Five things we learned: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0

132 Comments

South Bend, Ind. — This might have to be it for Notre Dame and Michigan. Because in the 42nd and final scheduled meeting between the Irish and Wolverines, Notre Dame delivered a 31-0 knockout punch that could very well leave Brady Hoke’s program left for dead.

[VIDEO: Watch full replay of game ]

After spending much of the week talking about the rivalry dating back to 1887, the Irish went out in record-setting fashion. Brian Kelly’s team is the first Notre Dame squad to shut out Michigan. It’s the first time the Wolverines have been shut out since the Reagan administration, ending a NCAA record 365-game streak from 1984.

With the sellout home crowd of 80,795 singing goodbye to the Wolverines, the young Irish defense delivered the best performance of the Kelly era, blitzing and scheming Devin Gardner into a nightmare. With the Irish 2-0 and through the first significant hurdle of the 2014 schedule, let’s find out what else we learned in Notre Dame’s 31-0 victory over the Wolverines.

With young and athletic personnel, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder unleashed the perfect attack on Devin Gardner and the Wolverines. 

The last time Brian Kelly saw Doug Nussmeier’s offense, they buried the Irish defense in the BCS championship. The last time Brian VanGorder saw Nussmeier’s offense, he ran Auburn and Gene Chizik out of the Iron Bowl (and a job) 49-0.

But on Saturday night, the veteran assistant coach pitched a no-hitter, dialing up the perfect game plan against Nussmier and quarterback Devin Gardner.

“As you can imagine, we’re pleased with the victory,” Kelly said after the game. “Obviously, shutting out any opponent in college football is an enormous task with offenses today. A great performance by our defense. Great performance by our coaches. The preparation was outstanding.”

That preparation included a masterful job by VanGorder, who received a gigantic bear hug from athletic director Jack Swarbrick on the field after the game. It included shutting down a Michigan ground game after a record-setting performance against Appalachian State. And it turned a hot start by Gardner into an ice-cold finish, sacking and harassing him on the way to three interceptions and a lost fumble.

“Give Notre Dame credit for how they played,” Hoke said after the game. “It was a total butt-kicking all the way around that we all took.”

After showing a somewhat vanilla defense against Rice, the Irish dialed up the pressures against Gardner, knocking around the mobile thrower and eventually forcing him to make bad decisions. After locking down the Michigan ground game, the Irish dominated third down, holding the Wolverines to just four of 13 on conversions, a key to the game plan.

“Once we were able to really get a hold of the run game and getting it to third down, we felt like we were going to be in pretty good shape, because we were able to do a lot of things to confuse what they were seeing,” Kelly explained. “They weren’t getting the same looks. I think that had a lot to do with our success.”

Those looks included blitzes from everywhere and huge games from Notre Dame safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate. The young duo that struggled at times against Rice both intercepted Gardner, with cornerback Cody Riggs getting his first for Notre Dame. The Irish also made eight tackles for loss, constantly in the backfield and making series-changing plays.

With freshmen Daniel Cage, Andrew Trumbetti, Kolin Hill, Drue Tranquill and Grant Blankenship key parts of the scheme, the young Irish defense executed the game plan to perfection. But credit VanGorder for putting together a show-stopper.

After slicing and dicing Rice in the season opener, Everett Golson did more of the same against Greg Mattison’s Michigan defense. 

Two years ago, Everett Golson didn’t make it to halftime. He didn’t finish this year’s game either, passing the reins over to backup Malik Zaire with the game in hand and the crowd going crazy.

Golson played another great game, leading the Irish offense as he completed 23 of 34 throws for 226 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, for the second straight week, the Irish didn’t turn the ball over and scored on every red zone opportunity they had. Forced to battle against one of college football’s best strategists, the senior quarterback called checkmate, essentially ending the game in the third quarter with the Irish miles ahead.

