Irish A-to-Z: Peter Mokwuah

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It didn’t take long for Notre Dame’s coaching staff to know they wanted to offer Peter Mokwuah. After getting a glimpse of the big-bodied defensive tackle, Brian VanGorder and Brian Kelly went to Staten Island and left with a key piece to the depth chart.

Now a year removed from a redshirt season spent learning and building his body, Mokwuah gets to show what the Irish staff uncovered in the final days of recruiting. With a depth chart that has veteran experience but also injury woes, Mokwuah could be called on to held hold the point of attack.

Let’s dig deeper into Big Pete’s chances.

 

PETER MOKWUAH
6’3″ 317 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 96, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame came into the picture late, with Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder setting foot in St. Joseph-by-the-Sea high school and leaving with a commitment. Mokwuah was a Rutgers commit, but was quick to switch allegiances once the Irish came calling.

A three-star prospect who stayed off of national lists, Mokwuah has a big, projectable body and filled a gaping roster hole.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Just like Louis Nix, Mokwuah didn’t play as a freshman. Unlike Nix, Mokwuah enters a depth chart near the bottom needing to work his way up.

There’s no pressure on Mokwuah to step onto the field and play in 2014. While the depth chart isn’t the deepest up front, it could benefit Mokwuah to spend a year watching, learning and growing even larger under Paul Longo’s guidance.

But it’ll be interesting to watch Mokwuah’s development at Notre Dame — mostly to see if VanGorder was able to quickly identify a contributor at defensive tackle in just a few weeks of work, especially after spending most of the last decade in the NFL. Transition recruiting periods are always difficult, and the personnel needed in VanGorder’s scheme is different than what Bob Diaco was looking for.

But Kelly acknowledged casting a wider net at defensive tackle after being incredibly selective, and it resulted in Daniel Cage and Mokwuah joining the class when they weren’t even on the radar at Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, what should make Mokwuah succeed at the collegiate level is his size and versatility. And while he’s only been on campus since June, his newest nickname (“Little Lou,” after Louis Nix) certainly shouldn’t have Irish fans upset.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Without having seem Mokwuah do anything but take some snaps in the spring game, it’s impossible to know what Notre Dame has in him. But even if Jerry Tillery was the defensive lineman who stole all the attention this spring, Mokwuah will be needed if the Irish are going to be a run-stuffing defense that takes away the line of scrimmage.

Mokwuah still seems like a ball of clay, ready to be molded by new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore. The good news? He’s a really big one, and that’s more than half the battle up front.
CRYSTAL BALL

As I look at the depth chart, Mokwuah’s participation likely hinges on the health of Jarron Jones. The senior defensive lineman might be a step slow coming off of foot surgery, and that would force the entire tackle position to shift down a rung.

That bad news for Notre Dame would be good news for Mokwuah’s playing time, though. But even then, he’ll be fighting a capable group of young defensive linemen for playing time, with guys like Daniel Cage and Tillery likely having a head start.

Late attention on the recruiting trail isn’t much of an indicator in ability to contribute. We saw that with Cage, who quickly moved into the rotation at nose guard. So while Mokwuah’s road to the field looks backed up, he’s got four years of eligibility remaining. And even if his contributions are limited to special teams and garbage time, getting on the field this season should be the realistic goal.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL

Notre Dame will return more on offense than usual

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For the second-consecutive year, Notre Dame loses its leading rusher, receiver and tight end. Such is the nature of college football. But this time around, the departures do not dent the Irish offense nearly as much.

That results partially from not having Dexter Williams for the first four games of the 2018 season, but as much as that, it traces to the emergence of rising junior running back Jafar Armstrong (when healthy). There was no such encouraging sign for Notre Dame coming out of 2017.

If rising junior running back Jafar Armstrong can remain healthy in 2019, there should be little doubt about Notre Dame’s rushing success. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2017 total rushing stats by running backs: 362 rushes for 2,422 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Stats returning for 2018: 83 rushes for 592 yards and seven touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 22.93 percent of rushes for 24.4 percent of yards and one-third of touchdowns.

2018 total rushing stats by running backs: 335 rushes for 1,840 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Stats currently returning for 2019: 177 rushes for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 53.31 percent of rushes for 45.92 percent of yards and 45.45 percent of touchdowns.

Note: None of those figures include rushing yards by a quarterback, just as there will not be a segment here discussing passing stats. It is an all-or-nothing endeavor — either the primary quarterback returns or does not — and discussing it in these terms seems an exercise in word-count boosting. Similarly, the influx provided by Brandon Wimbush in 2017 was not seen in 2018 once he was benched, so giving credit for those rushing yards in the percentages thought would be one defying the logic to the exercise.

The quarterback change from Wimbush to rising senior Ian Book does noticeably impact the receivers’ stats. Book’s ability to accurately distribute the ball across the available targets led to less of a reliance on any one particular player, Equanimeous St. Brown in 2017.

2017 total receiving stats by receivers: 113 catches for 1,716 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Stats returning for 2018: 51 catches for 775 yards and five touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 45.13 percent of catches for 45.16 percent of yards and one-third of touchdowns.

2018 total receiving stats by receivers: 170 catches for 2,310 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Stats currently returning for 2019: 111 catches for 1,438 yards and seven touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 65.29 percent of catches for 62.25 percent of yards and 46.67 percent of touchdowns.

Make no mistake, the Irish relied on Miles Boykin in 2018, but with three receivers pulling in 47 catches or more and two of them returning, Notre Dame will have other proven options. Further context: No Irish receiver had more than 33 catches in 2017, and only two returned with double-digit catches, their 41 combined falling short of both returning numbers this time around.

If two seasons of this seems like a small sample, that is a valid thought, but to offer two counters:

1) It is the most-recent example of a good season following a good season, with the next most-recent possibility coming back in 2005 and 2006, and even those two years combined for three fewer wins than the last two did, 22 the highest two-season total seen at Notre Dame since 1988-89.
2) It is the same amount of time offensive coordinator Chip Long has directed the Irish attack. His distribution of the ball, both in play-calling and in roster reliance, is different than the years prior, as best seen in utilizing running backs and tight ends in the passing game.

2017 receiving stats by tight ends and running backs: 69 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns.
Stats returning for 2018: 38 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 55.07 percent of catches for 42.13 percent of yards and three-quarters of touchdowns.

2018 receiving stats by tight ends and running backs: 96 catches for 1,029 yards and eight touchdowns.
Stats currently returning for 2019: 41 catches for 526 yards and two touchdowns.
Those latter numbers by percentages: 42.17 percent of catches for 51.12 percent of yards and one-quarter of touchdowns.

Returning 14 catches for 151 yards from 2018, rising junior tight end Cole Kmet will be counted upon as an auxiliary playmaker in 2019. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Notre Dame should be able to handle even the loss of Alizé Mack better than it did that of Durham Smythe, even if the next tight end option (rising junior Cole Kmet) is not as established as Mack was. The likes of Armstrong and rising senior running back Tony Jones will help with that concern, both having shown big-play ability in the receiving game. In Long’s system, running backs and tight ends can be nearly interchangeable in the aerial regards.

Simply enough, the Irish are better equipped to further develop on offense than they were a year ago, no matter the losses of Williams, Boykin and Mack.

Friday at 4: Notre Dame brings back the most important NFL possibilities in Kareem & Okwara

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This is not to diminish the losses of receiver Miles Boykin and consensus first-team All-American cornerback Julian Love. Notre Dame will miss both of them, Love in particular. But looking at the Irish depth chart, there are avenues to survival without both.

Notre Dame will return two starting receivers in rising senior Chase Claypool and fifth-year-to-be Chris Finke (speaking of which, see below). A number of options exist to replace Love, though obviously none will match his shutdown abilities. Either rising sophomore TaRiq Bracy will put on the necessary muscle to compete with receivers at this level or rising senior Donte Vaughn will return reinvigorated with health after recent surgery to repair a torn labrum surgery or rising sophomore Houston Griffith will move from safety to get his talent on the field or fifth-year Shaun Crawford will recover from an ACL tear quicker than expected or … or … or … If one of those pans out, the Irish defense should be comfortable in its coverage, buoyed by the stalwart safety combination of Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. (Imagine sincerely saying “stalwart safety combination” just six months ago.)

Look again at the depth chart, and such luxuries do not exist at defensive end. If rising seniors Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara had not opted to return, Notre Dame’s 2019 dreams would have hit a lowered ceiling nine months before the season began. By no means were they certain high-round draft picks, but the allure of athletic and talented defensive ends may have easily led to some outsized draft hopes.

Their backups are certainly more than capable — rising seniors Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji — but a talented second-unit is as important at defensive end as dangerous starters are. To replace the latter with the former is to diminish the entire enterprise outright.

The Irish could not have recovered from losing both Kareem and Okwara, at least not to the extent where Playoff talk would be viable again. Lose one and it would have still been dubious, at best.

Take a look at the teams expected to be in the mix for the Playoff. Using current championship odds … Clemson at 2-to-1, Alabama at just less than 3-to-1, Georgia at 6-to-1, Ohio State at 8-to-1, Michigan at 16-to-1 and then Oklahoma also at 16-to-1. Those first five have been known for their defenses more than anything else in recent years. Bookmakers put some faith in their ability to reload on the fly.

Notre Dame has not earned that trust, and its roster does not indicate it should have. As well as Justin Ademilola performed as a freshman in four games, inserting him into a pivotal role in 2019 would likely be a recipe for a mediocre season. He is another year of development away from being ready for that role, barring a Matt Balis-induced excellent offseason.

The Irish will need Kareem and Okwara to survive the losses of defensive tackles Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner, but if they play as they did in 2018, that is a reasonable ask. If they continue to develop, it becomes a probability more than a Notre Dame leap of faith.

The Irish will miss Boykin’s back-shoulder reliability and everything about Love, but Brian Kelly and his coaching staff coaxed back the two most-pivotal pieces from NFL draft consideration.


Speaking of Finke, he confirmed his intent to return for his final year of eligibility Thursday evening. And he did it in a way only befitting a man comfortable in his own skin.


And for the sake of context: Notre Dame is currently listed at 25-to-1 for the 2019-20 national championship, tied with Florida and Washington, just behind Texas at 20-to-1.

Notre Dame’s defensive depth chart, a touch lighter with D.J. Morgan’s intended transfer

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With the Wednesday announcement of current junior linebacker D.J. Morgan’s intention to transfer this summer as a graduate with two years of eligibility remaining, Notre Dame’s roster drops to 87 scholarship players expected this coming fall. Included among them, at least 12, possibly 14 linebackers. Before explaining that …

Morgan finishes his Irish career with two tackles in two 2017 appearances as a safety. He moved to linebacker during 2018’s spring practices, but never came particularly close to playing time. It remained difficult to see him cracking into the rotation moving forward given the quality of recruiting classes at the position in the last two cycles.

“I would like to thank the University of Notre Dame for everything they have done for me,” Morgan wrote on Twitter. “When I decided to come here, my main goal was to get my degree from this prestigious University, and I am proud to see that I will be completing that goal this summer!

“During this time I will be searching for a new school to attend as a graduate transfer to finish off my last 2 years of eligibility.”

(@deundraymorgan)

Before facing Louisville on Labor Day, the Irish will need to be down to 85 scholarship players. At 87 now, that does not include incoming freshman J.D. Bertrand, who had a recruitment handled in a deliberate fashion so as to make him eligible for an academic scholarship. Notre Dame also continues to chase two defenders — consensus four-star linebacker Asa Turner and consensus four-star defensive end Isaiah Foskey — who could balloon the roster count further.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s offensive depth chart entering the 2019 offseason

Keep that necessary attrition in mind as realizing how many players are at certain positions.

DEFENSIVE END (9)
Julian Okwara — Senior in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Khalid Kareem — Senior — 1
Daelin Hayes — Senior — 1
Ade Ogundeji — Senior — 2
Justin Ademilola — Sophomore — 4
Jamir Jones — Senior — 1
Kofi Wardlow — Junior — 3
NaNa Osafo-Mensah — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
Howard Cross — Incoming freshman — 4

If not for Ademilola’s impressive 2018, it would be easy to presume a four-man rotation next season, but appearing in the Cotton Bowl all-but guarantees Ademilola will be in the mix.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (6)
Kurt Hinish — Junior in 2019-2020 — 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — Junior in 2019-2020 — 3
Jayson Ademilola — Sophomore — 3
Ja’Mion Franklin — Sophomore — 4
Jacob Lacey — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
Hunter Spears — Early-enrolled freshman — 4

Lacey will need to be ready for at least four games next season, especially with three of these six returning from injury: Tagovailoa-Amosa with a broken foot, though he did at least take some snaps against Clemson; Franklin from a torn quad that will limit him through the spring; and Spears from a torn ACL that could conceivably cost him 2019.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
Asmar Bilal — Fifth-year in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Jordan Genmark-Heath — Junior — 2
Jonathan Jones — Senior — 2
Bo Bauer — Sophomore — 3
Jack Lamb — Sophomore — 4
Drew White — Junior — 3
Jack Kiser — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
J.D. Bertrand — Incoming freshman — 4

It was always going to be a long-shot for Morgan as soon as Bauer and Lamb arrived.

ROVER (5)
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — Junior in 2019-2020 — 3 years of eligibility remaining.
Shayne Simon — Sophomore — 3
Ovie Oghoufo — Sophomore — 3
Marist Liufau — Incoming freshman — 4
Osito Ekwonu — Incoming freshman — 4

Owusu-Koramoah lost 2018 to injury, making this something of a toss-up between him and Simon for a spring competition chasing the starting role, presuming Bilal does indeed move inside as expected.

