Five things we learned: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14

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If you could boil down one game to encapsulate a season, you might have something that looks like the Champs Sports Bowl. During Notre Dame’s 18-14 loss, the Irish turned just about every conceivable emotion for a football fan on its head– ecstasy to agony, confidence to frustration, bravado to helplessness.

At times, the Irish looked like the BCS contender many thought they were entering the season. The defense absolutely overwhelmed Florida State’s offensive line, beating quarterback E.J. Manuel to a pulp while limiting the Seminoles to single-digit rushing yards for much of the game. Offensively, the Irish cobbled together just enough in the second quarter to control the line of scrimmage, running Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, targeting Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert, even mixing in the running of Andrew Hendrix with the passing of Tommy Rees.

Then the game flipped, and as it did too often this season, the snowball built, and the Irish tumbled out of control. The Irish weren’t able to overcome three interceptions, two coming in the Florida State endzone. The secondary that played so well swarming to the football failed to do its job when the throw went over its head. And after having what looked like a comfortable 14-0 lead, the Irish gave up the final 18 points of the game, turning a potential ninth victory against an impressive opponent into a logic-defying fifth loss of the season.

“The turnovers were again a large reason for us not to be able to win this football game,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “It’s been the case all year. It started at South Florida, and continued to show itself throughout the entire year.”

This football team showed us what it was all season, and then proved it one last time on Thursday night, making the same mistakes that doomed the Irish all year. Let’s find out what we learned during the Champs Sports Bowl, the crushing finale to one of the most frustrating seasons the Irish have played in a very long time.

***

The Irish will never be a successful team if they can’t solve the quarterbacking situation.

There aren’t many teams good enough to turn the ball over three times and beat a good football team. Notre Dame proved that, one-upping themselves by having Rees throw two of the interceptions in the end zone while Hendrix set up the Seminoles deep in Irish territory when he hit Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham in the chest. Any aspirations the Irish had to be an elite football team went down the drain with the team’s quarterback play, and three crucial interceptions against the Seminoles put the focus straight on that issue for head coach Brian Kelly.

“It’s nice to be able to talk about a Notre Dame football team that plays championship defense, because they did that today,” Kelly said. “Now we’ve got to get our offense to obviously play at that level as well. That will be the next step for our football program. Getting our offense to play at the same level that our defense is evolving to.”

Even if Rees went out and threw for 400 yards and five touchdowns, the competition at quarterback would’ve been open heading into spring practice, and Rees’ struggles against another elite defense adds yet another data-point for those who don’t believe the sophomore quarterback has what it takes to lead the Irish back into the elite of college football.

Kelly sticking with Rees for much of the bowl game shows you that while Tommy still makes maddeningly bad decisions interspersed with some impressive throws, Kelly thought he was the best guy to protect a fourteen point second half lead. But for those thinking that just because Rees was the guy for the Irish throughout the 2011 season he’s the guy for next year, fear not.

“I’m going to evaluate everything that I do and how we do it,” Kelly said. “Because the offense just has to get better.”

Expect all three quarterbacks on the roster to get a shot at running this offense. And while Andrew Hendrix certainly has a skill-set that uniquely qualifies him to take over, the guy that has the most potential still hasn’t taken a snap. In Everett Golson, Kelly has the prototype triggerman for what he needs to run his optimal offense. Whether he’s ready to run the show or not remains to be seen.

The quarterback position got derailed in the season’s opening minutes, and ironically Dayne Crist’s undoing initially wasn’t his own, but rather Jonas Gray’s goalline fumble. From there, the senior quarterback was tentative, missing more throws than he made, and making a critical red zone mistake before going scoreless and into halftime down 16 points in his one half of football.

We’ll never know what Dayne Crist would’ve done if he came back out after halftime. But there’s good reason to believe that whoever was playing quarterback was gap filling for Golson or Hendrix, two guys better suited to run the offense. Even with an Irish win and flawless quarterback play, this would’ve been the top story of the spring. But the Irish collapse behind center tonight all but assured it.

***

After playing aggressively for most of the first half, calling off the dogs killed the Irish defense.

When Lou Holtz questions your strategy, you know you’ve got reason to be second-guessed. But even Dr. Lou was wondering why the Irish stopped blitzing in the second half, giving E.J. Manuel time to throw the ball and an overwhelmed offensive line time to catch its breath.

After spending much of the first half running for his life, Manuel settled down and had a nice second half, completing a few deep circus catches over Irish cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, pulling the Seminoles back in a game that they were dominated in for much of the evening.

After going up two touchdowns, it seems that the Irish were content to go back to their base defense, forcing the Seminoles to earn their yards and they guarded against the big play in zone coverage. But by allowing Manuel time to breathe, they enabled the FSU offense to make the big play, with wide receivers Bert Reed and Rashad Greene catching touchdowns to lead the Seminoles back and Kenny Shaw giving the secondary fits as well.

It’ll be lost in the shuffle, but safety Jamoris Slaughter played his best game in an Irish uniform from a hybrid linebacker position, racking up two sacks as the Irish pass rush pressured FSU relentlessly. Aaron Lynch also dominated the team he almost played for, adding 1.5 sacks and spending much of the evening chasing Manuel down in the backfield. Stephon Tuitt rallied back from an illness that derailed the end of his season to play another excellent game, giving the Irish front seven some really impressive building blocks for next year.

Holding the Seminoles to under 250 yards is a good day at the office and placing the blame for this loss on the defense is particularly foolish, especially considering that Bob Diaco‘s troops put up half the team’s points with a forced fumble by Manti Te’o and scoop and score by safety Zeke Motta. But after two seasons at the helm of the Irish defense, Diaco will need to evolve this defense next season, taking advantage of the horses he has up front, especially when he won’t be able to lean on a veteran secondary.

***

With Michael Floyd departing, the Irish are going to have to find offense from somewhere.

After making a circus catch on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone for his 37th career touchdown catch, Michael Floyd‘s Irish career ended on the sideline when his teammates needed him the most, unable to get back into the game after suffering an injury securing the ball after beating talented FSU cornerback Greg Reid for a ball that seemed destined for Reid’s hands.

The senior wide receiver, who broke the game’s first big play with an early 41 yard punt return that set the Irish up in FSU territory, seemed dinged up before the touchdown catch, after a big collision on the Seminoles sideline with safety Lamarcus Joyner, who collided with Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, sending his teammate out for the game with an apparent knee injury.

“He’s just an incredible competitor,” Kelly said of his star receiver. “This is my 22nd year and I’ve had great players, guys that have gone on to have great careers in the NFL or doctors and lawyers, you remember the guys that overcome. The guys that compete and battle. He did that today.”

Floyd didn’t play the best game of his career, limited to just five catches for 41 yards, dropping a deep ball that could’ve gone all the way early in the game and being overthrown on another deep throw where he had his man beat. But Floyd’s departure from the field in the game’s final quarter gave Irish fans a grim look at what this offense will look like without it’s star receiver.

It might be hard to recognize for Irish fans, but Floyd is the only receiver on the roster that keeps defenses honest. The Seminoles secondary didn’t seem concerned with anybody other than Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert, with the Irish’s all-time leading receiver the number one priority for a secondary that suffered multiple injuries in the game. Yet without Floyd in the game, the Irish couldn’t take advantage of the depleted secondary, and it was John Goodman acting as the deep threat for Rees, targeted in the endzone on the game’s defining interception.

Reinforcements are coming, with Deontay Greenberry one of the most important commitments on the Irish board right now and the Irish still in the hunt for some blue-chip, college ready talent. But after watching four years of the Irish’s most dominant wide receiver in school history, the Irish offense will need to find someone to fill the very large hole Floyd leaves behind.

***

Tyler Eifert has a tough decision to make.

With Floyd graduated and heading to the NFL, the spotlight is now on tight end Tyler Eifert to decide whether or not he’ll return for his senior season at Notre Dame or follow in the footsteps of Kyle Rudolph and exit Notre Dame after three seasons and declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Eifert led the Irish with six catches and 90 yards in a losing effort, taking a few bruising hits while making tough catches for big gains from both Rees and Hendrix. The solid performance capped off a season with 63 catches — and Irish record for tight ends and the best season in the NCAA — while also being named a Mackey Award finalist. Reports say Eifert has heard he’s graded out as a second or third round player, not as good of an assessment Rudolph received last year, but good enough to make the decision difficult for Eifert and his family.

