Pregame Twelve Pack: Purdue edition

Welcome to the Pregame Twelve Pack. Twelve fun facts, tidbits, leftovers, or miscellaneous musings as we head into the Purdue game.

1. Notre Dame has owned the season opener against Purdue.

For those Irish fans looking to the past for a preview of future results, the Irish are 6-1 in opening games against Purdue, the only loss being the last time the two played on opening day, a 23-21 loss to the 8th ranked Boilermakers in 1984, a game played at the Hoosier Dome. Only two other programs have faced off with the Irish to start the season more often than Purdue: Michigan and Northwestern.

2. The Irish offensive line versus the Purdue front seven is the battle to watch.

Ryan Kerrigan is arguably the most dangerous pass rusher in the Big Ten this season. He’ll be matched up against Zack Martin and Taylor Dever, two offensive tackles making their first start, and in Martin, a guy taking his first snaps in a college football game. Kerrigan led Purdue with 18.5 tackles for loss and finished first in the Big Ten with 13 sacks. The rest of the front-seven has plenty of experience as well, making this the key match-up of the game.

But before Irish fans get too worried, just because the front seven is experienced doesn’t mean they’re any good.  The Boilermakers run defense finished 94th in the country, getting sliced up for 173.4 yards per game. The defense gave up 29.1 points per game, 89th best in the country. They were also terrible on 3rd down, finishing 80th in 3rd down efficiency, ranking 90th in opponent plays per game. Those are statistics that make you scratch your head when you consider Kerrigan’s production.

3. There will be emotions swirling before the opening kickoff against Purdue.

That’s because Notre Dame will be honoring members of the football family that have passed away during the past year as part of the pre-game flag presentation. There will be a moment of silence after the national colors are presented before kickoff, the start of a tradition that will take place on every home football opener honoring those that have died from the football family.

This year, the colors will be presented by six individuals:

Receivers coach Tony Alford and his mother Gloria Alford, who lost father and husband Robert Sr. back in June.

Offensive lineman Alex Bullard and his mother Dorothy Bullard, who lost father and husband Louis in April.

Jerry and Peggy James, who lost son Matt, a member of the incoming freshman class in a tragic accident back in April.

These six will be joined by athletic director Jack Swarbrick and his wife Kimberly and will represent the 24 members of the football family that have passed away in the past year:

Bill Ahern (FB 1960-62), Paul Burns (G 1949-51), Jack Bush (HB 1949-51), Paul Djubasak (G 1955-57), Don Gmitter (SE 1964-66), Art Hunter
(T 1951-53), Paul Lillis (RT 1939-41), Mike Malone (C 1968), Fred Mann
(E 1951-53), Tom Mittelhauser (HB 1963), George Nicula (T 1953-55), Phil
O’Connor (RE 1945), Tom Roggeman (DT 1983-84), Norb Roy (G 1959-61),
Bill Russell (LT 1945-46), George Terlep (LH 1943-44), Tom Pagna
(assistant coach 1964-74), John Bermingham (student manager, 1942
graduate), Harry Lavery (student manager, 1944 graduate), Ted Rademaker
(student manager, 1946 graduate), Robert Alford Sr., Louis Bullard, and Matt James.
 

4. The press box will be filled with plenty of offensive and defensive coaches.

With Brian Kelly roaming the sidelines, it’s interesting to see how the coaching staff breaks up responsibilities in the press box.

Offensively, the Irish will have coordinator Charley Molnar, tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, and running backs coach Tim Hinton all in the press box. Per Kelly, Hinton will be analyzing protection schemes along the line while Molnar helps spot the ball for down, distance, and hash mark, as well as analyzing some of the defensive coverage schemes. Only offensive line coach Ed Warriner and receivers coach Tony Alford will be on the sidelines along with Kelly. 

Defensively, coordinator Bob Diaco will be up in the box. He’ll be joined only by graduate assistants Jon Carpenter and Michael Painter. The rest of the defensive staff — line coach and special teams coordinator Mike Elston, secondary coach Chuck Martin, and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, will be on the sideline.

5. Every Thursday, the Irish strive to be perfect. On Friday, they focus. 

Once the Irish get within 48 hours of the game, Kelly and his staff have a rehearsed routine. It starts with a brisk 15 period practice on Thursday and even less activity on Friday.

“Our last practice, we call it perfect practice Thursday,” Kelly said yesterday afternoon. “We want perfection. We go fast and we demand that our players are locked in with the details in mind at first… We spent a lot of time in special teams, a lot of times in two minute offense. and then usually finish up with four-minute end of game scenarios and controlling the clock.  

Friday is spent mostly inside, and Kelly calls it “Focus Friday.”

“We focus in on the game plan. We’ll watch a little film, move the guys around a little bit to stretch them out before we get to the pep rally.”

At the pep rally, Kelly will announce his game captains, a change from the usual tradition of naming team captains for the season.

6. Kelly and staff take preparation to the 49th level.

As a young coach back at Grand Valley State, Kelly and his team worked on 16 to 18 different scenarios that the team might find itself in when caught in an odd spot. Over the past 20 years, Kelly is up to 49 scenarios, creating contingency plans for every imaginable instance on the football field.

“I don’t know if that says a lot about my experience dealing with different things in the game or the obsessiveness of the coach trying to cover every scenario that may never occur, but you want to be covered anyway,” Kelly said.

Two years ago, Kelly installed number 47: Turtle punt.

“We had a 19 point lead with about a 1:03 left on the clock. Every scenario, we had to make certain played out, and it did. And that was to decide do you take the safety or punt the ball. So we put in what we call turtle punt now which kills approximately six to eight seconds and you can hold. We had the whole team just hold because we don’t care if we get a penalty in that situation. But we have to get eight seconds off the clock.”

I’m guessing Bob Davie didn’t have that one in the playbook when he asked Jarious Jackson to take an intentional safety in the back of the end zone against LSU.

7. Like the guy before him, expect Kelly to receive if he wins the coin flip.

While Charlie Weis eventually caved on his always receive mantra on the opening kick off, Brian Kelly also prefers to receive the kickoff.

“I
like to have the football. I think the only time I look at deferring is
if there’s weather. But by and large, my career has been about trying
to get the football. That’s been me traditionally, and that’s probably
what’ll happen if we win the toss Saturday.”

No word on whether he calls heads or tails.

8. If you see LT walking around campus, be careful — he’s not cheering for the Irish.

While his current legal entanglements might make this a moot point, if you see Lawrence Taylor walking around campus this weekend, it’s not because he’s an Irish fan. It’s because his son, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Brandon Taylor is suited up for the Boilermakers. There are three current Purdue players with fathers that had careers in the NFL. The other two are running back Dan Dierking, whose father Scott played running back for eight seasons, and quarterback Robert Marve, whose father Eugene played linebacker for 11 seasons.

9. Danny Hope and Brian Kelly will be telling their quarterbacks different things before kickoff.

While this is Dayne Crist’s first start, Robert Marve’s already made his starting debut, as a freshman quarterback at the Swamp in Florida. But both quarterbacks are returning from a torn ACL and will likely be battling opening day jitters.

The difference is how the coaches will handle them.

“There’s nothing I can do to help him once they kick off,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “He has played in some big games. It’s important that we have a package put together for Robert that he’s comfortable with. Can’t go in there with the whole playbook. It’s too much.”

For his part, Brian Kelly will take a different approach, when talking to Crist before he takes his first snap.

“You
don’t have to win the Heisman today. Take what they give you, be
patient, let the offense come to you, you don’t have to force it. There
are plenty of answers for you out there. Let the game come to you. If
you do that, you’ll be fine. And for me, have confidence. We would not
put you back there if we did not think you’ll do a great job.”

10. Looking for a true freshman from Purdue that could impress? Try Ricardo Allen.

Normally, coaches shy away from playing a true freshman, especially in the secondary. That’s not going to be the case with Ricardo Allen, who is hardly your average freshman.

“A lot of times freshmen will come to camp, they’re an outstanding player,” Hope said. “He has shined since the day he got here. Most of us that have been around here for a while think he’s one of the better ones we’ve been around as a freshman.

“He’s an outstanding football player. One of the great players on his position in our football team, in our league, possibly on a national level. He’s an outstanding defensive back prospect.”

Allen will have a chance to match up with one of the best in Michael Floyd. That’ll be a battle worth watching.

11. The bad luck for tight end Mike Ragone continues.

After fighting through multiple knee injuries earlier in his career, Mike Ragone looked finally on track to contribute at the tight end position. After narrowly avoiding the wrath of Student Affairs after a summer traffic arrest where marijuana was found in the car, Ragone hasn’t had a bit of good luck since.

After suffering from a serious heat illness that kept him in the hospital overnight during the humid summer training camp, Ragone’s come down with an inner-ear infection that’s so serious he’ll likely be unable to play Saturday.

“He was seen again this afternoon,” Kelly said as he updated Ragone’s condition.
“Headaches. A little bit better, but clearly has vertigo and an ear
infection. He’s on antibiotics. I would think he is doubtful for
Saturday.”

The Irish will go with a now healthy Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert as the top-two tight ends, with senior Bobby Burger and freshman Alex Welch next in line.

12. Opening day has been a mixed bag for Brian Kelly.

Kelly is 3-3 in his opening day starts. He lost all three of his opening days at Central Michigan, falling to Indiana in 2004 and 2005, and barely losing to Matt Ryan’s Boston College in 2006. At Cincinnati, Kelly turned that trend around, blowing out Southeast Missouri State in 2007, Eastern Kentucky in 2008, and Rutgers in 2009.

This Purdue team will be the best opening day opponent Kelly has seen since facing Tom O’Brien in 2006.

 

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    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 79 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 275 pounds
    2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
    Depth chart: Largely due to signing four offensive linemen a cycle ago, Notre Dame’s line reserves are well-stocked. Junior Liam Eichenberg will start at left tackle with sophomore Robert Hainsey at right tackle, and some combination of those now-sophomores backing them up. Thus, Mabry is a ways down the depth chart presently.
    Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Mabry chose the Irish over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and Memphis when he committed a year before he expected to sign. If he had not been so firm in his commitment, it is conceivable he would have been chased by the likes of Arkansas, where his grandfather played and his uncle was an All-American offensive tackle.

    QUOTE(S)
    If Mabry has slipped below anyone’s radar, it is only because December’s early signing period feels so long ago already. Back then, recruiting coordinator Brian Polian spoke of the development awaiting Mabry in a collegiate weight program.

    “I think Mabry and [fellow early-signee John Dirksen] in terms of their length and their size [are underrated],” Polian said. “These are going to be really big men that can move their feet. He weighs 270 right now, is he going to get big enough? We have a great strength staff — the world is filled with big guys. Big and can move their feet and bend with athleticism. You recruit that and hand them over to [strength coordinator Matt] Balis and his staff and let nature take its course.”

    WHAT WAS SAID WHEN MABRY’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
    “Bringing in Mabry helps counteract the effects of losing two linemen to transfer in the 2017 offseason. He may not be a contributor from the outset, but the practice depth he provides is a value on its own, let alone the future possibilities he offers.

    “… Mabry would enhance his future possibilities by becoming a utility knife of a lineman, a la Hunter Bivin. At some point, one of those can then become his specialty.”

    2018 OUTLOOK
    The only non-injury-related way for Mabry to find himself playing time this season would be to make an unexpected jump a la Hainsey a year ago, perhaps combined with Eichenberg regressing in preseason practice. Even then, Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn would likely be inclined to give Eichenberg time to improve before then turning to sophomore Josh Lugg.

    Hainsey will stand as this generation’s exception to the rule of Notre Dame not starting freshmen offensive linemen. Not even Quenton Nelson saw playing time as a freshman, after all.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Mabry joins the Irish a year after two touted tackles arrived, meaning he will have to outright impress Quinn and Kelly to earn a first-team role in the next few seasons. Just in discussing who might be the next man in along the offensive line in 2018, Quinn praised all three sophomores not named Hainsey.

    “I would say the next group coming in would be [senior] Trevor Ruhland, Josh Lugg, another young man who has really gained a lot of confidence,” Quinn said in mid-April. “You look at guys like Aaron Banks and Dillan Gibbons, all those guys are in the mix. As their development continues to improve, their opportunities will come.”

    Even if/when Mabry moves past those sophomores, Eichenberg and Hainsey each have three years of eligibility remaining, meaning Mabry will need to wait until 2021 to have a clean shot at starting at tackle, barring an early departure for the NFL from one of the current starters.

    NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
    No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
    No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
    No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
    No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
    No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
    No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
    No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
    No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
    No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
    No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
    No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
    No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
    No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
    No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
    No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

    Freddy Canteen announces another transfer, leaving Notre Dame at 86 scholarships

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    The hook when receiver Freddy Canteen transferred to Notre Dame was he would get a chance to face his former school to open the 2018 season with Michigan visiting Sept. 1. That storyline will go unfulfilled after Canteen announced another transfer Friday afternoon.

    Canteen graduated from Michigan in only three years, leaving him two seasons of eligibility when he joined the Irish. A torn labrum ended his 2017 season after only three games, meaning he could have hopes for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and retain that year of eligibility wherever he lands. He finishes his time at Notre Dame with one catch for seven yards.

    A shoulder injury also truncated Canteen’s 2015 season and eliminated his 2016 while with the Wolverines. The former consensus four-star prospect hoped to be healthy enough with the Irish to showcase his speed, the primary allure he immediately brought to the roster.

    His most-recent injury allowed the likes of Chase Claypool and Michael Young to move well past Canteen on the depth chart, while senior Chris Finke’s reliability served as a direct foil to Canteen’s injury history. Without this newest transfer, it is unlikely Canteen would have seen much competitive action in 2018.

    Notre Dame now has 86 projected scholarships for the fall, one above the NCAA maximum allowed.

    Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson first reported Canteen’s pending transfer.

    FREDDY CANTEEN 99-TO-2
    No. 11
    Listed Measurements:
    6-foot, 192 pounds
    2018-19 year, eligibility: Fifth-year graduate with two possible seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018, depending on the NCAA’s view of his injury history.
    Depth chart: Currently a second-stringer behind sophomore Michael Young, Canteen could have fallen further down the depth chart quickly this summer with the arrival of four highly-touted freshmen receivers.
    Recruiting: Canteen first chose Michigan over offers from Maryland and Tennessee, among others, back in 2014, as the No. 47 receiver in the class, per rivals.com.

    CAREER TO DATE
    2014: 10 games, two starts; five receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown.
    2015: Five games, one start before an injury ended his season; one reception for no gain.
    2016: No action.
    2017: Three games, one start; one catch for seven yards. Again, injury-shortened.

    QUOTE(S)
    Canteen’s if-healthy speed and experience made him an easy player to praise for receivers coach Del Alexander this spring.

    “Freddy is playing fast,” Alexander said in late March. “He’s coming off an injury, but at the same time, he knows what to do. Freddy is also the guy that had limited mistakes when you count them over the last couple practices. He knows what to do, it’s just a matter of where he is and how he uses his strength and the strength to keep separation. … We’ve got to do something to use our hands and our arms to create separation because there is some hesitation there because he is still recovering.”

    WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    “He should fit right into Kelly’s long-standing preference to have a deep threat available to take the top off the secondary. (Think of former Irish receiver Chris Brown’s role, even if he wasn’t frequently targeted.) [Former Notre Dame receivers Kevin] Stepherson or [Cam] Smith could also offer that top-end speed, but Canteen’s acceleration in the first 10 yards should set him apart.

    “That particular skill will also likely be seen on special teams. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian has hoped for more options on his coverage and return units. Canteen was not around the team in the spring to aid in that regard — he only graduated from Michigan in April, despite the February transfer announcement — but this fall could earn some notice by shining on Polian’s coverage units.”

    2018 OUTLOOK
    Canteen’s future depends more on his health than on where he opts to transfer. No matter where that is, the last line of his announcement rings loudly. “My primary focus will be to prepare for a career that expands beyond football.” Perhaps Canteen realizes there will not be much waiting for him at the next level of the sport.

    NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
    No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
    No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
    No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
    No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
    No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
    No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
    No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
    No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
    No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
    No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman

    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 208 pounds
    2018-19 year, eligibility: Early-enrolled freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
    Depth chart: It would be quite a reach for Jones to crack the receiver rotation this season. It is not necessarily a deep position group, but there are four somewhat-established options in seniors Miles Boykin and Chris Finke, junior Chase Claypool and sophomore Michael Young. Rather than give Jones spot minutes behind them along with junior Javon McKinley and sophomore Jafar Armstrong, it is more likely the Notre Dame coaches opt to preserve a year of Jones’ eligibility.
    Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit and No. 36 receiver in the country, Jones committed to the Irish in February of 2017, a full year before he expected to be able to sign. That choice included looking past offers from half the Big Ten and both participants in the Egg Bowl.

    QUOTE(S)
    Enrolling early gives any player a head start, but that does not mean adjusting to the demands of college football is inherently easy, especially considering the somewhat isolating nature of being one of only seven freshmen rather than one of 27 and the sole receiver instead of one of four.

    “When you come in as a freshman and you have the numbers in your favor as far as a group, we’re probably going 100 miles an hour,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “Right now it’s going at 1,000 miles an hour for Micah. His advantage won’t show up until we get to [preseason] camp.

    “So for him, we’re not going to slow down, because we have a veteran group. He’s chasing his tail and trying to chase everybody out in front of him.”

    WHAT WAS SAID WHEN JONES’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
    “Jones’ size and strong hands made him a priority for Notre Dame. In today’s version of football, no team can have enough receivers, but Jones is more than simply a fill-in.

    “… One of [Jones or fellow-signee Kevin Austin] is likely to spend 2018 preserving a year of eligibility, just given Irish coach Brian Kelly’s track record. Looking at Boykin and Claypool as comparable to Jones, at least in size, it seems likely he spends the year on the sideline.”

    2018 OUTLOOK
    The best chance for Jones to find playing time this fall is to earn it on special teams. He is not much of a speed threat yet, but he is far from slow and has the size to serve a role on the kickoff coverage unit.

    If Jones does see competitive time at receiver, that will almost assuredly be the result of injuries further up the depth chart. Otherwise, if he is partaking in special teams, he may as well also get some work in mop-up duties and perhaps notch a handful of catches for a few dozen yards.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Jones arrives as part of a stellar receiver class, one of four who cover every angle of the position from size to speed. While Boykin, Finke and Claypool each will have only one more year of eligibility after this fall, a bit of an eligibility and experience gap exists between them and this freshman class. Only McKinley, Young and hybrid-running back Armstrong fill out that interim, a byproduct of former Irish receiver Kevin Stepherson’s exit.

    Thus, Jones will be competing with Austin and, to some extent, Lenzy to become the next sideline and red-zone threat. Even in 2019, one of the trio should emerge as the primary back-up to Boykin and/or Claypool, if both in fact return to Notre Dame for their final years of eligibility.

    NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
    No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
    No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
    No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
    No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
    No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
    No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
    No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
    No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
    No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver, senior

    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4, 227 pounds
    2018-19 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
    Depth chart: The combination of a memorable Citrus Bowl showing and a strong spring set up Boykin as Notre Dame’s top receiver, presumably starting isolated on the boundary.
    Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit from the greater Chicago area, Boykin chose the Irish over a number of prestigious offers, including Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon.

    CAREER TO DATE
    Boykin’s career stats do not precipitate an undisputed top receiver. Nonetheless, his New Year’s Day showing clearly illustrated why Boykin will probably start 2018 in that role. Quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book targeted him six times with both Kevin Stepherson (suspension) and Chase Claypool (shoulder) sidelined. Boykin caught three of those passes, all first downs, for 102 yards and a 55-yard game-winning touchdown in which he displayed jumping abilities, strong hands and quick acceleration.

    2015: Preserved a year of eligibility.
    2016: 12 games; six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
    2017: 12 games; 12 catches for 253 yards and two scores. Named Citrus Bowl MVP.

    QUOTE(S)
    March and April were filled with praise of Boykin from both Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and receivers coach Del Alexander. Even when discussing the Irish secondary, Kelly’s focus turned toward the troubles Boykin gave those defensive backs.

    “I want to defend Miles Boykin better,” Kelly said following the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, a day in which Boykin caught three passes for 132 yards and one touchdown. “He was obviously an issue. … If we were playing against a Miles Boykin, we would play a little differently, and he would get a lot more help.”

    Throughout the spring, Kelly insisted Boykin was on a different level than the rest of the receivers, even on days when Claypool was at his best.

    “They’re not in the same category,” Kelly said in late March. “[Boykin] is a guy who can defeat one-on-one coverage and get you out of a loaded box by just throwing a fade to him. Those guys don’t have that and we’re not asking them. We didn’t recruit them for that purpose. We recruited Miles for that and he’s giving that to us.

    “If you drop an eighth hat [in the box] and you’re going to leave him one-on-one into the boundary, you’re going to have to deal with him going up and getting the football. We think he can take it away from anybody.”

    In Alexander’s mind, Boykin’s progress started in the offseason immediately following the highs of the Citrus Bowl.

    “He’s using his quickness, he’s using his size and length, he’s using his explosiveness,” Alexander said. “That comes from his conditioning and his experience in the offense.”

    WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    “Boykin’s [2017 spring] rise to the top of the depth chart was always a possibility, if not necessarily a likely one following the 2016 season. … Boykin’s pedigree kept this result in play despite his minimal role. The question now is, will he maintain this consistency and thus create more opportunities for himself?

    “If he does, 20-plus catches and a couple touchdowns seems entirely reasonable.”

    2018 OUTLOOK
    One catch does not a career make, no matter how dramatic and well-timed it was. Before Boykin’s winning play, he had largely disappointed in 2017, to such a degree it cannot be traced entirely to Notre Dame’s inconsistent quarterback play. If 20-plus catches and a couple touchdowns was the expectation, then Boykin only came near it due to others’ absences in the bowl game. Otherwise, his season likely would have finished with only nine grabs for 151 yards and one score.

    Finding the balance between those lackluster numbers and another touted spring is a difficult line to toe. The top Irish receiver should end up with an absolute minimum of 35 catches, 500 yards and half a dozen touchdowns, and that would be within a very balanced offense. Kelly made it quite clear this spring, he expects Boykin to be his top receiver. Thus, those should be the projected minimums for his senior year.

    If sophomore Michael Young or Claypool excels in the fall, combined with Boykin again underwhelming, then those numbers will be but a pipe dream. As much as Boykin’s third career touchdown should be remembered for a long time, it does not guarantee great things will quickly follow. Nor does springtime excellence. Only fall Saturdays determine such.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    It is within the realm of possibility Boykin’s improved bench press maximums and quicker burst lead to a distinguished 2018. At his height and with that speed, he could opt to test the NFL waters. More likely, Boykin will return for a fifth year, which the coaching staff will certainly be grateful for.

    Even with the likes of junior Javon McKinley, Claypool, early-enrolled freshman Micah Jones and incoming-freshman Braden Lenzy threatening to become the preferred big target of whomever is throwing passes for Notre Dame, having a veteran who has dealt with NFL-quality cornerbacks is a luxury not to be passed up, and Boykin already fits that description thanks to LSU’s secondary. That aspect of Boykin’s résumé will be further bolstered from the outset of 2017, considering the overall strength of Michigan’s defense.

    NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
    No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
    No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
    No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
    No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
    No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
    No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
    No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
    No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
    No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
    No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior