Breaking down 4-0: The receiving corps

26 Comments

Part three in our bye week feature on Notre Dame’s 4-0 start. For more, check out our introduction, the secondary and the running backs.

OFF-SEASON PERSPECTIVE

All-American Tyler Eifert was a proven commodity. Everybody else? Well… After a run of highly productive receivers started almost a decade ago, the Irish said goodbye to Michael Floyd and hoped to possibly replacement him with a tight end. That’s no knock on Eifert’s ability, but a realistic appraisal of the options Notre Dame had with the cupboard filled with mostly unproven talent or journeymen headed into the season.

With the team’s leading returning wide receiver now playing running back, it was up to unheralded veterans like TJ Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman to team with talented youngsters like Chris Brown, Davonte Neal, and Justin Ferguson to replace Floyd and support an undecided quarterback if the Irish were going to get their offense on track.

PERSONNEL CHANGES

The pass catchers lost Theo Riddick to the offensive backfield, but welcomed linebacker Troy Niklas to the tight ends collection. That unit in particular held some promise, with sophomore Ben Koyack expected to do big things after a solid freshman season and Alex Welch looking more than capable as well. Those hopes would be muted when Welch went down for the season with a knee injury, as the Irish lost some versatility at the position.

Notre Dame would welcome Davaris Daniels to action after sitting out his freshman season. They’d lose another young receiver with Matthias Farley moving into the secondary and have Luke Massa slow to return after a knee injury in the spring.

John Goodman, Sr.
Robby Toma, Sr.
Daniel Smith, Jr.
Luke Massa, Jr. (A knee injury this spring likely limits Massa this fall.)
TJ Jones, Jr.
Davaris Daniels, Soph.
Matthias Farley, Soph. (Now starting at safety.)
Chris Brown, Fr.
Davonte Neal, Fr.
Justin Ferguson, Fr.

Tyler Eifert, Sr.
Jake Golic, Sr.
Alex Welch, Jr. (An ACL injury erases Welch’s 2012.)
Ben Koyack, Soph.
Troy Niklas, Soph.

There isn’t anybody in this group that can replace Michael Floyd’s production, but heading into the season the plan was to replace the Irish’s all-time leader with different players in different roles. With speedster Chris Brown looking like a deep threat, Davaris Daniels with great athleticism and ball skills, and Tyler Eifert looking pretty solid on the fade and screen game, the plan hasn’t necessarily come into fruition, but the pieces look to be there.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

You probably wouldn’t have expected it, but through four games the Irish are actually averaging more yards per catch than they did last season. You can credit that to some big plays by Davaris Daniels, who is averaging 17.7 yards a catch and healthy early numbers put up by Eifert, Niklas, Goodman and Cam McDaniel.

With sophomore quarterback Everett Golson learning on the fly and Tommy Rees coming in to spell him in relief, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has been candid about the need to jump start the passing game. Here’s what the Irish aerial attack looks like through four games, compared to last season’s stats.

Yards Per Game:
2011: 252.6 (40th)
2012: 211.o (86th)

Yards Per Catch:
2011: 10.9
2012: 13.0

Receptions Per Game:
2011: 23.2
2012: 16.25

OVERALL

It’s clearly been a step back in the passing game, which has been expected. With a bye week to get some things straightened out, and the nation’s No. 100 defense waiting for them in Soldier Field, the Irish hope to get on track with some better execution at the quarterback position.

Even with Eifert being held mostly in check this season, the unproven Irish receivers are playing better than expected, with solid contributions from veterans while the youngsters get accustomed to life in college football.