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Notre Dame and Cal to meet in 2022

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In what should be the heyday of Notre Dame’s most-recent recruits, the Irish will face Cal in 2022, per a release from Berkeley on Monday.

The two programs have not met since four games between 1959 and 1967, of which Notre Dame won all four games.

“We are looking forward to visiting Notre Dame,” Golden Bears director of athletics Jim Knowlton said. “Notre Dame Stadium is an iconic venue, and this game provides another opportunity for our alumni to support their Bears on the road. We saw a great turnout for our game at Ole Miss this past season and again at the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara. I expect we’ll have another large contingent follow us to Notre Dame for this exciting contest.”

By the time Cal arrives in South Bend on Sept. 17, the Irish will already be well-tested in 2022, beginning the season at Ohio State on Sept. 3 and then hosting Marshall on Sept. 9. For comparison’s sake, the Bears will have hosted UC Davis and visited North Texas.

In a year in which Notre Dame will face the Buckeyes, Clemson, USC and Stanford, a guarantee game against Cal might not warrant much notice, but that overlooks head coach Justin Wilcox’s progress in just three seasons. The Bears went 5-7 in 2016, the year before he arrived, and improved to 8-5 in 2019, a misleading record in its own right.

Cal went 7-0 with sophomore Chase Garbers healthy at quarterback, a shoulder injury twice plaguing him. When behind center, Garbers completed 60.9 percent of his passes while throwing 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

The Bears might not be a national title contender by 2022, especially with Garbers presumably out of eligibility by then, but they should be a much stiffer challenge than the usual opponent accompanied by a seven-figure check.


For nearer future scheduling purposes, Notre Dame announced its annual Blue-Gold Game will be April 18 at 12:30 ET, televised on NBCSN. Spring practices typically commence about six weeks beforehand.


The complete 2021 Irish schedule:
Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 6 — at Florida State
Sept. 11 — vs. Toledo
Sept. 18 — vs. Purdue
Sept. 25 — at Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago
Oct. 2 — vs. Cincinnati
Oct. 9 — at Virginia Tech
Oct. 23 — vs. USC
Oct. 30 — vs. North Carolina
Nov. 6 — vs. Navy
Nov. 13 — at Virginia
Nov. 20 — vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 27 — at Stanford


The 2022 Notre Dame schedule as known thus far:
Sept. 3 — at Ohio State
Sept. 10 — vs. Marshall
Sept. 17 — vs. Cal
Oct. 15 — vs. Stanford
Oct. 22 — vs. Navy
Nov. 5 — vs. Clemson
Nov. 26 — at USC
TBD — at North Carolina
TBD — at Syracuse
TBD — vs. Boston College

Leftovers & Links: Kobe Bryant’s reach extended to Notre Dame

Arike Ogunbowale Kobe Bryant
@Arike_O
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You may think there was no connection between Notre Dame and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who passed away Sunday in a helicopter accident in southern California. You’d be wrong.

Though he bypassed college himself, said he would have gone to Duke if he had taken a pause before jumping to the NBA and was an unabashed fan of Connecticut women’s basketball, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer actually had multiple ties to the Irish. Most personally, Kobe and current Notre Dame sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy knew each other well enough for Kobe to occasionally offer individual advice as Lenzy’s athletic career blossomed.

As The Athletic’s Pete Sampson detailed last month, Lenzy met Kobe through his father’s work with Nike. When Kobe preached the necessities of recovery for sustained success in any sport, Lenzy balked. Ice baths are rather cold, after all.

“Kobe just said, ‘That’s OK. Not everybody can be great,” Melvin Lenzy told Sampson.

Soon enough, Lenzy was icing.

That speaks to the reverence Kobe inspired in the generations following in his footsteps, his willingness to engage with those young athletes and the intensity he exuded even in retirement. The most public display of Kobe’s reach extending to Notre Dame came during the Irish women’s basketball run to the 2018 national championship.

When then-junior guard Arike Ogunbowale hit a buzzer-beating game-winner in the Final Four, Kobe was on the sidelines cheering for Connecticut. His presence led to Ogunbowale mentioning the “Mamba mentality” in regards to her game-winner. A few tweets later, Kobe made it clear Ogunbowale had more work to do, no matter how impressed he already was.

Of course, Ogunbowale finished that job with another buzzer-beating game-winner — as clutch as Kobe was, the NBA leader in both buzzer-beating game-winners and attempts since 2000, an easy argument can be made Ogunbowale’s 2018 Final Four weekend was the most clutch in the sport’s history. In addition to a ring, she got a friendship with the five-time NBA champion.

“Y’all don’t understand. That’s like the picture-perfect moment,” Kobe said. “As a kid, you dream about 5-4-3-2-1 to win the championship, and she actually did it. Twice.”

Once a competitor so fierce it may have been a flaw, Kobe’s retirement phase included an openness to those inspired by his fierceness, including Notre Dame’s Lenzy and Ogunbowale.

ON THE SENIOR BOWL
Both cornerback Troy Pride and safety Jalen Elliott had excellent weeks in front of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Any list of players who impressed in the spotlight includes both of them, with Elliott named a defensive practice player of the week as voted on by the opposing position groups.

While both Pride and Elliott undoubtedly improved their respective draft stocks, some caution should be exercised when hyping the workouts. Most of the best cornerbacks in the draft were not on hand, making the defensive backs in attendance look better by lack of comparison. Furthermore, NFL front offices will put more stock in three years of film than they will in one week’s organized workouts.

“No defensive player had a better week than Notre Dame’s Pride” is a compliment, but one with the implicit qualification of most top picks not being in attendance. Similarly, “showing enough fluidity and route recognition to stay attached to tight ends or backs” is a step in the right direction for Elliott, but the NFL worries more about defending receivers than it does most tight ends and running backs. Pride still has to overcome years of footage of his coverage flaws; Elliott is still a 6-foot safety without elite speed.

More than anything else, Elliott likely worked his way into the fifth or sixth round, rather than worrying about hearing his name at all in the seventh. Pride’s draft stock will still mostly hinge on his 40-speed, with him hoping for a showing in the 4.2-range. Performing well in the postseason circuit is obviously preferable to the alternative, but Pride’s and Elliott’s draft stocks were largely cast during Notre Dame’s 33-6 run over the last three seasons, for better or for worse.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Notre Dame’s opponents lose plenty early to the NFL draft
Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Tight ends
Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Offensive line
Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Defensive line
Notre Dame cuts ties with CB signee Landen Bartleson after arrest

OUTSIDE READING
101 best players in college football from 2019
Top-30 offensive linemen returning to college football in 2020
Grad transfer QB Feleipe Franks announces for Arkansas
College football’s 100 best games of 2019
PFF’s way-too-early 2020 top-25 rankings
2020 NFL draft: PFF’s top-100 big board update

Notre Dame cuts ties with CB signee Landen Bartleson after arrest

Landen Bartleson Notre Dame
@lbb_5
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After a Friday arrest, Notre Dame has released cornerback signee Landen Bartleson from his Letter of Intent. Bartleson, along with two 16-year-olds, faces charges of burglary, criminal mischief and receiving stolen property, according to a WKYT, a local Kentucky television station.

“After reviewing all of the facts available to us and speaking with the Bartleson family, we informed them that Landen will no longer be welcomed as a member of our football program,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “This incident is very much out of character for the man we have come to know and we wish Landen and his family well.”

Bartleson was taken into custody after a local business was robbed of nine guns, all recovered in a previously stolen car, per WKYT.

The consensus three-star prospect signed with Notre Dame during December’s Early Signing Period. He chose the Irish over offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, along with homestate programs Kentucky and Louisville. One of four cornerbacks Notre Dame signed, Bartleson was expected to quickly become a part of a depleted secondary.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame gets the letter — Landen Bartleson

Without him, and presuming the Irish do not seek out more recruits to sign in February, the roster currently sits at 86 expected scholarships in the fall, one more than the NCAA maximum allowed.

Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Defensive line

Ade Ogundeji Kurt Hinish
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The trademark of a top program in 2020 is the ability to reload along the defensive line. The fact that Notre Dame can replace a pair of early-round defensive end draft picks with continued depth and experience is proof the Irish have become one of the country’s premier programs.

The Irish proved this in 2019, replacing a first-round defensive tackle with unproven youth only to reach 34 sacks for the second season in a row. Aside from quarterback, an argument can be made no other position impacts a game as much as the defensive line, and Notre Dame’s recovery from 2016’s debacle directly ties into improved recruiting and development along the defensive front.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
The hype around the Irish ends reached its peak in the preseason. To give local context: The annual “Counting Down the Irish” series featured Khalid Kareem at No. 3 and Julian Okwara at No. 1. The reasons to be optimistic about Notre Dame’s season began with the senior duo, buttressed by classmates Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji.

Opposing offenses game-planned around the pair, relying on short drops and rollouts. As much as altering the gameplan can be successful, it was, with Kareem notching only 5.5 sacks and Okwara managing only four in nine games before a broken fibula ended his season.

Similarly, Hayes’ year was cut short by a shoulder injury, though that is also why he will return in 2020. In his absence, Ogundjei took on a bigger role and senior Jamir Jones changed his plans on the fly to use his last season of eligibility in 2019 rather than in 2020. The trio combined for 10 sacks, a piece of why Kareem’s and Okwara’s numbers were a bit diminished.

All the while, any worries about replacing Jerry Tillery were handled by the reliable competence of juniors Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish. The fact that so many names can be rattled off without much in the way of disclaimer highlights what has become the greatest strength of the Notre Dame defensive line, its depth.

The entire Irish defensive line depth chart will return except for Kareem, Okwara and Jones. Both Kareem and Okwara should be drafted no later than the second round, with Okwara possibly hearing his name the first night of the April draft.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
The definition of a “returning starter” can be manipulated to fit differing narratives. Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish cannot be described as anything else, while neither Hayes nor Ogundeji would be by obvious definition. Rotations at the position, however, gave Hayes (when healthy) and Ogundeji that kind of workload.

The Irish have built depth to yet again have a contributing second grouping. Current sophomore Justin Ademilola played well enough as a freshman to flash against Clemson, and current freshman Isaiah Foskey provided the tide-changing play at Stanford, despite not yet necessarily being physically ready for the collegiate level.

“He’s going on really good hands, hand-placement,” head coach Brian Kelly said in the bowels of Stanford Stadium. “He can leverage really well. He bends well. He’s going to be a really, really fine football player. He’s just not strong enough yet.”

WHERE NOTRE DAME WILL BE
Foskey may be a star in the making, a probable starter in 2021, and the gradual development afforded by the four games he could appear in without burning a season of eligibility is a template to follow, one first utilized with Ademilola. Next in line for targeted impacts should be early-enrolled freshman Jordan Botelho.

“He’s very heavy-handed,” Irish recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said on National Signing Day. “When he strikes you, he’s punching you. He is a really unique combination of a high intensity, violent football player.”

Projecting production from Botelho before he plays in even one practice may seem premature, given sophomore Ovie Oghoufo, junior Kofi Wardlow and freshman NaNa Osafo-Mensah are all around, but the first two of those have not sniffed much playing time in their careers, and Osafo-Mensah will not be higher than third-string this season.

Keeping talent like Osafo-Mensah’s that far down the depth chart speaks to Notre Dame’s depth, also visible at tackle where sophomore Jayson Ademilola should supplement Tagovailoa-Amosa, and the combination of freshman Jacob Lacey and sophomore Ja’Mion Franklin will provide Hinish relief.

Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Offensive line

Notre Dame OL
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With this position group, the headline and continued subheads are not exactly accurate. Broadly speaking, where Notre Dame’s offensive line was is where it, well, is. Yes, that is a convoluted sentence. The perk of returning six starting offensive linemen renders some verb tenses vague.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
Due to injuries in 2018, the Irish were already returning four starters this season, including a pair of three-year starters on the right side. General development, if granting that presumption, would leave only one question along the line, sophomore center Jarrett Patterson.

After projecting as a tackle, Irish sophomore Jarrett Patterson ably started 13 games at center in 2019. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Any doubt tied to Patterson emanated from outside the program; it did not take long for the converted tackle to impress in the spring. Frankly, he might have impressed enough even before spring practices.

“We had him working on scout team, snapping the football and then during (2018) bowl prep, we had him working there, as well,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the first day of spring practices. “When we started in January, he’s been snapping since then.”

In that respect, Notre Dame knew how it would fill out its line. The outside expectation before that March practice was that fifth-year Trevor Ruhland would get the first crack at earning the starting gig. The same practice that publicly established Patterson also made it clear what Ruhland’s role would be.

“Ruhland is going to be a guy that is a utility player for us that can play the guard and center position,” Kelly said. “But quite frankly, he’s got some things physically that make it difficult for him to play maybe 72 plays.”

Every so often, some undeniable honesty comes through coachspeak.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
The comments on this article will fill with criticisms of the Irish offensive line and its inability to open holes for the running game. Those critiques are valid, but only to an extent. Notre Dame’s running game was not exactly a liability, averaging 179.2 yards per game, good for No. 45 in the country. That included an average of 4.96 yards per carry, No. 25 in the country.

Those figures were bumped up by jet sweeps featuring sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy and consistent scrambles from senior quarterback Ian Book, but those are all a piece of the bigger picture.

“We have the ability to run the football when needed,” Kelly said following the regular-season finale. “As you saw today, we rushed for almost 200 yards when we needed to.” (190 yards, to be exact.)

This was not the dominant running game seen in both 2017 and 2018. It simply was not the offensive line’s strength, though the lack of a top-tier running back certainly compounded the issue. Consider, even this path against Bowling Green did not yield a touchdown.

Instead, the Irish line’s strength was in pass protection. Pro Football Focus ranked it the second-best pass-blocking unit in the country. Opponents recorded multiple sacks only three times, the other 10 games tallying a total of six sacks.

To be fair, just as not all the fault of the running struggles falls on the offensive line, not all the credit for pass protection success belongs to it, either. Senior running back Tony Jones’ excellent blitz pickups helped, as did Book’s skill in diagnosing defenses.

Nonetheless, giving up only 15 sacks in a season is something to file away for 2020.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WILL BE
Speaking of 2020, Pro Football Focus considers four of the returning Irish linemen to be among the best 30 in the country, the exception being current senior right guard Tommy Kraemer. Add in junior Josh Lugg, who started five games in place of current junior Robert Hainsey (broken ankle), and the Irish line situation could not be much better off heading into Book’s fifth year.

There will, of course, be areas for improvement. While there may be speculation new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will implement new blocking schemes, the greater concern should be a better handling of silent snap counts. While no atmosphere like that found in Athens awaits Notre Dame in 2020 (either Lambeau Field or the Los Angeles Coliseum may be the loudest), the false start issue extended well past the hedges, topping out at 33 in the regular season, per the South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James’ count.

The complaints about the Irish ground game may be the loudest, but that area of concern did not rear its ugly head at Georgia in an unexpectedly costly fashion. If not for those repeated false starts, Notre Dame may have won itself a Playoff berth, to jump to a very mild conclusion. (The same could be said of “if Jafar Armstrong or Braden Lenzy was healthy” or “if Chris Finke had not bobbled a pass directly into an interception.”)

The starters will be the same next season; the starts simply need to be better-timed.