The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

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Don’t tell me you wouldn’t take it. Notre Dame, entering their first off week at 3-0. The offense, averaging a hearty 36.3 points a game. The defense, giving up just 10.3 points a game.

After the first quarter of the season, the Irish defense has managed to force nine turnovers, good for fifth in the country. At +8, they rank No. 1 in the country after three weeks. That says quite a bit about the rust quickly knocked off Everett Golson and the work of Brian VanGorder and the defensive staff.

All of that puts the Purdue game into context. Notre Dame didn’t sweat out their victory, but the 30-14 win was the sloppiest Saturday the Irish played all year. Both sides of the ball have plenty to work on.

With the Irish now ranked No. 9 in both the AP and Coaches Poll, Brian Kelly has an opportunity to get his team healthy during a week off before heading to the Meadowlands to take on Syracuse.

But before we tackle the bye week, let’s look at the good, bad and ugly from the Irish’s Shamrock Series victory over Darrell Hazell’s Purdue Boilermakers.

 

THE GOOD

 

The Opening Drive. It didn’t look like the Irish were going to play sluggish football on Saturday night, with the opening drive jump-started by Amir Carlisle’s excellent kickoff return, going 47 yards to start the game.

After a nice run and screen pass reception by Tarean Folston, the Irish marched quickly for a touchdown. Carlisle added another catch, Golson was perfect, including a bullet to Will Fuller into bracket coverage for a touchdown.

 

Jump on the Irish all you want for playing slugging or sloppy. But they didn’t do it on the game’s opening drive.

 

The Defense. Looking at the box score, and watching a few drives between the first and second quarter, you’d have thought that the Irish defense played poorly. Sure, Purdue caught Notre Dame for some big plays. And no, Michigan still hasn’t scored against Brian VanGorder’s defense.

But while 14 points on the board in the first half doesn’t necessarily feel like a victory, consider seven were essentially gifted after Ben Koyack’s critical fumble in Notre Dame territory and even that touchdown was a circus catch that Cody Riggs did everything possible to stop (except stop it).

Without Andrew Trumbetti and losing Max Redfield early in the second quarter, the Irish suffered a rash of injuries that decimated their depth chart. But even playing Drue Tranquill at strong safety and flipping Elijah Shumate to free, the defense played a really impressive second half, forcing these six drives from Purdue’s offense:

Punt
Punt 
Downs
Punt
Interception
Interception

No, it wasn’t a shutout. And while Purdue had some success early running in some power formations and throwing underneath, it was a pretty impressive performance for the Irish defense, especially considering they spent much of the first half on the wrong side of the field position battle.

 

Red Zone Offense: Another “perfect” night for the Irish, converting all four of their red zone drives for points. I hesitate to put this in the good category, just because the Irish failed to get in from the one-yard line, but converting opportunities to points is the name of the game and so far the Irish have done just that.

The Irish are 14 of 14 this year, one of 27 teams who have scored every time inside the 20. But Notre Dame ranks 41st in the country in converting those into touchdowns, still room to improve.

 

Romeo Okwara. With Trumbetti held out, Okwara had himself a heckuva game. He filled up the stat sheet, leading the team with a game-high 11 tackles, while sharing a sack and being credited with a forced fumble.

Okwara’s ability to take a ton of snaps and be productive was a huge help without a pretty thin defensive line, and should also be valuable learning reps for a guy still figuring out defensive end. But any time you more than double your personal best output is a good thing.

 

Corey Robinson & Will Fuller: The sophomore duo both registered touchdown catches, with Robinson earning the game ball for making a few difficult grabs, made all the more difficult for playing with essentially one hand.

Fuller kept his concentration, bringing down some difficult grabs and nearly connecting on another long ball. (He probably jumped a little bit early.) But while most are wondering how DaVaris Daniels would play or what’s going on with Chris Brown, this duo was always expected to be productive, and on Saturday we got our first true taste.

 

Drue Tranquill. And to think, Irish fans weren’t sure Notre Dame should even offer Tranquill a scholarship. The one-time Purdue commit and Indiana native played key minutes on the backend of the defense, filling in admirably on an every down basis at strong safety.

Kelly called Tranquill a “head coach’s offer,” unsure of where Tranquill would play at the college level on Signing Day. But whether or not he grows into a linebacker doesn’t really matter. He’s already showing himself to be a great football player and a key contributor.

 

Quick Hits:

Starting in place of Ishaq Williams at defensive end, sophomore Isaac Rochell is living up to the billing Kelly gave him during camp when he called him a beast.

Another Saturday, another game where Greg Bryant just flashes explosiveness. The Irish coaching staff takes this week to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Bryant’s working. Now get him the ball more.

Young Kolin Hill gets on the field again and he splits a sack. That’s a pretty nice little pass rushing specialist.

Also it was very nice of Joe Schmidt to get heralded for his walk-on story. It was even better than he played good football and made a game-clinching interception.

Oh yeah. Notre Dame is 3-0 and ranked in the Top 10. And Stanford, USC, North Carolina, Florida State, Northwestern and Louisville all look weaker than they did on paper before the season.

 

THE BAD

 

The Mental Mistakes. Good thing the Irish aren’t wearing those uniforms again, because that wasn’t a team that I recognized. With presnap penalties, lining up offsides by both offensive and defensive players, Kelly didn’t hold his tongue after the game when asked about it.

“Crazy penalties. An off‑side penalty because you can’t take the time to look at the official’s foot, you know, to line up. Are you kidding me? Things like that. So they were little aggravating penalties for me more than anything else. A taunting penalty, which was uncalled for. You know, Max’s penalty. He’s trying to hold up in that situation. I know he was not trying to target anybody. We understand the rule. We understand the interpretation of the rule. We’re not arguing with it. But he was trying to hold up the quarterback, slid quickly, and those things happen. So there’s four of the seven penalties right there.

“Two of them are knucklehead penalties, and one of them was an aggressive penalty, and the other one we’ll take care of that one internally.”

Good luck with that one, Elijah Shumate.

 

The Offensive Line Play. On second viewing, it was hardly just Steve Elmer who struggled. The interior of the Irish offensive line played poorly as well, not getting much of a push or getting to the second level on their blocking assignments. That turns the next week into one where Kelly and Harry Hiestand need to do some thinking.

“We are going to have a pretty in‑depth conversation. It will probably evolve around the five guys that played, plus Christian Lombard, and whether we have the five in the right position,” Kelly said, all but acknowledging Elmer’s struggles at right tackle. “We’re not going to entertain ‑‑ maybe one other player, McGlinchey would be involved in that conversation. But quite frankly, we’ve got to find a little bit more push inside, and that’s what we’re going to try to come up with. So we’re in the process right now of kind of sorting that out ourselves.”

Reading between the lines, that means no redshirt coming off for talented freshman Quenton Nelson. But it does put guards Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty on notice, with Elmer’s ability to slide in likely determined by how ready McGlinchey is to play and how healthy the Irish can get Lombard during the off week.

 

Amir Carlisle’s Knee. It doesn’t sound as serious as it could be, but the fact that Amir Carlisle got hurt against Purdue — a year after that game was his ultimate undoing — is a bum deal. One week after playing the best game of his career and after opening the evening with a big kickoff return, Carlisle tweaked his knee and didn’t return in the second half.

“Amir Carlisle is having an MRI on his knee. He’s got some laxity in there,” Kelly said. “We don’t believe it’s the severity of Austin Collinsworth, which was I think about four weeks. So we’re hopeful that the MRI turns out well and that we’ll have him back for Syracuse… Met with the doctors today and they had their hands on him. They felt pretty confident that this is not a severe knee injury.”

If that’s the case, consider it a bullet dodged for the Irish and Carlisle.

 

Quick Hits:

*Already hit on it yesterday, but you can’t fumble that football Ben Koyack. 

*Catching the ball is great. But the short passing game can’t work as well as it should if the wide receivers don’t block. Without James Onwualu to play that physical role, there isn’t a lot of size or want-to out on the edges right now.

Missing that block on a 3rd-and-2 quick throw just doesn’t cut it.

* After a few weeks of impressive tackling, there were quite a few missed tackles. They seemed to be cleaned up at halftime, but still — that’s how you give up chain-moving plays on underneath throws.

* Hey Cody Riggs: Make sure you catch those punts in the air. Or get out of the way. Or take it on the big hop. You’re not a short stop, you’re a punt returner. (And maybe you shouldn’t be anymore with the injuries and suspensions at cornerback.)

* It’s time for the Honor Code committee to get their work done and decide what happens to these five kids. Provost Tom Burish was in Indianapolis on Friday for the Shamrock Series Fan Fest. Now he should get together with his deans and Honor committee and make a decision.

* Tough penalty on Max Redfield. By the letter of the law, that’s the rule. But Danny Etling sure needs to understand that the idea of sliding is to get down, not go to two knees and keep your body up. That’s a recipe for getting killed.

