The 2022 college football regular season was anything but regular for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish: new head coach, new quarterback, new defensive coordinator, shocking unforeseen losses, and a win over a top-5 opponent for the second time in three seasons.
And that’s just a piece of the season in review.
As the Fighting Irish get set to finish off the season against South Carolina in the Gator Bowl, here’s a look at some of the most notable accolades — highs and lows, player and team — from the 2022 season for Notre Dame.
Offensive MVP: Michael Mayer, TE
Mayer finished the 2022 regular season not only as Notre Dame’s top receiver but as one of the top tight ends in the FBS. Mayer’s 67 receptions and nine touchdowns this season mounted him atop the FBS leaderboard among tight ends for the regular season, and his 67.4 yards per game and 44 first downs accumulated were both good for second in the nation at his position.
What's more, he is now Notre Dame’s all-time leader among tight ends in both single-season (nine) and career touchdown receptions (18). And among all Notre Dame players — not just tight ends — Mayer is in the top 15 in school history in receptions (180, third), touchdown receptions (18, tied for 10th), and receiving yards (2,099, 13th).
Yeah, he’s been pretty good.
Defensive MVP: Isaiah Foskey, DL
Like Michael Mayer, Foskey also had a major impact this season which also etched him firmly into the record books. Foskey’s 11 sacks in the regular season — eight of which came in the final six games — tied him for fourth in the FBS and boosted his career total to 26.5, passing Justin Tuck for the most in Notre Dame history.
Foskey also had a pretty iconic game in Week 8 against UNLV. In addition to notching three sacks, his single-game high, Foskey blocked a pair of punts — both in the first quarter — to become the first Notre Dame player ever to block more than one punt in a game. His versatility and ability to make plays all over the field have cemented him as one of the Irish’s most memorable defensive stars in history.
Best Freshman: Benjamin Morrison, CB
Talk about a late-season surge. Morrison had been largely unnoticed over the first two months of the season, missing two games and posting just two pass breakups in that span. But flip the calendar to November and Morrison intercepted a pair of passes in the win against Clemson — returning one 96 yards for a touchdown (see around the 1:40 mark in the video below) — and three more in the 44-0 shutout of Boston College, catapulting Morrison to be the only freshman in the FBS with five interceptions during the regular season.
Best Play of the Season: WR Braden Lenzy’s touchdown catch vs. Navy
I strongly considered Benjamin Morrison for this one as well. But in the spirit of distributing the recognition, and because it was simply a phenomenal catch, I ultimately went with Lenzy. I’ll let the video speak for itself: not much more that I can say on this one, other than it was a job well done … very well done.
Best Performance (Player): Benjamin Morrison vs. Boston College (Week 12)
Morrison’s two interceptions against Clemson two weeks earlier may have carried a more significant impact, but tallying three picks against Boston College helped to keep the shutout intact. Morrison became the first Fighting Irish defensive back with three interceptions since Harrison Smith in 2010 and just Notre Dame’s third with a trio of picks since 2000. For a freshman to singlehandedly dominate the Eagles’ passing game — while dealing with a blinding mid-November snowfall on Senior Day — there is plenty to be excited about for his future at Notre Dame.
Best Performance (Team): 35-14 win vs. No. 4 Clemson (Week 10)
Benjamin Morrison also played a role in this one, but he was hardly the only one. Controlling Clemson on both sides of the ball, this victory secured Notre Dame’s bowl eligibility and marked its second win over a top-5 Clemson team in three seasons. Starting off with a blocked punt that Prince Kollie returned 17 yards for a touchdown, the Fighting Irish took a 14-0 lead into halftime and kept the visiting Tigers scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. A pair of second-half interceptions — one which led to an Audric Estime touchdown run, while Morrison returned the other 96 yards for a touchdown — put Notre Dame ahead 28-0 with a little more than 10 minutes left to play. Combine that stout defense alongside a rushing attack that nearly tripled (263 vs. 90) Clemson's output and this game featured high levels of dominance against an undefeated, top-5 opponent.
