drive. In the end, however, the series became Notre Dame’s fourth consecutive defense stoppage to close out the game.
While the defense set the tone, there were encouraging signs from the offense. Pyne replaced Tyler Buechner, who is expected to miss the remainder of the season with an AC strain from last week’s loss to Marshall. The former four-star prospect started just 3 of 8 in the air as the Fighting Irish hit their first four balls. But then Pine settled in well and completed 14 of his last 15 passes with a couple of touchdowns in that stretch. His 6-yard hit to tight end Matthew Mayer with 9:16 left gave Notre Dame the lead for good.
Notre Dame is playing in North Carolina next week before open week gives it a chance to bounce back after a tense start to Freeman’s tenure.