* Somebody look at the construction of the third-down throw down in the red zone, where Golson rolled right. It looked like a one-receiver route with Chris Brown the only option. Let’s try the recycling bin with that one. Tommy Rees’ red zone end zone throw to Brown last year was intercepted. This one almost was, too.

 

THE UGLY

It was an ugly win. Get over it. USC gave up over 400 yards on the ground. Better to win ugly than lose ugly.

But this section is reserved for the tough-luck injury to safety Nicky Baratti. On his first snap after relieving Max Redfield, Baratti went to chase down a Purdue ball carrier and barely extended his arm when his surgically repaired shoulder gave out. What a terrible break for a kid that’s done nothing but work hard during his three seasons in South Bend.

This is the kind of re-injury that could end a career. If that’s the case, it’s a hard luck few years at Notre Dame for Baratti, who made a critical interception as a freshman against Michigan and looked like a front-runner for a starting job, but just couldn’t seem to stay healthy after that.

Here’s hoping things work out, but more importantly, injuries like that are the reason you pick Notre Dame for college.

 

 

 

300-pound defensive tackle Sean Sevillano joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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Notre Dame added its second defensive lineman commitment in two weeks with the Friday announcement from consensus three-star defensive tackle Sean Sevillano (Clearwater Academy; Fla.). The massive interior prospect is the first defensive tackle to join the Irish class of 2024.

And “massive” might not be saying enough. At 6-foot-2, Sevillano weighs more than 300 pounds. Keep in mind, he has yet to start his senior year of high school.

And while he is big, Sevillano does not play slow. If there is a hole in the offensive line protection, he is quick enough to get up the field and bother the quarterback, logging 22 sacks last season. If there is not a hole, his sheer size is likely to create one.

He uses his body weight to bring down ball carriers, content to drop his weight on them and force them to consider moving forward with 300 added pounds rather than using that force to knock through them. While that is an example of his size as an asset, some college running backs will be able to shimmy out of that trap or strong enough to even carry him for an extra yard, so some discipline to actively tackle will need to be developed.

In a similar respect, Sevillano’s size represents raw potential. He is already clearly strong, but if more of his frame becomes devoted to muscle, he could become a genuine collegiate force.

How much of that size and frame is immediately functional may determine if Sevillano is a day-one contributor for Notre Dame in 2024. Starting tackles Rylie Mills and Howard Cross both have eligibility through 2024, but both could also consider the NFL draft after this season. Cross, in particular, will be a multi-year starter and would be a sixth-year veteran in 2024; it may simply be time for him to move on. There are other players between Sevillano and Cross, namely current junior Gabriel Rubio and sophomore Donovan Hinish, but none with a bounty of experience. Furthermore, no defensive line rotation can ever be too deep. If Sevillano arrives on campus as a hard body to move, a situational role in goal-line packages could await him, but if he arrives as needing conditioning work above all else, it could be a season on the scout team while suffering under strength coordinator Matt Balis’s tutelage.

Sevillano chose Notre Dame over finalists Ohio State, Auburn and Miami, becoming the 17th Irish commitment and the fourth defensive lineman, following consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas’s pledge last week.

Notre Dame’s class of 2024 now ranks No. 3 in the country, behind only Georgia (with 16 commits) and Michigan (17), though not behind the Wolverines by much. Ohio State and Oregon loom at Nos. 5 and 6 with just 13 and 14 commitments, respectively.

Those team rankings will obviously continue to fluctuate plenty between now and the December signing period, but spending a second straight summer in the top five should reflect only well on Marcus Freeman’s continued recruiting emphasis.

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman

Brigham Young v Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅛, 309 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Coogan has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: An interior offensive lineman through and through, expect Coogan to spend some preseason practices working among the guards before being listed as the backup center on the public depth chart, behind fifth-year Zeke Correll.
Recruiting: The recruiting rankings industry rarely respects centers, thus effectively capping Coogan’s ceiling at a consensus three-star prospect. Yet, Stanford and Michigan chased him until he chose Notre Dame, a clear choice all along given the Chicagoland product was a lifelong Irish fan.

CAREER TO DATE
Correll started all 13 games of 2022 after Jarrett Patterson did so at center in 2021, limiting any chances for Coogan. He appeared in just the snowy blowout of Boston College last season.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Anyone pushing back against athletes making money off their name, image and likeness rights (looking at you, Eli Drinwitz) is missing many realities. One of them is that college athletes may be the best on-field instructors for high-school players, having recently been in those shoes, helping both understand what those younger players are trying to do and aid their credibility with the next wave of recruits.

Yet, college football players have been able to profit from teaching football camps only in recent years.

Their tutelage can and does extend further to far young players, again nothing but a good thing.

QUOTES
Coogan was viewed solely as a center while recruited, and his first couple of seasons at Notre Dame featured a similar outlook. New Irish offensive line coach Joe Rudolph gave Coogan a shot at guard this past spring, and while Coogan is unlikely to win a starting role over the likes of fifth-year Andrew Kristofic, senior Michael Carmody, junior Rocco Spindler and sophomore Billy Schrauth, the chance at competition may have reinvigorated him a bit.

“There’s been a really good battle at left guard, Billy Schrauth has been working along with Pat Coogan,” Rudolph said in April. “They’ve got the majority of the reps there. I think it really freed Pat up, going to guard. I’ve seen his footwork getting better and I think it’s a little more natural for him.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“A springtime meniscus injury that required surgery and cost Coogan nearly all of spring’s practices has him behind the proverbial eight-ball this year. That absence forced (former Irish offensive line coach Harry) Hiestand to take a look at Carmody at center, and Carmody’s athleticism shined. (That may become a theme for Carmody until he finds a permanent home on the Irish offensive line.)

“That likely elevated Carmody to the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ role at center rather than Coogan.

“There are worse fates. Coogan is only a sophomore, after all, and the entire idea of the emergency glass is to not be broken. Even if he had not injured his knee, Coogan was probably going to spend this season fine-tuning his game under Hiestand’s watchful eye.”

2023 OUTLOOK
Expect Schrauth and Kristofic to prevail as Notre Dame’s starting guards in 2023, and if the Irish have their way, the world will never genuinely know who their backups are. Of course, football likes to skew such plans, so it is more likely Spindler reveals himself.

In other words, Coogan will probably not find playing time at guard in 2023, and with Correll returning as a three-year starter and possible captain, finding it at center would depend entirely on injury.

Some action should await Coogan, presumably starting with special teams protection units, a clear step forward from not even seeing that last season.

DOWN THE ROAD
Correll could return in 2024. He will have the eligibility to do so. But instinctively, a three-year offensive line starter at Notre Dame is going to seek a chance in the NFL, and a three-year offensive line starter at Notre Dame will be given a chance in the NFL, though it may begin by earning a roster spot.

If Correll does make that leap, Coogan will be the presumptive leader to start at center in 2024, but early-enrolled freshman Sam Pendleton could challenge him. With a bit stronger recruiting profile, Pendleton may have a higher ceiling than Coogan. If he continues to take to the collegiate strength and conditioning program, and avoids a hard collision with the proverbial freshman wall in the fall, then Pendleton could be nearing Coogan’s level by next spring.

At the very least, that could lead to a more honest position competition than is usually the case in spring practices.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year …
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year …

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-8, 310 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A senior, Baker has two years of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Baker had the misfortune of arriving at Notre Dame just one year before the increasingly-heralded tackle duo of Blake Fisher and Joe Alt. Thus, Baker remains a backup as a senior, presumably penciled in as the No. 2 left tackle behind Alt on the public depth chart but perhaps the immediate option at both tackle positions if injury befalls either Fisher or Alt.
Recruiting: The No. 5 offensive tackle in his class, per rivals.com, when he signed with Notre Dame, Baker fell to No. 13 by the end of the recruiting cycle, another example of recruiting rankings being fickle and confounding. Baker chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State, a high-profile recruitment despite coming from Scottsdale, Ariz.

CAREER TO DATE
Baker had one chance at a prolonged starting career at Notre Dame despite Fisher and Alt bearing down behind him. His headstart was mitigated by the loss of strength and conditioning effectiveness felt by freshmen across the country in 2020; Baker quite literally could not log the 12 months of intense weight-room work that is a pillar for freshman offensive linemen. That made it less surprising when Fisher beat out Baker for the starting left tackle gig in 2021, making Fisher the second freshman to ever start on the Irish offensive line in a season opener, but then a meniscus tear in that very first half sidelined Fisher until the bowl game. Current senior, then-sophomore, Michael Carmody stepped in for Fisher until a sprained ankle forced Baker into action.

Alas, a concussion ended Baker’s starting cameo two games later, two games with middling success but encouraging enough success given Baker was a sophomore, as well. Alt then took over, and the rest has become history.

Baker missed just one week due to the concussion, but Alt was already off to the races.

2020: 2 games.
2021: 11 games, 2 starts.
2022: 13 games as a reserve, largely as field-goal protection.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
The life of an offensive lineman at Notre Dame has long seemed an enviable one: Eat effectively as much as you want, have a built-in close friend group of about a dozen other behemoths, dodge most of the spotlight that can make being a top-tier football player less enviable.

Scroll to the third photo in this Instagram post and see a few examples of that: Having fun at a minor league baseball game with other offensive linemen. Look closer, and realize Baker towers behind comedian Bret Kreischer, who while only 6-foot has made some of his fame on being a rather robust individual, himself.

On that note, the previous entry in this “99-to-0” series was on No. 83 Jayden Thomas, a junior receiver often referred to as a tight end last season by broadcasters. They were imprecise in that description, but their reasoning was clear. Thomas is a wide-bodied target. And now realize Baker stands 6.5 inches taller than Thomas and weighs 90 more pounds.

QUOTES
New Irish offensive line coach Joe Rudolph shares an ethos with his predecessor, Harry Hiestand: Always get the five best offensive linemen on the field together and figure out positions as need be from there. In that respect, Rudolph mentioned Baker could be a backup at guard as well as tackle. In other words, Baker may be Notre Dame’s clear No. 6 offensive lineman, and barring an injury at center, he could have a chance to play if any shuffling is needed.

“You have to concentrate on always having a plan together in terms of what are the things you need to address,” Rudolph said in April. “… You have to have trust that there’s a vision that sees you and always has a vision of trying to put the five best buys on the field together.

“Those things probably have to go hand-in-hand. That’s what I’ve shared with [Baker] along the way, told him I’d get most of his reps at tackle, but he’s absolutely someone that could go inside.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“No offense to Baker, but the Irish would undoubtedly not mind a season of relative health at left and right tackle, keeping him on the sideline. The run of injuries last year was unprecedented in recent times, and played a distinct part in Notre Dame’s early-season offensive struggles. Now with a young quarterback, a stable offensive line will be crucial.

“To some extent, though, having Baker as a backup provides some stability. His two starts last season were not stellar, but they were promising enough. He has all the makings of a strong left tackle, should that opportunity arise.

“It is more likely he spends the season working behind Alt and learning under returned offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.”

2023 OUTLOOK
Let’s offer some transparency here: While this space refrains from speculating on transfer candidates, it keeps an in-house list in an attempt to be loosely prepared for the chaos of the winter and spring transfer windows. Baker’s name was at the top of that list this spring.

Obviously, he did not transfer.

The logic was simple: He should be close to his degree and he could start for most Power Five teams. Furthermore, quality offensive line talent is rare in the transfer portal, so a generous response could have awaited Baker.

A few things can be gleaned by Baker not transferring: Rudolph was well-received this spring, the Notre Dame offensive line culture so maintained by Hiestand has not wavered, and Baker is satisfied with how he is treated, both on the field and off.

All that said, it is still hard to see Baker as a starter in Dublin or one at all barring injury. Alt and Fisher are clearly entrenched at each tackle position, fifth-year Andrew Kristofic has starting experience at guard and three other interior linemen are competing to start opposite him. Rudolph may say Baker could play inside, but at 6-foot-8, he is very much an outside body type.

Another year of support work likely awaits Baker.

DOWN THE ROAD
But then, and this may be the other thought to him not transferring, a starting role could await Baker.

It will be an absolute stunner if Alt does not jump into the NFL draft after this season. He should be a top-10 pick, if not top-5. Fisher may go with him, if he has an impressive enough season. At some point, some offseason research needs to be done on teams that have sent two tackles into the same draft’s first two rounds, first round and first 15 picks, just to set some historical precedent.

Regardless of Fisher’s choice, Baker should be the clear beneficiary of Alt’s success. While it has forced Baker to the bench for years now, with Alt gone after 2023, Baker should start in 2024. Maybe that is at right tackle with Fisher flipping to left, maybe not. Either way, outside of Carmody and Fisher, no one else on the Irish roster has any collegiate experience at tackle.

That carrot presumably played a significant part in Baker not transferring despite there undoubtedly being a market for him. And one strong season as a starter on Notre Dame’s offensive line could be enough to propel him into an NFL career.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per rivals.com, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

CAREER TO DATE
Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

2023 OUTLOOK
Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

DOWN THE ROAD
Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience