On Dec. 30 2022, Notre Dame took on South Carolina in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl, emerging with a 45-38 victory. This was Notre Dame’s 41st bowl game appearance.
Following a year of transition, adaptation and growth, the team lived up to their Fighting Irish name, coming back from a 14-point deficit in the first quarter to claim victory. This was one of their largest comebacks in bowl game history, second only to their 22-point comeback over Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl.
“It’s never how you foresee it on the front end,” head coach Marcus Freeman said of the game’s rocky start and the Irish’s subsequent comeback. “But the ending was right and that’s what we’ll remember.”
Going into the game, the team faced its share of challenges, missing many players who had played valuable roles throughout the year, including tight end Michael Mayer, defensive end Isaiah Foskey and quarterback Drew Pyne. Pyne took over as starter following Tyler Buchner’s shoulder injury in week two against Marshall. The Gator Bowl was Buchner’s first start in 10 games, and he rose to the challenge. Despite these obstacles, the Irish adjusted and topped off the 2022 season with a satisfying win.
The game started out neck and neck, with South Carolina scoring a touchdown on its first drive. Notre Dame responded soon after as Buchner rushed 15 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Just a few minutes later, however, the Gamecocks marched down the field and scored again.
While the Irish had an opportunity to even the score near the end of the first quarter, they had difficulty making significant advances down the field, and an interception thrown by Buchner helped the Gamecocks pull further ahead, making the score 21-7.
The Irish continued to trail in the second quarter, closing the half 24-17 after Buchner found running back Logan Diggs for a 75-yard touchdown, setting career records for both Buchner and Diggs. Early in the third quarter, Buchner once again tied the game with an 11-yard touchdown rush. As the second half progressed, Notre Dame’s running game grew more and more dominant.
“They put us in great condition to continue to run the ball,” Diggs said, giving credit to the coaches for the strong control the offense demonstrated.
The team continued to trail South Carolina until the fourth quarter, when Diggs rushed 39 yards for a touchdown putting the Irish on top 38-31.
With fewer than eight minutes remaining, the Irish were once again deep in the red zone, but an ill-timed interception allowed the Gamecocks to return the ball 100 yards and yet again tie the game.
On their next possession, with the game on the line, the Irish drove down the field with a series of rushing plays. With less than two minutes left in the game, Buchner passed to tight end Mitchell Evans for a 16-yard touchdown.
With little time remaining, the Gamecocks were unsuccessful in putting any more points on the board, and the game ended with the Irish in victory formation, celebrating a hard-earned win and their first bowl game victory since 2019.
All in all, Notre Dame racked up 264 yards to South Carolina’s 75, demonstrating the strong performances of Diggs and Audric Estimee, each of whom accumulated nearly 100 rushing yards. Buchner showed his potential with a total of 274 passing yards and 82 rushing yards of his own, leaving it all out on the field for the final game of 2022.
“We won the game and I couldn’t be happier,” Buchner said. “This off-season I’m going to continue to work, we’re going to continue to improve, and we’ll be a great team.”
The Gator Bowl attests to the unwavering determination of the Fighting Irish football team and the hopeful spirit that will herald them into the 2023 season.