Standing quietly at a podium surrounded by media, Golson calmly talked about beating a team that made his life miserable two seasons ago. And begged to try and quantify how hot his start was, showed his ability as an escape artist one more time.

“Avoid the noise. Avoid the noise,” Golson said. “People are going to talk, that type of thing, whether it’s good or bad. But you’ve got to keep your head on what really matters is my guys around me.”

The noise will certainly ramp up with Golson’s performance showcasing his ability to a national audience. With the running game taken away, the Irish decided to pick Michigan apart by air, with Golson’s accuracy and arm strength the key.

Don’t look now, but Notre Dame has a star quarterback.

That young and untested front seven? It just dominated the trenches against Michigan. 

Losing three starting linebackers and two-thirds of the defensive line, Notre Dame’s front seven was what looked — on paper — to be what was holding the Irish back as College Football Playoff contenders. Well that group just whipped the Wolverines, with the athletic Irish front manhandling Michigan at the line of scrimmage.

Jaylon Smith was everywhere, making ten tackles including a big play in the backfield. Joe Schmidt made seven stops, including a bone-crunching hit on Devin Gardner that forced loose a fumble. More impressive was the work done up front, with Jarron Jones dominating Michigan center Jack Miller, on his way to six tackles as Sheldon Day made five stops and freshman Andrew Trumbetti made four, after taking a wicked crack-back block that sent him briefly to the locker room.

The youthful backups funneled onto the field, with freshmen everywhere, all being productive. And with Gardner running for his life as the game wore on, it was the front seven that dictated the terms to Michigan, putting together one of the most unlikely shutouts you can imagine.

With exotic stunts and blitz packages, Smith attributed the victory not to the play on the field, but the work in the classroom.

“Coach Kelly says it all the time. It’s not about rising to the opposition, we had to sink to the level of our preparation,” Smith said after the game. “So it was done during the week. Our preparation was incredible. Rushing for the ball and really just keeping the tempo up.”

 

After being one of the worst special teams units in the country, Notre Dame dominated another game in the all important third phase. 

This offseason, Notre Dame’s coaching staff went out with their hat in hand, seeking answers from other coaching staffs for their putrid special teams.

Well it worked.

Two straight games, Notre Dame has dictated terms in the field position battle while getting elite special teams play in all units.

Kicker Kyle Brindza has become a touchback machine, surrendering just one kickoff return while booting five touchbacks. As a punter, Brindza’s garbage time 23-yarder sunk his average down to 38.3, but he pinned Michigan inside their twenty twice, including one at the Michigan two.

Cody Riggs moved the Irish past their entire 2013 punt return total by the middle of the game. And James Onwualu came up with another clutch play, recovering Riggs’ muff after a hard bounce rattled off Riggs’ arms.

Notre Dame’s transition to frontline and athletic players on special teams has been one of the most dramatic changes to Scott Booker’s unit. And when Cam McDaniel and Matthias Farley, your senior captain running back and starting nickel back, are the guys downing a punt inside the two, that type of great effort gets contagious.

Brindza made his only field goal attempt, putting the 43-yarder straight through. And after Michigan missed two early kicks, Notre Dame’s dominance on special teams did its part in the team shutout.

 

FieldTurf, smoke machines and a whole lot of swagger. Things in South Bend are changing. And as Brian Kelly said, “Get used to it.” 

While Notre Dame’s fans groaned about a university academic process that drags on, Kelly and his football team put together a win for the ages. And in front of an electric crowd and dozens of elite recruits, it’s pretty clear that Brian Kelly has things rolling in South Bend, ripping a program out of the past as he reshapes the Irish both on and off the field.

After torrential rains hit South Bend last night, the Irish still blazed on the FieldTurf, the faster, more athletic team by just about any measure, allowed to show their ability even though Knute Rockne’s teams played on a natural surface.

And while running out of the tunnel with a smoke machine billowing likely had some of the folks in the gold seats rolling their eyes, the Irish took advantage of their primetime appearance and showed the gulf between college football’s two winningest programs looked the size of Lake Michigan.