Alohi Gilman’s 18 tackles in the Cotton Bowl loss should set him up for an offseason of further development and possible captaincy. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SAFETIES (8)
Alohi Gilman — Senior in 2019-2020 — 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Jalen Elliott — Senior — 1
Devin Studstill — Senior — 1
Houston Griffith — Sophomore — 3
Derrik Allen — Sophomore — 4
Paul Moala — Sophomore — 3
Kyle Hamilton — Incoming freshman — 4
Litchfield Ajavon — Incoming freshman — 4

CORNERBACKS (8)
Troy Pride — Senior in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Donte Vaughn — Senior — 1
TaRiq Bracy — Sophomore — 3
Shaun Crawford — Fifth-year — 1, with possibly another after that if the NCAA grants a medical waiver.
D.J. Brown — Sophomore — 4
Noah Boykin — Sophomore — 4
Isaiah Rutherford — Incoming freshman — 4
K.J. Wallace — Incoming freshman — 4

Someone needs to be Notre Dame’s second cornerback, be that Vaughn, Bracy or a healthy Crawford. Someone also needs to be the Irish nickel back, perhaps Bracy, Crawford or a converted safety.

The questions at cornerback have multiple talented answers, if unproven or uncertain. They should prove to be the most pivotal to Notre Dame’s 2019 success or failure.

 

Leftovers & Links: Brandon Wimbush heads to Central Florida for his final season

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Former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush will continue his career at Central Florida. Wimbush announced his graduate transfer destination Tuesday morning.

“The journey continues on …,” Wimbush wrote on Instagram. “A sincere thank you to Notre Dame for giving me endless opportunities on and off the field. Words truly can not (sic) describe what this incredible University and the PEOPLE mean to me and always will mean to me. I’m truly thankful. Cannot say it enough.

“With that being said, I am excited to announce that UCF has granted me an awesome opportunity to play my last year of collegiate football for their great University.”

Wimbush will enter into a starting opportunity, although an unfortunate one and a competitive one. The late November horrendous knee injury to three-year starter McKenzie Milton will almost-assuredly sideline him through the 2019 season. If not for the injury, Milton would either be starting 2019 for the Knights or headed to the NFL.

In his first year of any action, sophomore Darriel Mack played in 10 games for Central Florida, completing 51 of his 100 pass attempts for 619 yards and three touchdowns, including going 35-of-71 for 526 yards and three scores in the two-plus games Milton missed.

In other words, Mack put up Wimbush-esque numbers, despite Heupel’s high-scoring offense.

Wimbush finishes his Irish career with a 13-3 record as a starter, including four wins during 2018’s unbeaten regular season. After the Notre Dame offense failed to break 24 points in the first three games of the season, offensive coordinator Chip Long turned to Ian Book for a spark, one Book provided and then some.

Wimbush’s role became non-existent after that, aside from a Senior Day start in place of an injured Book, throwing for 130 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 68 yards.

RELATED READING: The quarterback Notre Dame needed, Brandon Wimbush

In the lead-up to the Cotton Bowl, word broke Wimbush would seek a graduate transfer, confirming what had long been obvious. It had been so clear, it did not faze anyone within the Irish locker room.

Mustipher and Co. will now have reason to keep an eye on the Knights in 2019. After going 25-1 in the last two seasons, Central Florida will want to keep the momentum rolling, particularly with Stanford arriving in Orlando on Sept. 14, a week before the Knights head to Pittsburgh. The Knights genuinely entering the College Football Playoff conversation remains unlikely, but topping those two before rolling through the American Athletic Conference would at least start the discussion, especially if a former Irish quarterback headlines the way.

A consensus three-star prospect out of Virginia, Mack held offers from eastern schools in the Big Ten (Maryland), Big 12 (West Virginia) and ACC (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh).

Named 2018’s Next Man In, Wimbush finishes his Irish career with 2,606 yards on 193-of-382 passing with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions along with 1,155 rushing yards and 16 additional touchdowns.

AS FOR NOTRE DAME’S QB IN 2019 …
Early Heisman odds came from an online sportsbook Tuesday, betonline.ag. Irish rising senior Ian Book was given 16-to-1 odds, tied for ninth on the listing. Given the names ahead of him, Book’s realistic chances of winning the Heisman Trophy are slim. Only Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa have odds lower than 12-to-1, at 7-to-2 and 4-to-1, respectively.

Then come two Notre Dame opponents — Georgia running back D’Andre Swift and quarterback Jake Fromm, both at 12-to-1. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson checks in at 25-to-1, just ahead of Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello at 33-to-1.

If nothing else, Book can count on some early-season hype if the Irish top Swift and Fromm on Sept. 21.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Even the ‘way-too-early’ 2019 polls already respect Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s offensive depth chart entering the 2019 offseason
Claypool’s return welcome news for Notre Dame
Program-record 10 early enrollees mark the beginning of Notre Dame’s 2019
Autry Denson leaves Notre Dame to take over at Charleston Southern
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Early NFL departures hit Georgia, Michigan and Stanford hardest

OUTSIDE READING
Brandon Wimbush and UCF are a promising match for a pivotal 2019
The three biggest questions in college football for the 2019 season
2019 NFL draft underclassmen tracker: Who has declared?
Stanford’s Bryce Love ‘on the path to recovery’ from torn ACL
College football’s 100 best games 2018-19