Gator Bowl Pits Notre Dame Against South Carolina

Written By TJ McBride on December 27, 2022
Fighting Irish battle Gamecocks in 2022 Gator Bowl

Late-season bloomers Notre Dame and South Carolina mirror each other in several ways. Both had rough starts this season, both feature dynamic special teams, both beat Clemson this year and both enter the 2022 Gator Bowl sporting identical 8-4 records.

Both teams had strong finishes

Regrettably, this year’s Gator Bowl is also like its predecessors in that Floridians can’t legally bet on the game. The Florida sports betting issue should work its way through the court system and be approved (again) in time for next year’s Gator Bowl.

The 78th TaxSlayer Gator Bowl kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 30 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. It will be televised on ESPN. It features the 19th-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the 21st-ranked University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish in just their fifth meeting. The Irish lead the series, 3-1. They haven’t played each other since 1994.

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish had a disappointing season despite finishing 8-4. They entered the season ranked in the top 5 but promptly lost to both Ohio State and unranked Marshall in their first two games. To make matters worse, starting quarterback Tyler Buchner was injured against the Thundering Herd and hasn’t played since.

Coach Marcus Freeman would not commit to a starting quarterback, but Buchner is expected to be under center. Drew Pyne, who took over for Buchner and started 10 games, entered the transfer portal and will not be available for the game.

After its rough start, Notre Dame played pretty well, including handing the first loss of the season to then 4th-ranked Clemson. A tough loss to Stanford in October and a loss to USC on Nov. 26 dropped them out of the top 20.

With the uncertainty around the Irish passing game, their hopes rest on their running game. Especially after tight end Michael Mayer decided to opt out of the game to join the NFL Draft. Notre Dame uses a trio of running backs to wear down opponents. South Carolina’s defense will have its hands full trying to contain Audric Estime, Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Gamecocks also went 8-4 this season. They finished their season with back-to-back wins against then 5th-ranked Tennessee and 8th-ranked Clemson.

If they want to win the Gator Bowl, they’ll need to stop the Irish running attack. That could be a problem. South Carolina’s run defense ranks 125th in the country.

South Carolina’s offense is led by standout quarterback Spencer Rattler, who transferred from Oklahoma in 2021. The offense was ranked 53rd in the nation.

During a press conference after the Gator Bowl teams were announced, South Carolina coach Shane Beamer praised Notre Dame players.

“They have some players on offense and defense we tried to recruit either here at South Carolina or when I was at Oklahoma. I know they have talent as well, because some of those guys we recruited heavily when I was at Oklahoma and South Carolina. Great tradition, great team and should be a heck of a matchup. I know the Gator Bowl is excited.”

These special teams are really special

Special teams for both South Carolina and the Irish have swung meaningful games in their favor this year. The Gamecocks call it “Beamer Ball” when they force turnovers on special teams. Their special team recovered two forced fumbles in their win over Clemson.

South Carolina also boasts a tremendous punter in Kai Kroeger. He has completed three passes on trick plays and is second in the nation in yards per punt. 

The Fighting Irish have their own impactful special teams. Notre Dame has blocked a nation-leading seven kicks and seven punts, while not conceding a single blocked kick of any kind. Interestingly, the Gamecocks have six blocked kicks and five blocked punts, third and second in the nation, respectively.

Lots of Gator Bowl activities before and after the game

On Dec. 29, there will be pep rallies at the Jacksonville Beach Seawalk Pavilion for both teams. Notre Dame’s is at 5:30 p.m., South Carolina’s is at 6:15 p.m.

The day after the game, on Dec. 31, the Gator Bowl Charities New Year’s Run will take place. According to the Gator Bowl website, their event raises money for charities that aid youth.

“Gator Bowl Charities is our way of giving back to the community that supports the mission of our organization. We strive to not only improve the lives of everyone in Northeast Florida by bringing events and economic impact into our region, but by also directly impacting youth and individuals through unique experiences and opportunities.”

On game day, there will be several events for fans. The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Fan Fest will begin at 11 a.m. at Metropolitan Park and is free to the public. There is also a sold-out Touchdown Party presented by Bud Light on the Sky Patio. 

There will also be game-day pep rallies from 2 to 3 p.m. at Daily’s Place Amphitheater.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. They cost between $100 and $1,500 before taxes and fees. Parking passes are sold out.

Photo by Shutterstock
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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