Kelly does things his way. As the CEO of one of college football’s true blue-chip institutions, he’s made changes at just about every level of his program, embracing the differences Notre Dame cherishes while also not letting them get in the way of the ultimate goal.

So while Kelly’s “Get used to it” crack had the chance to be his “Decided schematic advantage” after passing up a field goal to win against Tulsa to throw for the end zone in his first season, it’s a rallying cry that leads Notre Dame into a era of seismic change.

Not just on the field, where the university has gladly replaced Michigan with games against Texas, Georgia and now Ohio State and a five-game commitment to the ACC. But into a new Notre Dame Stadium, with the Campus Crossroads program reshaping the crown jewel of campus over the coming years.

That takes a certain type of head coach. And Brian Kelly is proving to be that man.

 

 

Leftovers & Links: Transfer portal opens fast, but slow for Notre Dame … for now; Mayer & Foskey status TBD

5 Comments

The transfer portal is open.

The difference between this year and the previous few years is that there is a set window for undergraduate players to enter the database better and more ominously known as the portal. And that window began today, Dec. 5.

There was uncertainty about how this opening day would go. Like the first moments of National Signing Day, with announcement after announcement after announcement? With a trickle throughout the day and the week? Would players be out of the portal (again, it’s just a database) as quickly as they entered it?

Through half a day of it, the answers are all somewhere in between.

For Notre Dame’s concerns, only two players have jumped into the portal thus far today: junior quarterback Drew Pyne, as expected since his announcement on Friday, and freshman cornerback Jayden Bellamy. More will assuredly follow in the coming month, likely this week if not even yet Monday night.

“We’ve had individual meetings with a lot of our players,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said Sunday night. “Really just talked to them about taking it a little bit at a time to kind of figure out their plans for the transfer portal, for playing in the bowl game and other decisions they have to make.”

Some players already have homes — most notably, Phil Jurkovec may finally get his return to Notre Dame Stadium next season, date to be determined, having already committed to Pittsburgh — while others are piling up. The quarterbacks draw the most attention, and understandably so, with North Carolina State’s Devin Leary joining the fray on Monday, perhaps a name for Irish fans to note.

The possibility of Leary, of course, is presumably part of why Pyne is transferring and not playing in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 against No. 19 South Carolina (3:30 ET; ABC). Along with names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong (though the Syracuse rumors around Armstrong are noticeable and logical), Freeman has quarterback candidates to chase and intends to do so.

“We had a conversation this week, myself and Drew, as well as many of the other players that we have on our team in terms of our intentions, my intentions into certain positions, look for transfers,” Freeman said. “I’m always looking for ways to enhance our roster. I always want to be up front and honest, and I was with Drew, told him that we would possibly look at taking a transfer quarterback.

“I did not want him to leave, but he made the decision to enter the portal, and I definitely respect his decision.”

With the quarterback carousel moving at lightning speed — Michigan’s Cade McNamara to Iowa and Jurkovec to Pittsburgh already underscoring how quickly that specific position will develop each offseason; Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei is widely expected to land somewhere on the West Coast — Pyne skipping the Gator Bowl makes sense. He needs to secure his next position now, not in January.

“What he has done for our program, the ability for him to step in week 2 and throughout the season, he did a tremendous job,” Freeman said.

In Pyne’s stead, Freeman said sophomore quarterback and initial 2022 starter Tyler Buchner is “full go.” Now, let’s add in this space’s continued disclaimer that coaches are almost always more optimistic publicly about injury timelines than they should be, and all initial expectations for Buchner’s return from a serious shoulder sprain, one that necessitated surgery, ruled out a bowl game. But, Buchner has participated in Notre Dame’s two practices this week.

“We still have three quarterbacks on the roster,” Freeman said. “You have Tyler Buchner, Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus. All have been practicing the past two days that we practiced and could see any of the three play. They’ll all be ready to play.”

Neither junior tight end Michael Mayer nor senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey partook in those practices, something Freeman said was intentional as Notre Dame gears some of its bowl prep toward developing younger players. It also gives the two biggest NFL draft candidates on the Irish roster a chance to consider if they’ll play against the Gamecocks.

“We had a plan to sit out some guys as recovery for these last two practices of development and trying to really focus on the younger guys and developing the younger guys on our team,” Freeman said. “So I told both of those guys just take the week and take a couple of days to really think about what they want to do for their future.”

Freeman outright acknowledging the possibility of Mayer and/or Foskey skipping the bowl game represents both the changing of the times and the program’s understanding of the logic to such a decision.

“We will discuss it sometime this week, probably early this week.”

ON JAYDEN BELLAMY
Bellamy was one of three cornerbacks signed by Nore Dame last recruiting cycle, and while the other two blossomed into starters — Benjamin Morrison snagging five interceptions in the final two Irish home games and Jaden Mickey stepping in for Cam Hart at USC — Bellamy never saw the field.

With Hart returning next season, though missing the bowl game due to a shoulder injury, Notre Dame’s top three cornerbacks for 2023 are established, and there remain three sophomores on the depth chart for Bellamy to compete with and five defensive backs committed in the recruiting class that should sign on the dotted line on Dec. 21, when the early signing period commences.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback

UPDATE: ON Osita Ekwonu
Senior defensive end Osita Ekwonu joined Bellamy and Pyne in the portal late Monday, finishing his Irish career with six tackles in 16 appearances, two of those tackles coming on Senior Day against Boston College, his only defensive snaps in his Notre Dame career. In his previous 15 games, Ekwonu had appeared on only special teams.

An Achilles injury sidelined Ekwonu in 2021, costing him some traction on the Irish depth chart amid its most talented position group.

His transfer can illustrate some of the folly around transfer portal discourse, something this space somewhat and regrettably encouraged with an embedded tweet on Monday. When pointing out only half — give or take — of portal entrants eventually find homes, it is too easy to ignore that many entrants are former walk-ons looking to elongate their playing careers or graduates who would have needed to transfer following their undergraduate careers all along, including long before terrifying concepts like a “transfer portal” existed. Ekwonu would have transferred 10 years ago, too, but his next stop always would have been uncertain.

Those numbers also neglect to remember there are more players than ever eligible thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. The vaguest of math suggests it is up to 20 percent more than usual roster size allocates for. As a result, some players are inevitably not going to have homes even if they want to keep playing.

Maybe that will not be Ekwonu; the intention here is not to suggest his career is over. The intention is to remind that Ekwonu would have been transferring somewhere as soon as graduate students were allowed immediate eligibility after a transfer, a rule instituted in 2006.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury

ON TIMING
This outgoing roster flux will continue for a week or two, and then there may be a few more departures immediately after the bowl game, though most players will want to get a head start on the transfer process.

Freeman is in communication with all those weighing options, so few possibilities should catch him completely off-guard, but he is not pressuring players to decide today or tomorrow.

“We haven’t set a firm date, deadline, but we told them, … we need to kind of have an idea of what the future plans are for certain guys,” Freeman said. “For our guys that are deciding if they’re going to play or opt out for the NFL draft, they understand the sooner the better. I just didn’t want them to have to rush into a decision.”

Players debating the NFL draft or another season at Notre Dame are more likely to make that decision following the bowl game, completing the second wave of outgoing decisions.

The timing of incoming transfer possibilities will reveal much about what Freeman has or has not been able to accomplish in working with the academic side of the University in the past year. The greatest struggle for Notre Dame admitting many incoming transfers has not been their academic standing, although that itself is a clear hurdle, but the delay in academic decision-makers communicating the academic standing to potential transfers.

Traffic in the portal moves fast; making highly-sought playmakers wait to hear if they will lose one semester of academic progress or two if they transfer to Notre Dame is a sure way to lose those players.

So if a receiver or a quarterback — undergraduates, to be clear — commits to the Irish this week, even if there is no official Notre Dame welcome, that would indicate Freeman has made headway.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30
Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility
Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need
CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023
Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart
Chris Terek’s flip from Wisconsin gives Notre Dame five OL commits in third straight class
Highlights: USC 38, Notre Dame 27 — Arm, legs and foot of Caleb Williams too much for Irish upset bid
USC defense, Caleb Williams’ Heisman-worthy performance never give Notre Dame an opening

OUTSIDE READING
College football’s transfer portal window is open. Buckle up for a frantic 45 days
Several Stanford players set to transfer as search for David Shaw’s replacement continues
Transferring Western Michigan D-lineman Fiske set to visit Notre Dame
Inside Luke Fickell’s move to Wisconsin, why he decided to leave Cincinnati now

Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30

14 Comments

Notre Dame and South Carolina will meet for the first time in nearly 40 years in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 at 3:30 ET (ABC). The Irish and Gamecocks have not played since 1984, a South Carolina win in South Bend. That was part of Notre Dame’s struggles (going 12-11 in 1984 and 1985) that led to Lou Holtz being hired; Holtz, of course, went on to coach the Gamecocks for six seasons after he left the Irish.

Though the No. 21 Irish (8-4) finished the season strongly, including competing gamely at USC a week ago in a 38-27 loss, a driving storyline over the next month will be wondering if head coach Marcus Freeman can handle this bowl game better than the second half of the Fiesta Bowl faceplant last year in his first game as Notre Dame’s leader.

No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) enjoyed an even more impressive finish to the season, knocking both Tennessee and Clemson out of the College Football Playoff in its final two games of the season. Not that gambling spreads mean anything on the football field, but to give an idea how unexpected those two wins were, realize the Gamecocks were expected to lose them by a combined 37.5 points and instead won them by a combined 26 points.

There may be some rough parallels between South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer and Freeman, though Beamer is a year ahead in his head-coaching career.

Beamer was an unexpected hire in Columbia in 2021, never having been a head coach before and most recently the associate head coach and tight ends coach at Oklahoma for three seasons. The Gamecocks went 7-6 in his first year, his head-coaching inexperience perhaps rearing its head as they lost their first three games against Power-Five competition and four of their first five, the exception coming against worse-off Vanderbilt.

Thus, the surge to end the 2022 season stands out, particularly since it again took until October to notch a win against a Power-Five opponent, losing to both Arkansas and, more understandably, Georgia in September.

South Carolina found its most success this season through the air, led by former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He averaged 230.5 yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt while completing 66.6 percent of his passes. The Gamecocks managed just 123.3 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt.

Their rushing defense is one of the worst in the country, which could play right into the Irish offensive strength. Opponents gained 0.194 expected points per rush attempt against South Carolina, the No. 123 ranking in the country, per cfb-graphs.com.

Notre Dame fell to Ohio State, 21-10, to open Freeman’s genuine tenure, a worthwhile loss though one quickly diminished when the Irish fell to Marshall just a week later. Of course, the Buckeyes’ relied on that season-opening win to successfully burgeon their Playoff résumé today.

The Irish already know they will be without both senior cornerback Cam Hart and junior quarterback Drew Pyne in the bowl game. Hart announced last week he will return for a fifth season at Notre Dame, but a shoulder injury will sideline him this month, while Pyne announced Friday he intends to enter the transfer portal, presumably when it officially opens tomorrow.

Star tight end Michael Mayer will almost certainly opt out of the bowl game, his top-20 draft stock assured, and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey could logically, as well.

Notre Dame nearly ended up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, per reports. The ACC could place the Irish in any of three bowls, the top tier of ACC-affiliated bowls below the Orange Bowl, with some input from the bowls and from the University. That give-and-take seemingly delayed the announcement for a stretch of Sunday.

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

67 Comments

Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

3 Comments

Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023