Defining Moment: Tyler Buchner's season-ending shoulder injury vs. Marshall (Week 2)
This game was a defining point in the season in multiple ways. Notre Dame certainly bounced back from this loss, no question about it. But after a respectable performance against then-No. 2 Ohio State in Week 1, this loss ensured that there would be some growing pains as Notre Dame embraced its new collection of coaches and impact players.
More importantly, Buchner’s AC sprain in his non-throwing shoulder against Marshall led to Drew Pyne being the next man up and taking the reins of the offense. Pyne finished the regular season with 22 touchdown passes (as well as two rushing touchdowns) and just six interceptions, eclipsing 2,000 passing yards and completing nearly 65 percent of his attempts. Pyne definitely wasn’t perfect by any means, but his consistency and reliability were key given the collective lack of experience across much of the rest of the offense.
Biggest Surprise: Jon Sot, P
It’s not often that a squad's performance on special teams is deemed noteworthy, but this season’s punt unit absolutely fits that bill. Transferring to Notre Dame after three seasons (the 2020 season was canceled by the Ivy League) at Harvard and a pair of first-team All-Ivy League selections, Sot kept the momentum going in 2022 en route to being named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, presented to the best punter in the nation. Sot pinned nearly half of his punts inside the 20-yard line — a top-10 mark among FBS punters — including a career-long 75-yarder in the season opener against Ohio State.
Sot’s impact can also be credited in part to a fellow newcomer contributing a substantial impact, special teams coordinator Brian Mason. Joining the Fighting Irish after four years at Cincinnati, Mason has been nominated for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football. Not only was Sot highly reliable, but the Fighting Irish also lead the FBS with seven blocked, five of those coming over the final six games of the regular season.
Biggest Disappointment: 16-14 loss to Stanford (Week 7)
Sure, the Week 2 home loss to Marshall was certainly a tough blow. But given the season-ending injury to quarterback Tyler Buchner, it’s at least understandable that the shift in personnel and play-calling could lead to a slump. But posting just 301 total yards and losing two fumbles against a Stanford team that won just two games against FBS competition all season was disappointing in every sense of the word.
Senior Who Will Be Missed the Most: Jarrett Patterson, C
Isaiah Foskey was a candidate here, but Patterson has — literally and figuratively — been an unshakeable force in the center of the Fighting Irish offense for quite some time. A starter in all 45 games since 2019 and a two-year captain (2021 and '22), Patterson anchored the offensive line and helped rebuild a unit from a down year a season ago, especially with only one other lineman (Josh Lugg) having started a full season prior to this one.
Players to Watch in 2023: Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, RBs
Much of the preseason hype for the running back room centered around Chris Tyree, but it was Estime who had a breakout season to steal the show in the backfield. Estime leads the way with 825 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while averaging nearly six yards per carry. Logan Diggs is next with 732 yards and three touchdowns. Both have a touchdown catch as well. Their ability to provide a versatile change-of-pace dynamic has produced plenty of success for this offense and will create a valuable foundation for next year’s group.
Offseason Storyline: "And now, starting at quarterback for the Fighting Irish, it’s ________."
Drew Pyne surprised many in early December by announcing his decision to enter the transfer portal, leaving Tyler Buchner and rising sophomore Steve Angeli as the top two projected returning quarterbacks on Notre Dame’s depth chart entering 2023. But that hardly projects as anything close to a done deal. The increasingly prevalent transfer portal — including possible targets Hudson Card (Texas) and Devin Leary (NC State) — certainly adds to the intrigue, especially as Notre Dame showed this season that it features waves of talent across many positions but lacked the true difference-maker under center. Buchner possesses plenty of playmaking ability but his injury history creates plenty of uncertainty, and Angeli’s inexperience doesn’t add much more. This will certainly be a story to watch throughout the offseason and into spring practice, as a boost at quarterback could solidify Notre Dame as a contender for next season’s College Football Playoff.
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the editor-in-chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.