Five things we learned: Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15

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Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly was asked about his last time in MetLife Stadium. He almost chuckled to himself, wondering when Notre Dame’s humbling, one-sided defeat to Navy in 2010 would be drudged up again this week.

“I knew it would be brought up sometime,” Kelly said with a laugh. “For me it’s about Syracuse and getting back to New York, more so than the horrors of that afternoon.”

In some ways, Notre Dame’s 16-point victory is a symbol of just how far Kelly’s Irish team has come. But in many others, it sure felt a lot like the disaster Notre Dame found itself in last time they played in the Meadowlands.

In the Irish’s first official road test, Notre Dame piled up 523 offensive yards, out-rushed Syracuse, and won a relatively stress-free game. But the ghosts of demons’ past tried their best to rear their head Saturday night, with the Irish coughing up the football early and often, committing five turnovers.

As Ivan Maisel pointed out after the game, that the Irish still won comfortably is a credit to the program. Over the past two seasons, teams with a -4 turnover margin have only gone 1-28 against Power 5 conference programs.

“You can’t turn the football over and expect to win all your games,” Kelly said through gritted teeth to ESPN’s Heather Cox after the game. “We did some good things tonight… but five turnovers is just not going to get the job done.”

With work to be done before the Irish take on Stanford, let’s take a look at the five things we learned in Notre Dame’s 31-15 victory over Syracuse.

 

The Irish front seven passed a very big test on Saturday night. 

There were legitimate questions as to how Notre Dame’s defense would handle the ground game of Syracuse. But Brian VanGorder’s unit passed the test with flying colors, playing relentlessly as they battering Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and bailed out the Irish offense through much of the first half.

Everett Golson’s pick six doesn’t help Notre Dame’s lofty scoring statistics. Neither does punter Riley Dixon’s 42-yard scamper.  But against an experienced offensive line and a talented set of running backs, Notre Dame dominated the line of scrimmage.

The Irish front seven held the Orange to just 93 yards on 29 carries, just 3.2 yards a touch for a very talented group of runners. Leading the way up front was Sheldon Day, who made two tackles-for-loss. Jarron Jones was a load on the inside as well. Linebacker Jaylon Smith continues his ascent, leading the team with nine tackles. Not far behind him was Joe Schmidt, flying all over the field.

Notre Dame’s youth once again made a huge difference. Freshmen Andrew Trumbetti and Grant Blankenship got some productive snaps, each contributing big plays. Kolin Hill came in as a pass rusher, chasing Hunt nearly every time he was on the field. Sophomore Isaac Rochell flashed dominance from his strongside defensive end position, as VanGorder’s defense took away the Orange’s preferred offensive scheme, challenging Syracuse to throw the ball down field.

 

Everett Golson may have nearly broken an NCAA record for accuracy. But it was still his worst game of the season. 

Through three games, football looked pretty easy to Everett Golson. For people who find talking about the Heisman necessary in September, Golson’s name was rightly in the premature conversation. His pin-point accuracy and efficiency with the football showed total command of Brian Kelly’s offense.

And then Saturday night happen.

Golson started the evening on the wrong foot, turning a great play into a very bad one by carrying the ball lackadaisically as it was stripped deep in Syracuse territory. He nearly lost another fumble on an overload blitz he should’ve seen. His nightmarish first half continued with a misread and interception aimed to C.J. Prosise and ended with a lackluster two-minute drill that ended with a botched spike, the ball slipping out of his hands, throwing points away as a replay overturn gave the football to Syracuse.

In between the mistakes there was plenty of good, including the tremendous accuracy that saw him get within a throw of an NCAA record. So while Golson’s 32 of 39 for 362 and four touchdowns was the most prolific passing night since Dayne Crist in 2010, it was marred by the lost fumbles and interceptions — with his pick six late in the fourth quarter the biggest head-scratcher of them all.

“I know my team expects more of me so I’ve got to come out and be better from the get,” Golson told Cox on ESPN after the game. “I came out and had a very sloppy first half and I was lucky it didn’t cost us as much as it should have.”

Kelly was unfortunately prophetic earlier this week when he talked about his concerns about Golson’s ball security as a runner.

“He’s very careful with the football, very conscientious throwing the football, we worry about how he carries the football,” Kelly said Thursday. “He carries it like he’s dribbling a basketball.”

That’ll need to be cleaned up this week, with the tough Stanford defense coming to town. But before we get too rough on the senior quarterback, Golson’s record-setting night pushed his overall record to 14-1, statistically better than Johnny Lujack. Even during his struggles, he’s one of college football’s brightest stars.

 

Sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson proved that their time is now. 

Both Will Fuller and Corey Robinson had monster games on Saturday night, with the sophomore duo seizing control of the wide receiver depth chart with Amir Carlisle out. Fuller’s six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns was the breakthrough game many have been waiting for.

Meanwhile, across from Fuller, Robinson racked up eight catches for 91 yards, showing the type of versatility many hoped to see from the lanky pass catcher.  Not the receiver you’d expect to be showcased in the short passing game, Robinson still managed to be productive, galloping for some chain-moving first downs and building on his solid Purdue game.

Perhaps most promising was the way Notre Dame used both players. Fuller’s touchdown on the inside screen opened up the scoring, a nice reminder of the explosive burst that the sophomore from Philadelphia possesses. And the 75-yard touchdown pass should serve as a reminder to opposing defenses. Across from him, seeing Robinson targeted in the red zone on a well executed fade pass was music to the ears of many Irish fans clamoring for that since the 6-foot-5 receiver’s been been on campus.

After being largely anonymous through the season’s first three games, Chris Brown chipped in six catches for 57 yards, including a nice 23-yarder. But after be used mostly as specialist so far, Kelly opened up the passing game for Fuller and Robinson and the duo emerged as big time threats.

 

Welcome to Notre Dame, Torii Hunter Jr. 

Depending on how long Amir Carlisle’s knee keeps him out, the Irish might have found another option in the slot emerge. That’s because 634 days after breaking his leg at the U.S. Army All-American Game, Torii Hunter Jr. made his debut one to remember.

Hunter went largely unnoticed in the first half, with C.J. Prosise handling most of the slot receiver duties. But the Texas native finally got his chance in the second half, utilized in a different way than we’ve seen from either Carlisle or Prosise.

Kelly sent Hunter sweeping across the formation twice, getting two carries for 13 yards. But the highlight of his night was making a tough catch in traffic for a touchdown, spinning after the completion to finish a perfect play design.

After a year spent rehabbing a broken femur and the start of his sophomore season delayed after a serious groin injury, that Hunter was making an impact in more than just Trick Shot Wednesday competition was a sight acknowledged by more than just his head coach.

“[Hunter was] pretty good,” Kelly said, when asked to critique his play. “You can tell his teammates like him, too. They were pretty excited.”

We shouldn’t get too excited about modest production like the numbers Hunter put up. But it’s worth noting how Kelly used him, finally giving the slot receiver the football as a runner, really the only receiver to do much of that.

So as Stanford prepares for Notre Dame and Carlisle works his way back to health, the Irish might have one more weapon that needs to be accounted for.

 

There’s plenty of good to take away from this win. But as the Irish head into the most difficult month of their season, let’s hope Saturday night was a wakeup call. 

If there’s anything disappointing about Saturday’s sloppy performance, it’s that it was so utterly predictable. Most Notre Dame fans were looking past Syracuse, a team that may have been 2-1 but struck zero fear into the hearts and minds of many looking forward to next weekend and the trip to Tallahassee.

But if Notre Dame wants to be the team that it believes it’s capable of being, mediocre performances like Saturday night need to be erased quickly.

We’ve hammered Golson enough. But an early fumble from the offense’s leader got the game off on the wrong foot. A fumble by Greg Bryant, who danced far too much trying to make something happen on Saturday night, does nothing to get him more reps. And let’s not forget Tarean Folston’s fumble, a play that Syracuse could’ve taken back for points if Will Fuller didn’t make a silly presnap penalty.

If doing the little things right is key to a team’s success, expect most of this week to be spent perfecting the finer points. Notre Dame’s two-minute offense was a complete fire drill. That the Irish weren’t able to get their receivers lined up in a proper formation makes zero sense.

Again, that Kelly’s team was able to shake off all the mistakes and still breeze to an easy victory says quite a bit about the emerging talent on this football team. But for Notre Dame to stake a claim at a spot in the College Football Playoff, mistake-filled Saturdays like this just can’t happen.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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