Five things we learned: Virginia Tech 34, Notre Dame 31

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Behind center and ready to play a hero, Malik Zaire awaited the snap. Little did he know the clock was already running.

Seven of the 13 precious seconds remaining in the fourth quarter ticked off the field as the senior surveyed the field, the Irish still needing a nice gain to make a game-tying field goal even possible. And after Zaire left the pocket looking to make a play, even a completion wouldn’t have made a difference. He was out of time.

A fitting final snap of the season in Notre Dame Stadium if there ever was one.

Notre Dame’s fast start and 17-0 lead were not enough, as the Irish fell for the seventh time this year, with Virginia Tech rallying to win 34-31. After scoring on four of their first five drives and exploding for 24 first-half points, DeShone Kizer and the offense cooled off, punting on six of their next seven series as the Hokies offense rallied for the win.

A young Irish defense fought valiantly but gave up four scoring drives in the second half. Kizer’s couldn’t replicate his first-half success.  And any hope of stealing a bowl appearance with two wins against the season’s toughest back-to-back is finished.

So as the lights go out on Notre Dame Stadium for the final time this season, let’s find out what we learned.

 

A gutty effort by DeShone Kizer wasn’t enough to get it done. 

In what might have been his final game in Notre Dame Stadium, DeShone Kizer showed plenty of heart. But he didn’t play well enough to win the game.

Kizer completed 16 of 33 throws for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He led the team in rushing attempts with 16, earning all 69 yards he gained. But when the Irish needed to move the chains and win the game late, the Irish came up empty twice.

Of course, not all of that is on Kizer. A strong wind made accuracy a major challenge. The offensive line that protected him well for the majority of the game, struggled down the stretch. And a perfect deep ball that Kizer lofted down the sideline slid through Equanimeous St. Brown‘s hands, a game-changing catch that never was.  On a Saturday where the Irish offense needed to carry the team to victory, Kizer was just three of 15 in the second half, with Bud Foster’s defense shutting down the Irish in the game’s final 30 minutes, save Josh Adams’ 67-yard touchdown run.

Kizer was unwilling to discuss his future postgame, only that he had a decision to make after the season. But he reportedly hung around on the field after the loss, perhaps taking things in one last time before declaring for the NFL Draft, a decision the smart money already thinks is made.

After taking two clear head-shots that deserved personal foul calls, Kizer clearly left it all on the field. Unfortunately, there were a few missed plays out there as well, and they ended up costing the Irish.

 

Notre Dame’s young secondary couldn’t keep pace with Virginia Tech’s talented receivers. 

Someday a few years from now, Notre Dame fans will look back at the challenge Donte Vaughn, Devin Studstill and Julian Love faced on Saturday and reminisce that games like this helped forge the unit into something better. Until then, it’ll just be called growing pains.

Asked to go toe-to-toe with perhaps the best trio of receivers they’ll face all season (or at least until next weekend), the young defensive backs had some tough assignments, with Isaiah Ford catching seven of his 10 targets for 86 yards and Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges bringing in touchdown catches. Add in a long catch and run by slot man C.J. Carroll that went for 62 yards and the Irish were unable to make a big play against the Hokies passing attack—other than the gift-wrapped interception that bounced through the hands of Phillips and into the arms of Drue Tranquill.

The Irish defense had multiple opportunities to go out and win the game, but came up short. After holding the Hokies to just 135 yards in the first half they gave up 284 yards in the second, with 206 of those coming through the air. (That doesn’t count the 15 yards that came on a questionable pass interference call on Cole Luke, a play that Kelly thought Luke played perfectly.)

 

We knew the young secondary would have its hands full. Ultimately, it was the Hokies that won the aerial battle.

 

Once again, a fast start can’t make up for a soft finish. 

As we’ve seen far too often this season, Notre Dame’s fast start wasn’t enough. And after being one of the best coaches in America when playing with a lead, the Irish have been disastrous this year, blowing a 17-zip start and a 10-point halftime lead.

Asked to put his finger on the issue, Kelly couldn’t identify one thing.

“We had some balls that were catchable that we didn’t catch. I just don’t think we executed quite as well offensively,” Kelly said. “We weren’t as sharp in the second half as we were in the first half.”

It helps that Virginia Tech got its act together. After Jarod Evans gave away a fumble and the Hokies stumbled out of the gates, head coach Justin Fuente rallied his team—even as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost his team an offensive series. Evans led the charge, the massive quarterback the most effective ball-carrier for the Hokies run game, a challenging personnel matchup especially with a fullback on the field that forced the Irish out of their preferred five-man secondary.

For Kelly, it’s another tight loss. A coach who built his reputation on winning games late and doing the job in November is now struggling to find solutions at a critical time of the year. A loser of just 13 one-score games in his first six seasons, he’s lost seven in this season alone.

This one as painful as the rest, his young team giving up the game’s final 13 points to go home a loser.

 

It should be back to the drawing board for Notre Dame’s offensive leadership. 

Last season, the Irish deftly handled the trio of Brian Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford atop the org chart on the offensive side of the football. This season? Quite the opposite.

Because after another hot start to the game—triggered by some pretty impressive Xs and Os and play scripting—it was Virginia Tech that made all the winning adjustments, with Notre Dame’s offensive trio unable to counterpunch after the Hokies game back from halftime.

After reluctantly giving up play-calling last season and seeing the team put up its most explosive numbers ever, this football team’s schizophrenic nature has to be driving Kelly crazy. And after leaning on NFL talent like Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise, this team just hasn’t been able to find the right formula for clutch, late-game play.

When asked about the offensive coaching structure and the decision to give-up play-calling, Kelly steered clear of any second-guessing.

 

“I’m trying the best I can to offer some solutions, but you really have to trust in the play-calling and the execution quite frankly is part of that,” Kelly explained. It’s play-calling, it’s execution, and we had some opportunities that we didn’t convert.”

With his career at a crossroads, expect the head coach to reevaluate the hierarchy. And if you were a betting man, you’d have to assume that Kelly will go back to betting on himself.

 

 

There’s a young team with a promising future in South Bend. But finding a way to shake off this nightmarish season will be Brian Kelly’s largest challenge. 

Eventually it sounds like a broken record. Even the head coach acknowledged it after the game.

“These kids are wonderful kids. I’m just at a loss for words as to what to tell them,” Kelly said. “It’s just been a difficult year. They’ve worked so hard. They play so hard. They’ve been ahead in so many of these games and been so close in the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, it’s just one of those years. I haven’t had one like this in my 25, 26 years of being a head coach. It just hasn’t gone their way.”

Like we’ve seen all season, the positives have been there. Big plays from Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. Huge games from young defenders like Te’von Coney and veterans like James Onwualu and Jarron Jones.

But as the Irish look for the successful recipe for winning football, they too often have come up just short—with a different culprit seemingly each week. Missed blocks. Ten penalties (and a few crucial ones missed.) Red zone miscues that turn seven points into three. And a crunch time mistake that turns into a fatal mistake.

“I just love our kids. I love the way they battle. We’re going to wake up from this nightmare,” Kelly said, before joking that he hoped he’ll wake up 11-0.

He won’t. And any relief from this nightmare won’t come this November, not with a trip to Los Angeles next weekend that’ll require his players to provide the motivation, now that Notre Dame’s bowl dreams are dashed.

But beyond that, this will be on the head coach. And after assuring himself his first losing season since he rebuilt Central Michigan’s football program, the focus will be on the man on charge. Because he’s got a talented group of players. Now he desperately needs to teach them how to win.

 

 

 

Friday at 4: Under the radar notes on Notre Dame’s opponents

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Notre Dame will face Temple in only 71 days. The Irish will begin fall practice in six weeks, give or take a day. College football kicks off in only 63 days. Frankly, the offseason is far closer to being behind us than anything else.

That is underscored by the release of Phil Steele’s 2017 preview. There are other preview publications, and certainly others of great value, but Steele’s stands alone in its numbers-driven approach which leads to an unparalleled thoroughness. That combined with his reputation and marketing acumen (as in, Steele has great timing — everyone is starved for college football conversation toward the end of June) leads to Steele’s preview getting cited the most often in college football writing, and this space will be no different.

At 352 pages, it takes more than a few days to digest all of Steele’s analysis. For now, let’s simply rattle off a smattering of quick thoughts and observations about Notre Dame’s opponents gathered after a first read-through of Steele’s profiles on each. A discussion of Irish thoughts should come down the line, hopefully in much more depth.

Why only quick thoughts and observations? If nothing else, because of a recognition of reality. Trying to summarize Phil Steele’s preview into one column is akin to explaining all of a “The Fast and the Furious” movie with only one quote. You will lose far too much in the way of nuance and insight.

  • Most will remember Temple lost its head coach, Matt Rhule, to Baylor. Few will realize the Owls are also replacing a four-year starter at quarterback.
  • Most will recognize Georgia’s vaunted rushing attack, featuring Steele’s No. 7 and No. 11 running backs in the country in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, respectively, but few will expect the Bulldogs defense to be its backbone. In head coach Kirby Smart’s second season, Georgia returns 10 defensive starters. That is a recipe for success, and part of the reason Steele rates Georgia as his No. 10 surprise team this season. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason undoubtedly has a role in that, as well.
  • Boston College will continue to struggle this year, but its defense should keep the Eagles more competitive than in the last few years, led by Steele’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, senior Harold Landry. Outside linebacker may not be the most-accurate description, as Steele also slots Landry in at defensive end on his All-American first-team.
  • Steele largely saw last year’s struggles coming for Michigan State, though even he did not anticipate the 3-9 debacle. With three one-possession losses last year and no such wins, the Spartans were in position to be one of Steele’s “Most-Improved Teams” this season before off-field issues led to the dismissal of five key players. Now, Michigan State’s resurgence could take a bit more time, not that the on-field record is the most important part of that situation.
  • Notre Dame fans generally take more of an interest in Miami (Ohio) than outside observers may expect with former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin leading the Redhawks. There are many indicators of Martin’s gradual success with the downtrodden program. Steele points out two in-depth ones. Last year, Martin’s roster had only 15 upperclassmen. Basic math tells you that means he had 70 underclassmen, and still managed a six-game winning streak to close the regular season.

Secondly, Miami has gradually increased its competitiveness within its conference. In 2013 conference play, the Redhawks were outgained by 195.4 yards per game. In 2014, 70.5 and in 2015, 34.5. Last year, they flipped the script and outgained their opponents by 13.4 yards per game.

  • North Carolina could face an uphill climb this year, having lost its starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, starting running back Elijah Hood and top receiver and playmaking threat Ryan Switzer.
  • This entry could be as simple as one line: USC is going to be really good. Rather than delve too deeply into its roster (featuring Steele’s No. 1 quarterback, No. 3 running back and No. 2 cornerback) or debating its ceiling, how about a note specific to sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold’s performance last year, with a caveat attached?

USC averaged 34.4 points per game in its 13 games last year, including the bowl game. Darnold, then a freshman, started the final 10 of those, and the Trojans averaged 38.6 points per game. The caveat: Two of those three opening opponents were Alabama and Stanford, who held USC to six and 10 points, respectively.

Steele projects Darnold to win the Heisman Trophy and likely go No. 1 in the 2018 NFL Draft.

  • North Carolina State is trending upward this year following back-to-back 7-6 seasons, and will travel to Notre Dame following a bye week.
  • Most will remember Wake Forest lost its defensive coordinator Mike Elko to a small school in northern Indiana. Few will realize the Demon Deacons also return only five defensive starters.
  • Steele rates Miami as his No. 2 surprise team this year, even without quarterback Brad Kaaya who left some eligibility on the table in order to enter the NFL. The Hurricanes will rely on its defensive front seven, headlined by Steele’s No. 7 linebacker unit in the country. Miami also has the No. 2 special teams grouping.
  • Most will fear Navy’s arrival on the schedule due to its option-rush attack. Few will realize the Midshipmen return eight defensive starters this year and could be an unexpectedly strong team on that side of the ball, as well.
  • Most will remember Stanford lost both defensive tackle Solomon Thomas and running back/playmaker Christian McCaffrey to the NFL Draft. Few will recognize the Cardinal still return eight starters on each side of the ball, a big part of the reason Steele rates Stanford as his No. 3 surprise team and No. 14 team in his power poll, a ranking based on teams’ strengths alone, not factoring in scheduling quirks.

Now then, this scribe is late for a rehearsal dinner, and you’re late for beginning your weekend early. After all, you can count the weekends left before Notre Dame football starts on your two hands. Enjoy these carefree days while they are still around.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 46 (theoretically) Jonathon MacCollister, defensive end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3, 244 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll
Depth chart: MacCollister finds himself behind two seniors (Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti) and sophomore Khalid Kareem at defensive end.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, MacCollister chose Notre Dame from a lengthy offer list, which included Auburn, Clemson, Michigan State and Ohio State.

QUOTE(S)
Irish coach Brian Kelly noted MacCollister’s versatility on National Signing Day. When discussing MaCollister, fellow defensive end Kofi Wardlow had not yet officially committed to Notre Dame, making Maccollister the then-only dedicated pass-rusher in the class.

