Quarterback dynamics and roster changes take center stage in Sun Bowl

Oregon State interim head coach Kefense Hynson (left) and Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman pose together at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Press Conference in El Paso, Texas on Dec 28, 2023.
Oregon State interim head coach Kefense Hynson (left) and Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman pose together at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Press Conference in El Paso, Texas on Dec 28, 2023.
Morgan Barnaby

The 90th annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl in El Paso will be one of four games headlined on Dec. 29. 

The two teams featured in the game both finished in the top 25 of the final College Football Playoff Rankings, as No. 19 Oregon State faces off against No. 16 Notre Dame.

Ben Gulbranson is the starting quarterback for the Beavers and after only taking a few snaps at quarterback this season, interim head coach Kefense Hynson isn’t worried.

“Any player, especially quarterback, I think game reps are everything,” Hynson said. “And I think it’s hard to simulate the game unless you have played the game, especially at quarterback. You can practice it, but the looks you get will never be as fast as the actual game, and he has actual game reps, muscle memory that he can rely on, which I think is huge.”

Gulbranson, the Beavers’ starting quarterback last year, posted a 7-1 record, including a bowl game victory in the Las Vegas Bowl against the University of Florida Gators. 

“If you talk to a lot of coaches and they are playing with their quote-on-quote third-string quarterback, there’s going to be some anxiety there. But our guy started a bunch of games for us, won a lot of games for us, played in big games for us, and that’s been successful in big games for us,” Hynson said.

Notre Dame also has a new quarterback starting for them, different from Gulbranson, this will be his first bowl game appearance.

Fighting Irish quarterback Steve Angeli has been the backup to Sam Hartman all year, seeing minimal reps at quarterback. He has 25 passing attempts on the season, with four touchdowns and an interception.

These opportunities for Angeli were primarily in relief of Hartman, as the games he played in the most saw the Fighting Irish winning by 50 plus points by the final buzzer.

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman mentioned how the offense isn’t changing drastically with the insertion of Angeli behind the center.

“You got to be Steve Angeli, don’t be Sam Hartman, don’t be anyone else, be Steve Angeli. I don’t think with Steve and Sam is really gonna change what we do offensively.”

Along with Angeli, Freeman commented on another switch. With starting running back Audric Estime not playing, Jeremiyah Love will handle the majority of the ball-carrying duties.

“The different things you can do with Jeremiyah vary with what you are going to ask Audric to do. We are going to ask Jeremiyah to do some things that we asked Audric to do but also some things we didn’t ask Audric to do. Obviously, try to get him to the perimeter; his speed is elite,” Freeman said. 

Love enters the Sun Bowl with 56 carries in the 2023 season after being slotted into a backup role.

Despite the roster changes for both teams, Notre Dame enters this matchup highly favored to win the Sun Bowl, according to oddsmakers, as the Fighting Irish are favored by six and a half points. 

Hynson acknowledged his team’s “underdog” status, as he mentioned he isn’t a fan of that metric.

“The games not played on paper, and that is where you build the underdog story, you look at the roster, who they got coming back, who we got coming back, who they play, I’m not into that, that’s just not how the sport is,” Hynson said. “You put two teams on the field you don’t know who is going to win.”

The stage is set for both teams ahead of their matchup, as kickoff is set for 12:12 pm MST (11:12 PST).

Fans living in the Salem area can come together to cheer on the season finale at the Honky Tonk Bar and Grill in Salem (2275 McGilchrist St SE, Salem, OR 97302). The watch party is put together by Beaver Alums and will be one of many watch parties that fans and alumni will host as they cheer on the Beavers. 

For those who cannot attend the game in person or at a watch party, the game will be televised on CBS. 

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