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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Georgia, Miami & Navy remain undefeated; one of those to be tested this week

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Three Irish opponents remain undefeated and all three are favored to win again this week. Overall, Notre Dame’s foes went 7-4 last weekend, not counting the Irish victory over Miami (OH), and they are expected to replicate that again.

Temple (2-3): Consider any Owl conference championship hopes dashed. Temple now stands 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference this season thanks to a 20-13 loss to Houston. That score was much more lopsided entering the fourth quarter, when the Owls outscored the Cougars 10-0.

Three interceptions from junior quarterback Logan Marchi make it seven picks in two weeks for Temple’s quarterback. The Owls also had great difficulty on third downs, converting only four of 16 attempts.

A possible win at East Carolina this weekend (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU) will cleanse some of that taste from Temple’s mouth, but it will not do too much as it pertains to longer-termed goals. The spread favors the Owls by 2.5 points with a combined point total over/under of 62, indicating a final score of 32-29.

Georgia (5-0): This space would need much less editing each week if it were kept simpler. Something along the lines of: “The Bulldogs defense stifled [insert opponent here], forcing X turnovers while the Georgia rushing attack powered the offense to a YY-Z victory.”

Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has not excelled statistically, but he has not lost as a starter and, thus, will likely keep his job even when sophomore Jacob Eason returns to health. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In this instance, the Bulldogs defense stifled Tennessee, forcing four turnovers and tilting the time of possession toward Georgia’s favor by 10 minutes. The Bulldogs rushing attack powered the offense with 294 yards en route to a 41-0 victory.

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm completed 7-of-15 for only 84 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but his game management was certainly enough to likely keep sophomore Jacob Eason on the bench even though Eason is nearing health, apparently.

Vanderbilt will be Georgia’s next victim (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Bulldogs are 17.5-point road favorites with an over/under of 42, hinting at a 30-13 conclusion.

Boston College (2-3): Freshman quarterback Anthony Brown did not wow — quite the opposite, actually, with 14-of-21 passing for 85 yards and a touchdown — but the Eagles topped Central Michigan 28-8 thanks to 224 rushing yards and three Chippewa turnovers. Those yielded zero points, but they at least cut short Central Michigan drives.

Boston College will face a much stauncher test this week, and a much more motivated opponent, for that matter. Virginia Tech takes to the road following a season-altering loss to Clemson. Favored by 16, the Hokies are expected to win 32-16. (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Michigan State (3-1): The Spartans took care of business against Iowa, and not a whole lot more can be said. Michigan State topped the Hawkeyes 17-10, led by Brian Lewerke. The junior quarterback completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns while adding 42 yards on 12 rushes.

Remember a few weeks ago when Notre Dame ran right through the Spartan defense? That same unit held Iowa to all of 19 rushing yards.

Similar defensive success will be needed at Michigan (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC) to overcome an 11-point underdog status. The over/under of 41 points makes for a 26-15 hypothetical score. This will not be a trendy upset pick this week, and it probably shouldn’t be, but that is something to at least think about before Saturday.

Miami (OH) (2-3): Obviously, the RedHawks lost to the Irish 52-19, unable to contain the Notre Dame rushing attack.

They will likely be able to contain Bowling Green’s entire offense. The Falcons have yet to win a game this season, part of why Miami is favored by more than two touchdowns. Look for a 34-20 final, by the bookmakers projections, though a larger spread seems more likely.

North Carolina (1-4): The Tar Heels’ season has officially gotten away from them. A loss to Georgia Tech was expected. A 33-7 defeat was not. North Carolina has yet to beat an FBS-level opponent aside from Old Dominion.

The Tar Heels gave up 403 rushing yards and were outgained 456 yards to 247. Just how thorough was the Yellow Jackets’ game control? They had possession for 38:35.

Speaking of dangerous rushing attacks, here comes Notre Dame’s at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. As of Tuesday morning, the Irish are favored by 16 points with an over/under of 64.5. By those numbers, file away a 40-24 prediction. Then remember the Irish defense has yet to allow 20 points this season and realize that alone could lead to a larger margin of victory.

USC junior quarterback Sam Darnold’s fumble on the Trojans final drive sealed the 30-27 loss. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

USC (4-1): The Trojans fell at Washington State on Friday, 30-27. The night saw junior quarterback Sam Darnold set a new career-low in passing yards, failing to reach the previous mark set against Notre Dame in 2016. Darnold finished 15-of-29 for 164 yards against the Cougars while USC’s defense allowed 462 total yards. That offensive success may have best shown itself in Washington State’s 8-of-18 third down conversions and 35:27 of possession.

Darnold can look to boost his statistics this weekend as the Trojans host Oregon State (4 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Network). USC is not favored by five touchdowns, rather only 34 points with an over/under of 61. The thought of a 47-14 rout may be alluring to coach Clay Helton’s team, but any spread that large against a Power Five opponent should be viewed with skepticism.

North Carolina State (4-1): A 33-25 win over Syracuse may not speak of a promising future to come for the Wolfpack, but that score was skewed by the Orange notching a touchdown and a two-point conversion with fewer than five minutes remaining.

North Carolina State gained 206 yards through the air along with its 256 on the ground, the latter quite a number when compared to Syracuse’s 59 rushing yards. To continue the time of possession theme this week, the Wolfpack had control of the ball for 36:29.

Now comes a second major test of the season — the first being a win over Florida State. Louisville visits the Wolfpack on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). As four-point underdogs, expect North Carolina State to come out on the high side of a 34-31 projected final.

Wake Forest (4-1): The Demon Deacons’ dream season fell apart with less than a minute remaining against Florida State. A 40-yard touchdown pass gave the Seminoles a 26-19 win, despite Wake Forest senior quarterback John Wolford completing 24 of 34 passes for 271 yards.

The Demon Deacons’ shortcoming came in the ground game, taking 34 rushes for only 96 yards, a 2.8 yards per carry average. They just could not quite put Florida State away.

On one hand, another opportunity arrives quickly. On the other, that opportunity is even more difficult. Wake Forest heads to No. 2 Clemson (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as three-touchdown underdogs. The over/under of 47 projects to a 34-13 final.

Miami (FL) (3-0): A season interrupted by Hurricane Irma gained momentum with a 31-6 victory at Duke on Friday. Only leading 17-6 entering the fourth quarter, Miami never let the Blue Devils make it too much of a close contest.

Duke attempted 42 passes, gaining only 166 yards. Its longest completions were for 28 and 27 yards, no other passes exceeding 20 yards.

For a better litmus test, the Hurricanes head to Florida State this weekend (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Despite it being a road game in a very hostile environment, Miami is favored by 3.5 points with an over/under of 48. A 26-23 final would be closer than probably should be expected.

Junior quarterback Zach Abey has led Navy to a 5-0 start to the season, next to be challenged by Air Force.. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Navy (4-0): For a little bit Saturday, the Midshipmen looked ready to toss aside an undefeated season, falling behind Tulsa 14-0. Then, they merely scored 31 unanswered points to cruise to a 31-21 victory led by junior quarterback Zach Abey’s 36 rushes for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Malcolm Perry and Chris High also played pivotal roles in the rushing game (10 carries for 104 yards and a score; 13 rushes for 89 yards, respectively) as Navy gained a total of 421 yards on the ground.

Navy is going to Navy, it seems.

Now, it hosts Air Force (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network), favored by 7.5 points. The Midshipmen should come out ahead 30-22 by the metrics cited so often here.

Stanford (3-2): [Insert Bryce Love praise here.] Aside from the Cardinal junior running back, though, it was something of an underwhelming performance despite it ending in a 34-24 victory against Arizona State. Stanford gave up 214 rushing yards on 46 carries, a 4.7 Sun Devils average.

Life will get a bit more difficult for the Cardinal and Love will have his altitude fitness tested at Utah (10:15 p.m. ET, FS1). Favored by just less than a touchdown with an over/under of 55, Stanford is expected to prevail 31-24.

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.