“Speaking of a guy that’s developing on the outside, Jonathan MacCollister … He’s long and athletic,” Kelly said. “Call him Big Bird. He’s a very athletic player that we’re going to play on the outside. He’s a guy that we think has the length, the athleticism that can play the defensive end position”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN WARDLOW’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
With Jalen Harris staying in the southwest, MacCollister may be the only true edge-rusher in this class. His length should serve him well in a three-down front, which is expected of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Expect a year on the sidelines preserving eligibility for MacCollister. The Hayes/Trumbetti combination will likely take the vast majority of snaps at defensive end, with Kareem filling in only to an extent his performance demands. Finding additional chances for MacCollister would simply be more difficult than the limited handful would be worth.

DOWN THE ROAD
If MacCollister were to have a strong fall and subsequent spring, he could quickly find himself in the two-man combination at end. Trumbetti will be gone, and Hayes has yet — though that is a key three-letter word in this instance — shown enough consistency to think he would carry the pass-rush load on his own. In this instance, MacCollister would face competition from Kareem, but overcoming one player only a year his elder is far more feasible than any path to playing time for MacCollister this season.

A portion of MacCollister’s appeal in recruiting was his overall athleticism. As a tight end in high school, he displayed it frequently. Some projected his collegiate future would be as an offensive tackle, not on the defensive line.

That is not to say MacCollister will make that flip. Given Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s success in recruiting, converting a defensive lineman might be out-and-out unlikely. But it should be noted, as crazier things have certainly happened.

(For example, Notre Dame once played a home game delayed by rain in the second half for such a lengthy interval, a subsection of the student section had enough time and perseverance to sing all 99 verses of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”)


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet known for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But a little bit of educated guessing can garner estimates for those numbers, and those estimates can allow the series to proceed without pause. 

How are those estimates crafted? The first step is to take a look at certain NCAA rules, but the NCAA does not put recommendations on defensive players, broadening MacCollister’s options. When discussing incoming defensive ends, it made some sense to have MacCollister quickly follow Kofi Wardlow’s theoretical No. 47.

Jonathon MacCollister very well may not wear No. 46, but it is possible.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: (theoretically) Kofi Wardlow, defensive end

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 47 (theoretically) Kofi Wardlow, defensive end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3, 210 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll
Depth chart: Wardlow joins a youth movement among pass-rushers. Given their time already spent on campus and in practice, though, three sophomores remain ahead of Wardlow at defensive end. Even among those three, Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji will have to scrap for playing time.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Wardlow switched from a Maryland commitment at the last possible moment, making his decision on National Signing Day. The No. 47 defensive end in the country per rivals.com, Wardlow also considered offers from Michigan State and Virginia Tech.

QUOTE(S)
Irish coach Brian Kelly received word during his National Signing Day press conference he could announce Wardlow’s commitment. To some extent, Kelly expected that chance, but it was still assuredly a moment of relief to confirm the 21st and final member of the 2017 recruiting class.

“A new guy has come in, Kofi Wardlow, defensive end,” Kelly said. “We were looking for one more pass-rusher. We think Kofi has some elite skills at the defensive end position where he can grow and develop. We really liked his athleticism and his size, really impressed with him in person.

“… He really fit the profile. He reminded us of a young Romeo Okwara, not quite as long, but is actually thicker than [Okwara] is. He’s just a really young, raw, extremely athletic guy, a guy that we think can develop into a really nice edge player for us.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN WARDLOW’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
Bolstering the edge rush is never a bad thing, especially in a class with only one other defensive end. Wardlow completes this Notre Dame recruiting cycle on a high note, and even that psychological factor alone should not be underrated.

“Wardlow has played football for only two seasons, focusing on basketball in the past. Naturally, that leaves him with as much raw potential as realized. Furthermore, that basketball background established a level of agility and understanding of footwork not often seen from players of Wardlow’s size.”

2017 OUTLOOK
With only two falls of football to his name, it would be in Wardlow’s best interests to spend a season preserving eligibility and developing a deeper understanding of the game, not to mention a more college-ready physicality. That is also the most-likely scenario, unless it is deemed he is needed on special teams. For these purposes, let’s presume that will not be the case. Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian has openly wanted more bodies for his units, but in doing so he referred to linebackers and safeties. Wardlow may have a lithe body, but he is very much a defensive end, not a linebacker.

DOWN THE ROAD
Kelly’s comparison to Okwara bodes well for Wardlow. Okwara is one of the better success stories when it comes to player development in recent memory. That distinction is not limited to Notre Dame. Okwara’s rise would stand out anywhere, considering he is now a viable contributor on an NFL defensive line.

It took a few years for Okwara to get ready for the collegiate game, though. He arrived unbelievably raw, largely due to his youth. (Okwara was younger than many players in the recruiting class a year behind him.) Wardlow arrives similarly unpolished, but more due to his short playing career to date.

Thus, patience may be required when it comes to Wardlow. Considering the development he showed between his first and second years of football, though, that patience should lead to reward. That high school development was enough to attract quick offers from a number of strong collegiate programs. Continuing at that rate would have Wardlow following Okwara exactly as Kelly hopes.


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet known for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But a little bit of educated guessing can garner estimates for those numbers, and those estimates can allow the series to proceed without pause.</em

How are those estimates crafted? The first step is to take a look at certain NCAA rules, but the NCAA does not put recommendations on defensive players, broadening Wardlow’s options. With Kelly comparing Wardlow to Romeo Okwara, slotting him in close to Okwara’s former number of 45 seemed fitting.

Kofi Wardlow very well may not wear No. 47, but it is possible.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 48 Greer Martini, inside linebacker

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ½, 240 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with only one season of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Martini will start as an inside linebacker alongside classmate and fellow captain Nyles Morgan. Junior Te’von Coney provides plenty of motivation and support behind Martini.
Recruiting: Martini committed to Notre Dame following his sophomore year of high school, limiting the number of other offers he received. A rivals.com three-star prospect, Martini had already been offered by Maryland and North Carolina State when he made the decision he would not waver from.

CAREER TO DATE
Martini began contributing to the Irish defense from day one, making two tackles in his freshman season-opener against Rice in 2014. Since then, his season totals have risen from year-to-year, even though his starts have remained sporadic. Last season, for example, captain James Onwualu started ahead of Martini, and Coney saw plenty of action, as well, finishing with 62 tackles himself. Martini, meanwhile, made 55, including seven tackles for loss, the most for a returning member of the Notre Dame defense, just ahead of Morgan’s six.

Martini did undergo shoulder surgery last offseason, giving Onwualu and Coney more reps throughout 2016’s spring practice.

Martini has particularly excelled against option-attack offenses, most notably Navy’s. In each of the last three seasons, his season-high for single-game tackles came against the Midshipmen, nine in each of 2014 and 2015, and 11 last year.

2014: 13 games, two starts (Navy and USC), 26 tackles including two for loss and one sack v. Louisville.
2015: 13 games, four starts, 35 tackles including 2.5 for loss and one sack v. Stanford.
2016: 12 games, four starts, 55 tackles including seven for loss and three sacks, with two sacks coming v. Stanford.

QUOTE(S)
Healthy and presumably a clear-cut starter, Martini was not much of a topic this spring. In listing off positional battles halfway through spring practice, Irish coach Brian Kelly included Martini and Coney. Without reading too much into that, it should be a promising sign for Coney more than anything else.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but I expect Martini to take the second-most snaps of any linebacker behind Nyles Morgan. The logic is fuzzy — senior James Onwualu will likely be the starting Sam linebacker — and the Irish staff believes in talented sophomore Te’von Coney. But there are just so many things that Martini is good at, and keeping him on the field makes too much sense.

“Productivity wise, I’m expecting a jump as well. We’ve seen Martini thrive against option opponents. Add in run-heavy opponents like Nevada, Michigan State and Army to the slate, and too many arrows point to opportunities for Martini. I expect him to seize them.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Martini has done all that has been asked of him on the field. With an even more prominent role in the defense this year, there is no reason not to expect such to continue. That should include another bump up in his tackle totals.

Four of the top-five Irish tacklers from a year ago return, with Martini being the fourth. He may not pass Morgan (94) or senior rover Drue Tranquill (79), but he could pass Coney. Even if Martini doesn’t do that, the combination of the two should join Morgan quite well in creating a consistent and productive inside linebacker tandem.

Having excelled against run-heavy opponents in the past, Martini will most likely post his biggest tackle totals against the likes of Georgia, Michigan State and Navy.

DOWN THE ROAD
Finishing his Notre Dame career with 200 or so tackles (currently at 116), Martini will have exceeded most expectations from four years ago. Continuing that trend will be difficult considering his size, but given his success defending against the run, a possible NFL minicamp invite could assuredly open the door toward a professional stint.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship