Pregame Six Pack: Staring down Stanford

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The Stanford Cardinal have quite a feather in their cap. Entering the season, they’re the only team in college football history to defeat Notre Dame and USC in three consecutive seasons. David Shaw’s squad has already extended their streak against the Trojans. They’ll look to do the same against the Irish, running their record winning streak against Notre Dame to four straight.

Ranked 17th in the country, there’s plenty to like about Stanford. Namely, a physical defense that’s beaten up teams at the line of scrimmage. After whipping Notre Dame up front the last two seasons, don’t think Irish head coach Brian Kelly isn’t excited to see how his team measures up this season. When asked Thursday afternoon whether he likes his team’s toughness, and their ability to get down and dirty in a game like this, Kelly was unequivocal.

“I do,” Kelly said. “I think we’ll be able to go in there and play the kind of game we want to play. We’ve exhibited the kind of signs that would lead me to believe that we can play that kind of football.”

We’ll be in South Bend for the game this weekend, where ESPN has already camped out with their College GameDay set, their first visit to Notre Dame since the 2005 Notre Dame-USC game. It’s just another datapoint that the Irish are well on their way back from the dead, dusting themselves off after plenty of dirt was kicked on top of them the past few years.

With a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff set for NBC — and a special NFL Films’ produced behind the scenes look at the Irish called Onward Notre Dame: South Bend to Soldier Field — let’s empty out the folder with another pregame six pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers, or miscellaneous musings to get you ready for Saturday’s game between the No. 7 Fighting Irish and the No. 17 Stanford Cardinal.

***

The Irish have reason to be confident that the defense will win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame’s offensive line will need to play its very best football to establish a running game against the Cardinal. But there’s reason to believe that the Irish defensive front should control the line of scrimmage against the Cardinal’s rebuilt offensive line. Gone are All-Americans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, taken in the first and second round of the NFL Draft respectively.  The Cardinal have reshuffled the line, carrying over just two starters that played the same position last year, with center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming back. But Stanford has kicked guard David Yankey outside from left guard to left tackle, and have two other veterans starting. The Cardinal also play some talented youngsters, many of whom were on the Irish recruiting radar. Notre Dame fans will get their first looks at Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy, and Andrus Peat. All three had early Irish offers and both Peat and Garnett gave the Irish an official visit.

The Cardinal have only given up five sacks this season, but they’ve struggled to kickstart the running game. After running for 210 yards a game at a 5.29 yards per carry clip, the Cardinal are down almost a yard a carry (4.42) while being ranked 74th in the country with 155 yards a game.

A year after getting pushed around up front, Brian Kelly was asked on his radio show what the difference would be between this defensive line and the group that got pushed around last year in Palo Alto.

“Personnel. We were playing EJ, SC, and Chase Hounshell. We were a little beat up,” Kelly said. “Kapron (Lewis-Moore) didn’t play. We’re a different front,and we’re physically stronger. We’re a better football team. So let’s see how that plays out Saturday because we’re going to play really well against an ouutstanding football team, but we’re better up front.”

***

The Irish offensive line will need to improve upon their breakthrough performance against Miami with an even better game against Stanford’s front seven. 

Give credit to Notre Dame’s offensive line, who absolutely killed Miami’s will last weekend in the second half, running the ball through the Hurricanes by carrying the ball almost exclusively for the entire second half. But if Notre Dame wants to win the game this Saturday afternoon, they’ll need to step their game up against a Stanford front that’s absolutely dominated Notre Dame’s offensive line.

How bad has it been? Consider that Brian Kelly’s Irish haven’t been able to average even two yards a carry. In 2010, Jim Harbaugh’s defense stuffed the Irish running game, holding the Irish to just 44 yards on 23 carries, with Jonas Gray’s 11-yard run the lone gain over 10-yards. Dayne Crist was kept in check while the Cardinal routinely dropped seven and eight men in coverage. Last year, the Cardinal (and the horrific turf inside Stanford Stadium), held the Irish to just 57 yards on 31 carries, with the long being a 17-yard scramble by Andrew Hendrix.

Stanford’s 3-4 defense, a group built with big, physical players in a similar mold of the Irish, have kept up the same lofty performance as last season, holding opponents to just 77 yards a game and a measly 2.66 yards per carry. With young quarterback Everett Golson still learning on the job, CSNChicago’s JJ Stankevitz writes about the job the Irish offensive line does to help their young quarterback make the correct reads.

“It takes a lot off my plate, to be honest,” Golson said on Saturday. “Going back to seeing those zones and stuff like that, I guess it feels good to me to know that if I didn’t see it, they got my back.”

Every offensive line acts as a safety net for its quarterback. But having a senior-laden offensive line for a greenhorn quarterback takes on added importance, even if Golson’s learning quickly.

“Communicating, anything we can give him is going to help him and it’s going to help us and it’s going to help the whole offense,” tackle Christian Lombard said. “(Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand) always says see a little, see a lot, so if you see something say something and it’s going to trickle down to everyone.

“Our combination blocks, calling out linebackers when we got an overloaded box so he can check out of things — there’s tons of different things, I could go on and on, but he’s picking up really fast,” center Braxston Cave added. “And it’s not even us as much now having to tell him anything, and he’s making the calls on his own.”

The Irish coaching staff struggled with adjustments when the Cardinal revealed a few wrinkles that they hadn’t shown on tape. With two head-to-head match-ups and five games of tape from this season, Stanford won’t be able to reveal any completely unknown wrinkles, but that doesn’t mean the Irish won’t try to be ready for them.

“There will always be that unexpected look that you get and we’ll make those adjustments and we’ve been able to communicate them very well on the sideline,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re better at what we’re doing at this point and that we can continue to do that, regardless of what the look is. That’s just moving forward as an offense.”

***

Theo Riddick is back and healthy for the Irish running backs. But it’s time to see a redistribution of carries at the position. 

Through five games, Theo Riddick is carrying the load running the ball, with almost twice as many touches as Cierre Wood and over half of the carries of the three main running backs. Sure, these numbers are skewed — Wood sat the season’s first two games — but with the running back position solidified, it’s time to take a hard look at how the carries get distributed moving forward.

Riddick has done everything this coaching staff has asked of him, moving to wide receiver when there was little depth at the slot position, and then back to tailback for his final season. And while his versatility makes him an important cog in the Notre Dame offense, the stats are starting to show him the least effective of the team’s three running backs.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the Irish’s running backs through five games.

Notre Dame Running Backs:
Theo Riddick: 68 carries for 263 yards. 3.9 Avg. 3 TD. Long Run: 17
Cierre Wood: 35 carries for 213 yards. 6.1 Avg. 2 TD. Long Run: 37
George Atkinson: 29 carries for 269 yards. 9.3 Avg. 3 TD. Long Run: 56
Cam McDaniel: 20 carries for 114 yards. 5.7 Avg. 1 TD. Long Run: 19

While Riddick didn’t miss a rep this week as he recovered from a minor elbow injury, Kelly talked about the challenge of getting the ball to his healthy stable of running backs.

“We’ve got three guys that we’re trying to get that balance,” Kelly said. “We struck it a little better last week, but it’s something that we’re constantly keeping an eye on and keeping those guys fresh and attacking defenses with three really good runners. We all know Cam (McDaniel) is a very good running back, but we just don’t have enough footballs for them.”

It’s tough to ignore the statistical differences that are growing by the week, especially considering the only game Riddick averaged more than five yards a carry in was against Navy, when he ran for 107 yards on 19 carries. (In the same game, Atkinson ran for 99 yards on just nine touches.)

If the Irish are going to get more production from the position, they’ll likely need to recalibrate the touches.

***

The Irish defense needs to make things miserable on quarterback Josh Nunes. 

Before Josh Nunes put together a sterling performance against Arizona last weekend, there wasn’t much positive to say about the man who took over for Andrew Luck. Nunes, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior from Upland, California, starting for the first time after backing up the NFL Draft’s top pick, played mediocre football through the season’s first four games, revealing a weak spot for the Cardinal offense.

Against San Jose State, Nunes completed 16 of 26 passes for just 125 yards and one touchdown. He was a little bit more prolific against Duke, completing 16 of 30 for 275 and three touchdowns with one interception. He struggled against USC while still leading the Cardinal to victory, completing less than half his 32 throws for 215 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. And in the Cardinal’s loss to Washington, Nunes was harassed constantly, completing just 18 of 37 throws for 170 yards and one interception.

There isn’t a bad defense in that group, with San Jose State leading that group statistically in total defense at 18th and Duke rounding it out at 52nd. But Nunes is in for his biggest challenge of the year against the Irish defense.

The Irish rank among the top-20 defenses in nine different categories: scoring defense, red zone defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, first down defense, interceptions, turnovers forced, rush defense and sacks. After Nunes struggled away from home when the Huskies sprung the upset on Stanford, expect Notre Dame to try and make life miserable for the first-time starter.

“This game will be our biggest challenge. Notre Dame is big and physical,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “When their linebackers blitz, they hit it hard. This will be a big test for us. What helps our pass protection is our running game. Having play-action helps slow down the pass rush.”

With Ty Montgomery, one of the team’s best receivers, out for the game on Saturday, Nunes is short one valuable weapon as he tries to put together a solid road performance. If he does, the Cardinal have a chance. If he doesn’t? It’ll be a long day for the Stanford offense.

***

The spotlight will once again be on Everett Golson. Can he play better at home this time around? 

A week after playing well enough to hush any brewing quarterback controversy, Everett Golson will face the biggest test of his young career. Stanford’s defense — a group that’s confused Notre Dame quarterbacks for the past two seasons — will now take aim at the least experienced member of the Irish offense as Golson tries to lead the Irish to victory while still learning on the job.

Whether it was Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, or Andrew Hendrix, Stanford’s defense has confused Notre Dame quarterbacks for the past two seasons. They’ve done everything from dropping eight into coverage to exotic blitz packages. Golson will need to confidently pilot the Irish offense if Notre Dame wants to exit the weekend undefeated.

Using Golson in the running game last week was the first part of making the game easier for the young starting quarterback. Now it’s up to the sophomore to continue to grow at the position, while also understanding his role as the facilitator of an offense that’ll help the team win just by not making crucial mistakes.

“We’re in the process with Everett that every day we’re building trust,” Kelly said. “We want somebody who is smiling and having fun and enjoying it, but also disciplined and getting with us in the right place and make the right choices. I guess the easiest way is we’re working hard towards meeting in the middle. That’s getting there. We’re getting there.”

Golson might have earned some confidence from the coaching staff running the two-minute drill at the end of the first half against Miami. While the drive didn’t net any points after Kyle Brindza’s field goal attempt missed wide right, Golson completed four straight passes for 48 yards as he led the Irish into field goal range.

“It was very important and we were hoping to get that opportunity,” Kelly said of Golson’s two-minute drill. “We thought he managed it very well, maybe too aggressively. We didn’t want the ball thrown to the wild field on that last throw where there was one second left on the clock, maybe if we were at a different stadium that one second is not there.  He was aggressive, but I thought he made strides in being comfortable out there and really doing the right things necessary to be effective.”

You could make the argument that Notre Dame didn’t need to break Golson’s running abilities out last week to beat Miami. But the ability to show the ability to both run the ball and move the Irish offense at a brisk pace should give Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason a few extra things to prepare for.

***

With inclement weather on its way to South Bend, this game could be an old-school, heavy-weight title bout.

The weather forecast looks rather ominous for South Bend Saturday afternoon. With thunderstorms possible and rain likely, this might turn into a rough and tumble brawl, something Brian Kelly wouldn’t half mind.

“The theme all week has been we’re going to be in for a physical, hard-nosed, four quarters of one of those good old-fashioned backyard brawls,” Kelly said Thursday evening. “It’s going to be that kind of game. We got our guys thinking about that on Monday and it kept building through the week. That’s been the theme this week for our football team.”

That attitude wasn’t because of the long-term weather forecast, but rather because of the challenges Stanford presents. And for the first time in his time at Notre Dame, this is the exact type of battle the Irish are built to play in and win.

“It’s who we want to be. It’s how we want to play the game,” Kelly said. “We’ve tried to exert that physical presence, both on the offensive line and the defensive line. It’s who we’re shaping up to be. So for us to go into a boxing match… I want to go in there and slug away. That’s the demeanor we want our football team to take shape.”

To win on Saturday, the Irish will need to be solid in all three phases of the football game. They’ll need to establish a run game after failing to do so for two years against Stanford. They’ll need to get big-chunk plays in the pass game with Everett Golson, while protecting the football at all costs. The defense will need to relentlessly pursue Josh Nunes, all while trying to shut down running back Stepfan Taylor and keeping jumbo-sized tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo in check. Special teams will also need consistency. Kyle Brindza needs to get back on track, while Ben Turk needs to finally find some consistency.

Another Saturday, another huge opportunity for Notre Dame. And with the national spotlight on South Bend, it’s time for the Irish to prove these first five games haven’t been a fluke.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 8 Donte Vaughn, cornerback

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ¾, 205 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Vaughn is a junior on a prototypical eligibility path, now having only two years remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Backing up a second-team All-American can be a thankless and quiet role, one which Vaughn is becoming familiar with behind junior boundary cornerback Julian Love.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Vaughn turned down the likes of Auburn, LSU and Miami to choose Notre Dame. Rivals.com considered him the No. 20 safety in the country.

CAREER TO DATE
The 2016 secondary was ravaged by dismissals and injuries, forcing a number of freshmen into action, including Vaughn. With Shaun Crawford’s and Nick Watkins’ returns in 2017, as well as the continued emergence of Love, Vaughn’s role became less significant as a sophomore.

2016: 10 games, four starts; 22 tackles with six pass breakups and one interception.
2017: Nine games; six tackles, including three in the fourth quarter of a 38-18 victory at Michigan State.

QUOTE(S)
Along with the revived depth at his position, Vaughn’s sophomore season was limited by injuries that greatly restricted his springtime work a year ago. This spring he finally showed he had progressed past those issues, per Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght.

“Donte Vaughn is having an outstanding spring,” Lyght said in early April. “Last spring was extremely tough for him, dealing with the back injury and the nerve issue that he had where he was having a lot of shooting pains down his leg. He’s not hampered by that now. His development and his progression has been great.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Notre Dame will rely on its veteran linebackers to compensate for a weakness along the defensive line’s interior. Similarly, the Irish will count on its cornerback depth to assist its inexperienced safeties. With that in mind, all five cornerbacks will be needed, including Vaughn.

“His length and high school playing experience make Vaughn an intriguing last-ditch possibility for a safety replenishment. Even if that does not come to be, those attributes make Vaughn nearly the ideal extra defensive back in passing-specific situations. He can cover both deep threats and physical route-runners.

“That is not to mention the looming possibility of the backup behind Watkins suddenly becoming the starter. An injury kept Watkins out in 2016. Presuming health following a missed season is an optimistic, though possible, tactic.”

2018 OUTLOOK
It is hard to envision Notre Dame pulling Love from many competitive moments. Thus, it is hard to expect Vaughn’s role to grow significantly this season unless he becomes a factor elsewhere. There are not many other opportunities available, though. Seniors Nick Coleman and Crawford provide the options needed at nickelback, while junior Troy Pride appears to have emerged as a reliable field cornerback, hence the outbound transfer of Watkins.

Nonetheless, dime packages exist and with reason in the current iteration of college football. A fourth cornerback will be needed, and that is where Vaughn will see most of his meaningful work.

DOWN THE ROAD
Love very well may head to the NFL after this season. At the least, he will have a decision to make. If he takes that leap, Vaughn will be in excellent position to start as a senior with only current freshmen breathing down his neck on the depth chart.

However, if Love returns, then Vaughn could become the rare freshman starter to spend the next three seasons in a backup role. More than a commentary on Vaughn’s career, that will reflect the stellar development of Love and the promising possibility of Pride.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on
No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end, junior
No. 8 Jafar Armstrong, running back/receiver, sophomore

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 8 Jafar Armstrong, running back/receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-¾, 213 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Before spring practice commenced, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Armstrong would split his time between receiver and running back. At receiver, he would have been one of half a dozen possibilities lacking experience looking to crack the rotation, but at running back he could quickly become the first or second backup to junior Tony Jones.
Recruiting: The rivals.com three-star recruit was committed to his homestate Missouri before he took a visit to Notre Dame the weekend before National Signing Day, sparking a quick flip to the Irish.

CAREER TO DATE
Armstrong saw no action his freshman season, preserving a year of eligibility. In April’s Blue-Gold Game, he played through a high ankle sprain to break two plays of more than 20 yards, finishing with five rushes for 48 yards and a touchdown along with one catch for 21 yards.

QUOTE(S)
Spending his spring bouncing between two position groups could have left Armstrong lost in the playbook. Irish receivers coach Del Alexander saw no such confusion, only a need for a bit more time to learn everything given the influx of material on Armstrong’s figurative syllabus.

“It has slowed him down, but he has not made mistakes,” Alexander said. “… He’s just got to do it faster. He’s got to feel comfortable.

“A guy that is built with speed and power can be great in both areas. He knows what to do, [but] his reaction time is a little bit slower right now. We’re in a great place with him.”

Running backs coach Autry Denson was so pleased with the limited time he spent with Armstrong, he outright campaigned for the slash-receiver to be removed from Armstrong’s duties. Nonetheless, Denson also understands the perks of having a playmaker seamlessly motion from the backfield to the slot or vice versa.

“That fact that he can play both, you can never have too many guys that can play multiple positions,” Denson said in late March. “We run a spread offense. It’s about getting the best five guys on the field from those skill positions and just trying to threaten the defense with the best players possible. That’s the bonus to us as an offensive unit.

“… He has big strong hands. He can catch really well at receiver, natural catcher. With the ball in his hands, he’s just a very strong runner.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“This fall, Alexander will have 10 receivers at his disposal (11 if counting receiver-turned-running back Deon McIntosh), not to mention the couple of tight ends who could line up in the receiver position in specific situations. It is hard to envision all of those players seeing worthwhile snaps in the Irish offense.

“With that in mind, a season preserving eligibility appears to be Armstrong’s most likely path. He and fellow incoming freshman Michael Young are obviously the most inexperienced of the grouping.

“For that matter, few — if any — of the 10 receiver options come across as placeholders. Each one brings a tangible skillset to the field. Thus, there are no candidates prime for Armstrong to move ahead of in his first few months on campus.

“Unless it is decided Armstrong is needed on special teams — a distinct possibility given how special teams coordinator Brian Polian lamented his lack of options this spring — a season learning the offense is his most likely outcome in 2017.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Armstrong’s move to running back from receiver could prove all the difference this season. At receiver, a quartet of returning contributors will fill most of that rotation, but at running back, half of the expected 2018 depth chart was dismissed during the winter and the availability of senior Dexter Williams is murky with questions and rumors.

That leaves Armstrong as the possible primary backup to Jones. Even if Williams is available, then Armstrong falls only to third, still a needed spot among running backs as clearly illustrated last season when the fourth-string back became the second-most productive.

Armstrong will still run some routes. When Notre Dame received his national letter of intent a little less than 18 months ago, Kelly described Armstrong as a “deep threat … that can really push the field vertically for us.” That speed has not vanished, though it has been complemented by a weight gain of 30 pounds thanks to a year in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

That combination may have made Armstrong a viable speed option out wide. It will also make him a dangerous one-cut rusher, finding a crease and gaining six yards before a defender can get a clean shot on him. If durable, that kind of running attack can be very dangerous.

DOWN THE ROAD
Whether or not Williams is around for some, all or none of this season, he will be out of eligibility in 2019, leaving Armstrong as the frontrunner to join Jones as the primary ballcarriers. The freshmen duo of C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith may have something to say about that, but it seems most likely they will have to work their way past Armstrong.

Even then, three or four pertinent running backs are a necessity in all but the rarest situations. An ankle sprain to one back and a quad strain to another (sound familiar?) can quickly reduce a deep depth chart to its most basic of options. That happened in 2017 and will undoubtedly occur at some point again in the next four years.

Armstrong is part of that picture now. Moving him back to receiver full-time feels impractical, given the conflicting depth situations. Players have made livelihoods out of such a split in Kelly’s system before, namely Theo Riddick and CJ Prosise.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on
No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end, junior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end

Associated Press
4 Comments

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ¾, 264 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Hayes will start as the drop end just as he did last, with classmate Julian Okwara providing able backup.
Recruiting: Rivals.com rated Hayes as a five-star prospect, the only such recruit to choose Notre Dame in the last four cycles. The U.S. Army All-American bypassed offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama. The No. 7 outside linebacker in the country, per rivals.com, and the No. 31 player overall, Hayes enrolled early.

CAREER TO DATE
Hayes is on pace to play every game of his Irish career. Coming out of high school, multiple shoulder injuries gave reason to wonder about his durability, but 12 starts amid appearances in 25 games have largely eliminated those concerns.

2016: 12 games; 11 tackles, one forced fumble.
2017: 13 games, 12 starts; 30 tackles including 6.5 for loss and three sacks, along with one pass breakup and two fumbles recovered.

Hayes did not start against Navy last season — senior Andrew Trumbetti took his place — a common disclaimer with upperclassmen sparked by the triple-option offense. Hayes’ season highlight came in the blowout victory against USC, notching five solo tackles and one sack.

QUOTE(S)
Across Notre Dame’s final five games last season, Hayes managed only six tackles. Irish head coach Brian Kelly attributed that to inexperience showing itself with time.

“The only thing [Hayes is] missing, really, is continued confidence in the position in which he plays,” Kelly said during spring practice. “Not in himself, he’s an extremely confident young man and carries himself as such.

“The position he plays was new to him. The nuances of that position maybe got him a little tentative as the year went on. His knowledge base is so much better this year of understanding his position and how it relates to the 11 players.”

More practice and game reps will only aid that cause, just like more time on campus furthers any player’s development.

“He’s physical, and he’s playing the kind of football that we expect him to play next year right now,” Kelly said.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“In 2010, [former Notre Dame defensive end] Prince Shembo recorded 15 tackles, with five for loss including 4.5 sacks and forced one fumble (as a freshman). Hayes essentially matched those gross numbers (in 2016), the tackles just did not come behind the line of scrimmage.

“Obviously, that is a big difference, and one Notre Dame will be desperate to see change in 2017. Hayes represents [former Irish] defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s best chance at a true pass rush. He is, perhaps, Elko’s only chance at a true pass rush.

“Continuing to use Shembo’s on-field career arc as a template, he started eight games in 2011, saw action in 12 games and recorded 31 tackles. His numbers behind the line of scrimmage dipped — illustrating how much those may hinge on constant variables — to 3.5 tackles for loss with two sacks.

“Hayes should start 13 games this season, and in doing so easily notch 30-plus tackles. His raw speed alone could get him close to that number. Elko, defensive line coach Mike Elston and Kelly will all very much hope for more than two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. If healthy, Hayes should exceed those numbers, and after a healthy freshman season, there is no longer reason to readily presume injury.”

2018 OUTLOOK
At some point, potential must become performance lest it be seen as unfulfilled. Hayes is not at that point yet, but if he does not flash this season, it may indicate his ceiling is lower than always perceived. While that may sound extreme, keep in mind it came with a rather strong if.

Hayes improved drastically between his first two seasons, as most-evidenced by his 30 tackles and 6.5 for loss. (While on that topic, let’s give some kudos to nailing Hayes’ 2017 projected stats. Pure skill, obviously, no chance whatsoever.) His snap count this season will only increase without Trumbetti siphoning off a handful of plays a game, even if Okwara is ready to handle more. An increased snap count and more effectiveness should boost Hayes’ figures closer to 40 tackles with at least six for loss once again.

A dozen or so more tackles this year (meaning in the low 40s) would likely point to Hayes finishing the season stronger than he did last. That is one aspect of the sought improvement. The other will come in the simplest measurement of any defensive end: sacks.

From a defensive coordinator’s point of view, a sack not only pushes the opponent backward, it also takes away the opportunity of a play. If Hayes provides that twofold effect twice as often this season as last, he will be in line with the coaching staff’s hopes for him tracing back to his recruitment. More than that and Hayes will become a focal point of opposing offensive coordinators, helping the defensive line as a whole.

DOWN THE ROAD
It would take quite the jump this season for Hayes to ponder the NFL in the spring. Thus, expect him to start next season, making him a three-year starter for the Irish. That alone will send Hayes to the next level; how high he is drafted will hinge on what Hayes offers in 2019.

Guessing at those outcomes would be more conjecture than usual without seeing how Hayes fares this season first. Ideally for Notre Dame, he becomes an all-around end and Okwara shows elite pass-rush abilities. That combination would allow defensive coordinator Clark Lea a litany of possibilities in preparing for his second year.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, punt returner

Associated Press
6 Comments

Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 179 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Finke is in the mix to contribute in the passing game from the outset this year, competing with sophomore Michael Young to complement the size of junior Chase Claypool and senior Miles Boykin. Of the entire receiving corps, only those four bring any experience whatsoever.
Recruiting: A preferred walk-on to start his career, Finke earned a scholarship heading into his sophomore season.

CAREER TO DATE
Finke’s junior year mirrored his sophomore year’s receiving stats, a disappointing byproduct of the Notre Dame passing game struggling throughout 2017. His greatest impact came in the early September loss to Georgia, pulling in three receptions for 36 yards, all coming in the fourth quarter of the 20-19 defeat, as did all five of his targets. He had no more than one grab in any other game.

2016: 10 games; 10 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
2017: 13 games, one start; six catches for 102 yards.

Finke has also served as the primary punt returner most of the last two seasons, with a seeming-allergy to fair catches in obvious situations.

2016: Nine punt returns for 70 yards; five kick returns for 85 yards.
2017: 24 punt returns for 156 yards.

QUOTE(S)
Finke is many things: relatively sure-handed, outright quick, shifty to the point of it being a cliché. He is also mistake-free to such a degree it earns notice.

“Chris had the least amount of [missed assignments],” Irish receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “At this point in the game, Finke knows everything. I can move Finke anywhere, I can beat Finke up, I can get him in front of blockers.”

Those are all compliments, but there is still plenty of work to be done to improve Finke’s game.

“We’re doing so many little things with Finke that help him have a knack for the game outside of the playbook,” Alexander said. “… Because he understands exactly what we want, he knows the playbook, but at the same time, we’re talking about leverage, we’re talking about using his height to an advantage, using his quickness, timing on break and anticipation of people around him.

“We’re doing some things that help you play for a long time.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Finke will almost certainly exceed last year’s numbers, but the question will be when and where. Notre Dame is not wanting at receiver, and that assuredness is not even factoring in the number of skilled tight ends available, as well. Finding a role in the rotation for all those capable, including Finke, will be a unique balancing act.

“… Nothing in spring indicated Finke had yielded that second-half momentum surge. With it, he should be ready to contribute at either the slot or the field receiver position whenever Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long wants to downsize his target.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Finke’s consistency and unique playmaking ability puts him in position to contribute for Notre Dame, no matter how diminutive his frame may be. The presumed emergence of Young, though, will likely limit the opportunities. Some situations may call for multiple 5-foot-10, sub-200-pound receivers, but those moments are few and far between, especially when the offensive coordinator prefers targets with size and has the luxury of two upperclassmen receivers taller than 6-foot-4 and a trio of pass-catching tight ends even taller.

Finke will still see a non-negligible amount of playing time; it is just hard to project him as one of senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s primary targets, odd considering how much Wimbush relied on Finke in trying to mount a comeback against the Bulldogs.

As for punt returns, Finke’s desire to make a play has put his role there in jeopardy in the past. Recklessly hauling in punts inside the 10-yard-line is a surefire way to aggravate any coach. If Irish head coach Brian Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian have drilled rules into Finke’s head by now, then the job should remain his. He has shown the needed flashes to shift field position, most-recently in the third quarter at Stanford when he returned a punt 41 yards to set up a lead-taking field goal, also known as Notre Dame’s last points of the regular-season finale. Finke returned the Cardinal’s next punt 20 yards to position the Irish for a last-ditch effort, which stalled.

If, however, Finke continues to take unnecessary risks unfit a senior, then a change will need to be made to preserve future possessions.

DOWN THE ROAD
Finke will be an interesting case for roster construction discussion following the season. Including sophomore receiver/running back Jafar Armstrong, the Irish currently have 10 players at the position, all with 2019 eligibility available. If Boykin, Claypool and Young separate as a leading trio and any or all of the freshmen quartet impress, then Finke could be the fifth or sixth option as a fifth-year.

In such an instance, the coaching staff may opt to devote that scholarship to a player in the class of 2019, a grouping which could be tight for space as is.

Of course, if Finke catches 25 passes this season for 300 yards and a couple scores, that conversation would shift entirely.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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