Talking to the Chicago Tribune after the game, Eifert knows he’s got a choice to make.

“I mean, there’s not much more information I can get to make a decision,” Eifert told the Tribune. “I think I have pretty much everything I need. It’s just a matter of what I personally want to do and figuring it out.”

If Eifert returns for just his third season of competition, the Irish will have a proven offensive weapon to build around, and someone to keep defenses honest. He’ll also have a chance to work on his physicality, the area of his game that likely drags his draft grade down a round or so. If he doesn’t, the Irish might look to see if Mike Ragone‘s eligible for an injury hardship waiver and a sixth year, or work quickly to get freshman Ben Koyack and sophomore Alex Welch ready for action, with no tight end currently on the recruiting radar.

Unwilling to make any proclamations after a difficult loss, Eifert has to make a decision before the January 15 deadline.

“I’d like to figure out what I’m doing as soon as I can,” Eifert told the Tribune, “but it’s not really a decision to rush.”

***

After rolling into last offseason with momentum, it’s time to batten down the hatches and get to work.

The unprecedented forward momentum the Irish took into last year’s offseason didn’t propell the Irish to 2011 greatness. So perhaps a stinging ending to a frustrating season will help refocus a football team that absolutely needs to do better at the little things that differentiate a 8-5 football team from one that finds itself in a BCS bowl.

Fans will always grumble and question whether the men in charge are the right ones for the job. Back-to-back 8-5 seasons likely add members to that bandwagon, a group that always has strength in numbers among the Notre Dame faithful. But Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are going nowhere, and while they’ll face lower approval ratings than they had last offseason, they need to continue their dogged chase to transform this football team.

“We know what we need to do,” Kelly said. “We’ve already talked about it. The players that are going to be back for the 2012 football season will be committed to getting that end done.”

After transforming a defense that destroyed Charlie Weis’ career at Notre Dame, Kelly will look at the flaws of his offense. Hired as an offensive innovator, Kelly will now look to improve a unit that played the bowl game short its offensive coordinator and will likely be filling the hole from within.

“We have to get our offense better,” Kelly stated. “When I say better, I’m not talking about the way our guys compete, I’m talking about, we turn the ball over. And we cannot win football games at the highest level if we continue to turn the ball over. The coaches have to get better. The players have to get better. And we need to solve this issue if we’re going to be an elite football team.”

While the next three months will be dedicated to fixing problems that doomed this football team, the next 35 days will be dedicated to finishing strong on the recruiting trail. After identifying the frailty of his defensive front seven, Kelly’s built a unit that can stack up with the rest of the BCS contenders.  Now it’s time to upgrade the deteriorating skill positions on the team, bulking up both the wide receiving and defensive back coffers with hopes that the staff has identified game-ready talent that’s able to step in and compete.

Once again the vultures will swirl above the football program, wondering if Brian Kelly is the right man for the toughest job in college football. That’s what happens when you lose football games the way this team did, and give away a bowl game to a traditional rival like Florida State. But after getting ahead of themselves in a season lost to maddening inconsistencies, the Irish will have five perfect examples (USF, Michigan, USC, Stanford, and Florida State) of why they need to keep focusing on the task ahead instead of what’s behind them. It may be hard for those of us watching on television or the stands, but for a football program with a singular goal, the frustration of 2011 will likely power this group into 2012.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 12 Ian Book, junior quarterback

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1/8, 200 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: A junior academically, Book has three years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Book will back up senior Brandon Wimbush this fall, deemed “1B” by Irish head coach Brian Kelly after the spring-concluding Blue-Gold Game. Book is entrenched enough in the position to lead to sophomore Avery Davis working at running back and receiver, but he will obviously now have to hold off the challenge of incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec.
Recruiting: Book’s recruitment was led by former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, having pursued the California-product while at Boise State before joining Kelly’s staff. A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 15 pro-style quarterback in the country, per rivals.com, Book originally committed to Washington State before reconsidering.

CAREER TO DATE
Book preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman in 2016 and then spent last season as the most popular player on any football team: the backup quarterback. Only a play away from running the Irish offense full-time, Book first saw genuine action in the blowout of Miami (OH) and his first real responsibilities came when Wimbush was sidelined at North Carolina with a foot injury. In his first career start, Book completed 17-of-31 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Tar Heels while throwing two interceptions.

Of course, Book is best remembered for leading the comeback victory over No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl, throwing for 164 yards on 14-of-19 passing with two touchdowns and one interception.

2017: 10 games, one start; 46-of-75 for 456 passing yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions; 207 rushing yards on 37 rushes.

QUOTE(S)
Book’s spring may have started a bit slow, certainly when compared to the dramatic ending of his season.

“Ian’s been a little bit spotty at times in the morning with some of his reads,” Kelly said at the end of March. “Sometimes that’s just focus and concentration on his part, but his feet are light. He’s throwing the ball well.”

Within a week, Book started performing closer to how Kelly had preferred.

“Ian has been, over the last couple of practices, much more consistent,” Kelly said. “The last time I was [addressing the media], I commented we wanted more consistency out of the quarterbacks. Ian has been much more consistent the last three practices, and that’s what we want from our quarterbacks, the ability to execute and work on a consistent basis.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Book will back up Wimbush. That also means, Book will play this season. By no means is that a prediction Wimbush will suffer an injury, though that is obviously possible. Rather, it is a prediction Kelly will get Book into a game the first chance he has, quite likely in the second half against Temple if the Notre Dame lead is cushion enough.

“Getting Book a few reps then, or perhaps two weeks later at Boston College, will help calm any nerves for when he may have to step in for Wimbush in a competitive situation. Perhaps Wimbush rolls an ankle a few minutes before halftime against North Carolina or maybe he takes a shot to the head against North Carolina State. Either scenario would force Book to move the offense forward without missing a step in what should be tight games.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Just as was said definitively a year ago, Book will play this season. While Kelly will want to get Jurkovec some in-game development, keeping Book at the ready will be a higher priority. The coaching staff will need to find the balance between Jurkovec’s development and the best competitive decisions for 2018.

There is a scenario where Jurkovec passes Book for primary backup duties, but that seems unlikely. Presuming that does not come to fruition, Book could be counted on in a make-or-break moment when Wimbush sprains an ankle against Stanford or loses his helmet at Virginia Tech. Those are not moments for a true freshman less than two months into his collegiate career. They are also not the time for Book to see his first action of 2018, no matter how much he played a year ago. Thus, some of the season’s first relaxed moments (looking at you, Ball State on Sept. 8) will land in Book’s hands for few series before turning to Jurkovec.

In the past, those blowouts focused solely on the backup quarterback getting reps. With the NCAA’s newfound generosity toward freshmen, a lopsided victory will also consider the true freshman looking to develop without losing eligibility. In a season where more than four blowouts is a wild pipe dream, those needs will come at the expense of each other, both statistically and practically.

DOWN THE ROAD
With Jurkovec arriving to raised banners, blown trumpets and elated crowds (Okay, that is an exaggeration.), Book’s chances at becoming the Irish starting quarterback narrowed. The best possibility requires Wimbush excelling this season while Jurkovec struggles with the college grind. That could lead to Wimbush heading to the NFL with a season of eligibility remaining and the Notre Dame coaches opting to develop Jurkovec for another season with more snaps as the backup rather than the eligibility-preserving freshman.

More likely, Wimbush plays well this year but does not scorch the Earth’s surface, bringing him back for 2019. At that point, with Jurkovec having two full years of prep, he would be stiff competition for Book to be the starting quarterback in 2020, Book’s last chance. With that in mind, a Wimbush return very well may precipitate a Book transfer.

Even if Wimbush does end up elsewhere in 2019, Jurkovec looms. Book showed last season he can lead the Irish in limited stretches, but he also threw an interception every 19 attempts and averaged only 6.08 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers will not produce a dynamic offense. Jurkovec’s ceiling should be higher than those figures. At least, that is why there are those proverbial banners, trumpets and crowds, right? (Yes, that is tongue in cheek.)

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
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. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman
No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Brown lands on a depth chart well-stocked at cornerback, with pairs of upperclassmen filling the two-deep at both field and boundary.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, the Under Armour All-American was committed to Virginia but did not sign during the early signing period, a sure predictor of an eventual de-commitment late in the cycle. He then narrowed his choices to Notre Dame, Cal and Northwestern while also holding offers from Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.

QUOTE(S)
After praising Brown’s intangibles (“a great background,” “a strong commitment to the culture here”), Irish head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged Brown could be a future safety thanks to his lanky frame.

“DJ has got the skills to play corner right now, but he’s 6-1, 190, so we know that he’s got the length,” Kelly said. “He’s got the ability to be a bigger, stronger player, as well. We liked his football IQ, we liked the way he played football.

“… Those are things that I think you can’t teach, 6-1, and we wanted some size at that position. He brings it to us.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BROWN’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Brown may be a genuinely prototypical cornerback, at his best in pass coverage and able to locate the ball in the air. By no means does he not need development, but given the stockpile of talent at the position two years ahead of him, Brown should have time to progress and be ready to contribute in a season or two.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Even if Brown is the one freshman cornerback to break through as a defensive reserve in competitive situations, that workload will be minimal, barring injury. It would take a disastrous preseason from junior Donte Vaughn to otherwise vault Brown (or any of the freshmen corners) into a consistent contributing role.

Brown will inevitably see some time on special teams, the question being if it is in only four games and preserves a year of eligibility or if it is season-long. Only time will tell how Notre Dame handles such situations moving forward with the new possibilities presented by this NCAA change.

DOWN THE ROAD
Is it cheating to pull verbatim from February’s “Notre Dame gets the letter”? It is a Sunday in mid-July … Please? Fine, it’s cheating, but only because senior Nick Watkins already transferred elsewhere.

Given the complete void of cornerbacks in the class before this, the position has some rapid turnover coming down the line. Junior Julian Love will have reason to consider the NFL after this season and senior Shaun Crawford will most likely have only one season remaining, something he could use elsewhere if he hears the footsteps of current juniors Troy Pride and Vaughn.

Even if everyone fulfills their Irish eligibility, that will leave two starting spots, a nickelback need and no reserves but for the young foursome in 2020. In that respect, the competition amongst themselves has already begun.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
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. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 200 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Moala joins a crowded depth chart at safety and does so along with two classmates of whom much more is expected. In the near-term, Moala is more likely to work with the scout team defense than he is to spend any time studying junior field safety Alohi Gilman’s footwork.
Recruiting: Coming from Notre Dame’s neighboring city of Mishawaka, Ind., and Penn High School, Moala earned his scholarship offer in one sub-five-second span at an on-campus camp in June of 2017 with a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. He still had interest from Iowa, Nebraska and Vanderbilt, but Moala’s decision was a quick and simple one once he had the offer following the Irish Invasion workout.

QUOTE(S)
Moala is more than just a speedster, packing a good amount of muscle on a compact frame, as well. In that respect, he is not simply a local storyline.

“Another outstanding young player who can come in and help us right away on special teams,” Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght said on National Signing Day. “With his combination of speed, size and strength, it makes him a very dangerous freshman coming in. He’s really going to push all the safeties in front of him and he’s going to compete early and right away.”

Lyght’s description of Moala is a bit lengthier and more detailed than what was offered by safeties coach Terry Joseph because Joseph joined the Notre Dame staff after Moala had already signed his National Letter of Intent during December’s early signing period.

“I’ve just gotten to watch his film here the last few days,” Joseph said. “Again, you see a guy who is athletic, big and has a chance to be a physical ballplayer for us.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN MOALA’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“The local product can turn some heads utilizing that speed in some coverage units, perhaps. … Irish coach Brian Kelly has often found ways to make the most of under-the-radar prospects. Not meant as a direct comparison, but rather as a name that pops to mind when making that claim: Former Notre Dame defensive back Matthias Farley became a reliable defender during his time with the Irish and now has an NFL career to speak of. Moala most likely will not reach such heights, but his slim recruiting profile should not rule it out by any means.”

2018 OUTLOOK
It would be a shock to see Moala break into the two-deep on the defensive depth chart this season. Four veterans are most likely to fill that much with Moala’s classmates — early-enrolled Houston Griffith and incoming Derrik Allen — nipping at their heels.

Instead, Moala may become a great test case for learning how Notre Dame handles the new freshman eligibility rules as they pertain to special teams focus. An obvious parallel would be now-senior Nicco Fertitta, also a hard-hitting, compact safety. As a freshman in 2015, Fertitta appeared in 11 games and made one tackle. If not for the change in eligibility options, Moala would seem to be on that path this season. Now, though, it could make sense to trot him out on special teams in only four games.

There are a multitude of questions about how each school and respective coaching staff will handle this newfound eligibility and no two cases will be exactly alike, but a few Irish freshmen are devoted to special teams every year. Seeing Moala’s usage could set a precedent for these instances at Notre Dame in the future.

DOWN THE ROAD
Joining the roster the same year as two four-stars at the same position is a tough challenge to future playing time and one Moala will need to overcome if he wants to ever be a defensive contributor. His difference in style, however, could create a few specific opportunities.

Excelling on special teams comes across as a cliché, but if doing so showcases Moala’s physicality and ability to fit a gap, then he could see future use against run-focused offenses, as well.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
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. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 160 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: More than the names ahead of him at a particular position, it should be noted what other receivers populate the Irish roster with genuine, game-altering speed. That list is short: sophomore Michael Young, arguably junior Chase Claypool and fellow incoming freshman Braden Lenzy.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Keys chose Notre Dame on National Signing Day rather than Texas and, to a lesser extent, SMU. His offer list also included big-time names such as Georgia, LSU and Michigan.

QUOTE(S)
In addition to describing him as “extremely athletic with the ball in [his] hand,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly welcomed the additional skillset Keys brought to the recruiting class.

“Keys really gives us an explosive playmaker,” Kelly said. “He adds to the depth at that class.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN KEYS’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Keys brings more speed to the Irish receiving corps. His measurements may indicate he is slight of frame, but that would not be wholly accurate. Nonetheless, time spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program will diminish those concerns and help Keys fit more in line with what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long typically prefers in receivers.

“Notre Dame’s current receivers do not boast an excess of top-end speed, especially after the dismissal of current sophomore Kevin Stepherson and the intended transfer of C.J. Sanders. Keys will not arrive as highly-touted for his speed as classmate Braden Lenzy will, but if he can establish himself before the Oregon track star does, then there may be a role for Keys right away.”

2018 OUTLOOK
The Irish have a slim top tier of receivers, namely Claypool, Young and senior Miles Boykin. After them, opportunities are up for literal grabs. Of the reserves, only senior Chris Finke brings any collegiate receptions to the table at this point, not factoring in the tight ends. Thus, it was vitally important for Notre Dame to strike big with receivers in the recruiting class of 2018, as it did by signing four.

Of those four, Keys and Lenzy possess real speed. It seems simplistic to say beating out Lenzy is the key to Keys’ playing time this season, but it is also true. And sorry for the pun, it had to be done somewhere here.

There are differences to their games, such as Keys being more of a deliberate route runner at this point than the pure burner that Lenzy is. With that in mind, Keys may fit into more roles as the needed backup if he outpaces junior Javon McKinley, as well. While Lenzy’s coverage-breaking speed could be the most-obvious threat right away, crisp route-running and good hands could get Keys into action across the field.

One way or another, expect Keys to get a chance in a few games this season. How he performs initially (and others’ health) will dictate if Keys plays in more than four games or preserves a season of eligibility.

DOWN THE ROAD
The flipside of few Irish receivers having experience is they can all be around for a while yet. All 10 in the position room, including slash-running back sophomore Jafar Armstrong, will have eligibility remaining after 2018, though the following season will be the last of it for Boykin, Claypool and Finke.

With all that in mind, it may be a bit before any of the quartet in this class get a starting role, but they could quickly be in the rotation given they arrive with as much experience as most of the depth chart has.

Young will presumably keep Keys’ snaps limited, as they share profiles and likely positional duties, but as Young’s role develops, he may become Notre Dame’s primary receiver, leaving more-specific requirements for his understudy.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
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. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer