Five things we learned: Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28

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Brian Kelly hoped this game would be different. Different from the last time Notre Dame was on a big postseason stage.

But seven minutes into the Fiesta Bowl, it looked like the Irish had suffered another first-round knockout. Ohio State’s offense was running through the Irish. Notre Dame’s defensive star Jaylon Smith was carted to the locker room with a major knee injury. And for a moment it looked like Ohio State would do to the Irish what Alabama did at the end of the 2012 season.

Yet the Irish battled back. And while a score of 44-28 certainly didn’t achieve what Notre Dame set out to do, the Irish offense managed to keep things interesting even if the defense had no answer for Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett and the rest of the Ohio State offense.

Undermanned, overpowered and out-dueled, Notre Dame lost the Fiesta Bowl. They were beat in the trenches on both sides of the football, even with the Buckeyes short some frontline players, including Joey Bosa, who was ejected late in the first quarter. But the Irish never quit, even as the bodycount piled up on a roster already ravaged by season-ending injuries.

Another season is in the books, the Buckeyes hanging a third-loss on the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl. Let’s find out what we learned during Ohio State’s dominant 44-28 win over Notre Dame.

 

Jaylon Smith’s knee injury is a heartbreaking start to 2016. 

When Jaylon Smith’s leg bent unnaturally after a shove from Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker, Notre Dame’s most impressive football player saw his season end in nightmarish fashion. The Butkus Award-winner was carted off the field with what Kelly called “a significant knee injury,” putting his football career and skyward trajectory into a holding pattern.

On the field, the loss of Smith all but ended any hopes the Irish defense had for slowing down Ohio State’s offense. Notre Dame’s star linebacker is the rare athlete who can stuff the run while also covering receivers, and after true freshman Te’von Coney went down in Smith’s place, we saw Jarrett Grace struggle as he was forced to play Will linebacker next to Joe Schmidt.

Smith’s injury was more than just a fatal blow to the Irish defense. It also clouds a future that looked destined for an early first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. That still could be the case—medical advancements have turned even ACL surgery into something fairly routine. But Smith’s status, whether as one of the country’s best returning college football players if he chooses to come back to South Bend or as one of the draft’s bluechip talents, is on hold until more is learned about his injury and his timeline for recovery.

Smith deserved a better end to an incredible All-American season.

 

Decimated by injuries, suspensions and scheme, it should be back to the drawing board for Notre Dame’s defense.

Notre Dame’s defense appeared to be dead on arrival at University of Phoenix Stadium. Brian VanGorder’s defensive personnel was decimated, a toxic combination of injuries, embarrassing suspensions and ill-fitting scheme.

Putting aside the much-discussed schematic problems, injuries continued to wreak havoc. We already talked about the crippling loss of Smith and his understudy Coney. But a game-week injury to Sheldon Day was revealed in the hours leading up to kickoff. Kelly said in his postgame comments that he thought Day broke his foot on Wednesday. Add to that was an illness that forced the senior to take an IV before the game.

Sophomore nose guard Daniel Cage badly sprained his ankle earlier in bowl prep, limiting his abilities to contribute in the trenches. Throw in Devin Butler’s broken foot suffered after the Irish arrived in Arizona and the natural grass at Scottsdale Community College may as well have been a minefield.

Now to the self-inflicted wounds:

Max Redfield may not have helped the Irish beat Ohio State. But a veteran starter sent home for rule violations is inexcusable. Likewise, Jerry Tillery may not have faired much better in the trenches against Ezekiel Elliott and company, but Tillery was a rare healthy body for an Irish defense that badly needed him. That type of immaturity wasn’t expected from a young player who had been carrying himself like a veteran.

Players will get healthy. Suspensions will inevitably be served. But for Notre Dame to challenge for a national championship, the defense has to get better.

That starts at the top. Brian Kelly tapped Brian VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco. He promised that VanGorder would bring an exotic, NFL scheme with him to South Bend. We’ve seen the complexities of an NFL defense. Yet all too often, we’ve seen the challenges of young football players trying to absorb those nuances.

Diaco turned this defense into one of college football’s most fundamentally sound and impressive units. VanGorder’s scheme has done the opposite, creating a group capable of dominance at times and self-destruction at others.

No coordinator could’ve dug the Irish out of the shorthanded hole they were in on Friday afternoon. But Kelly and VanGorder need to take a long look at the way they do things. Because asking college athletes to absorb game-specific, NFL schemes on top of a challenging academic course load isn’t working.

 

Even without Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State’s defense won the battle in the trenches.

Notre Dame’s offensive line struggled with Ohio State’s front seven. That might have been the true surprise of the Fiesta Bowl, especially considering the loss of Washington, senior defensive tackle Tommy Schutt and the early-game ejection of Joey Bosa.

Notre Dame’s running game was held to just 121 yards, with C.J. Prosise pulled early after struggling with his balky ankle. That left Josh Adams to do the dirty work against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. While the rookie broke Darius Walker’s freshman rushing record, he was held mostly in check with just 14 carries for 78 yards, a large chunk of that coming late.

Ohio State’s pass rush also troubled Notre Dame. DeShone Kizer was sacked four times, pressured constantly by an athletic group of Buckeye pass rusher that took dead aim at the young Irish quarterback. Linebacker Darron Lee had two sacks, including one that forced a fumble. Former Notre Dame lacrosse commit Sam Hubbard had another. The pressure wore on Kizer, who hardly looked comfortable in the pocket, missing some easy throws, mostly the result of the chaos surrounding him and its impact on his fundamentals.

 

Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin have played their final games for Notre Dame. Returning in 2016 are starters Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, with Alex Bars likely sliding in at left tackle. There are bright days ahead for Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. But the Fiesta Bowl wasn’t one of them.

 

In a game filled with future NFL stars, Will Fuller still managed to make the game’s biggest play. 

What a fitting end to Will Fuller’s season. The junior receiver, who has yet to make an official decision on whether or not to enter the upcoming NFL Draft, sprinted past Ohio State’s defense for an 81-yard touchdown, his 14th of the season and his 10th score of at least 30 yards on the season.

Fuller’s ability to make big plays continues to be unmatched. That’s his third 70-plus yard touchdown catch from Kizer, matching deep scores against USC and Stanford. It’s his 29th touchdown of the past two seasons, the best number in college football.

For Brian Kelly, bringing back Fuller might be the most important job of the next month for a coaching staff that’s still trying to finalize its 2016 recruiting class. The Philadelphia native made a public statement earlier in the season that he’d return for his senior season though has backed away from that stance, deciding to make a final decision after the season. Fuller didn’t reveal his NFL advisory board evaluation, though inconsistency with his hands and a lack of elite size could push him into a second or third round pick.

Notre Dame’s staff found the right recipe to bring back Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day, with both seniors helping their draft stock in 2015. Manti Te’o did the same en route to the most decorated defensive season of any player in college football.

But Kelly might want to tell Fuller about how he helped Michael Floyd use his final season in South Bend to boost his draft stock. Floyd worked to become a more complete receiver and turned into the 13th overall pick after a record-setting senior year. Expect Kelly, Jack Swarbrick and receivers coach Mike Denbrock to make their case very soon, with the deadline for a decision coming in mid-January.

But if this is it for Fuller in an Irish uniform, that blur of blue you saw streaking down the sideline towards the end zone is a fitting finish.

 

While they finished short of their objective, there’s no way to call this season a failure. 

Notre Dame came up short three times this season. But after dealing with a head-shaking amount of injuries and adversity this season, Brian Kelly didn’t find it hard to praise his football team.

“Couldn’t be more proud of the football team. An honor to coach them, honor to be around them,” Kelly said postgame. “The way they competed this year, regardless of the circumstances, they just kept playing.”

With losses to undefeated Clemson, two-loss Stanford and one-loss Ohio State, Notre Dame certainly has the most impressive three-loss resume in the country. And for years to come we’ll likely play the “what if” game when it comes to wondering about what a full strength Irish team could’ve done had it had a chance to go through the 2015 season even moderately healthy.

That type of wondering won’t help the Irish move forward. So even if Team 127’s legacy isn’t one of a national champion, the foundation built by this football team is certainly significant.

Veteran leaders like Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt have left their mark. And the injuries suffered created opportunities that’ll pay off in the years to come. We saw it during the Fiesta Bowl loss, with cornerback Nick Watkins competing with a talented group of Buckeye receivers and Josh Adams continuing his evolution from unknown freshman to record-setting back, replacing a converted wide receiver who managed to run for over 1,000 yards as well.

There are obvious areas to improve, with the team’s defensive identity certainly being first on the list. But any wonder if a tough Fiesta Bowl loss would derail the program’s momentum moving into 2016 was erased when Kelly talked openly about where he sees his program as it moves forward into his seventh season.

“We’re going to keep banging at the door. Keep playing Ohio State, keep playing Florida State, keep playing Alabama, keep playing these teams in these kinds of venues, in these kinds of games. We don’t want to be playing directional teams with no profile to them,” Kelly said.

“We’ve made significant progress since where we were in 2012. We’ll get there. Hopefully we won’t have as many injuries. We’ll get back here again. We’ll win them. I had a similar process in my career earlier when I was in Division II. Took us about six years to win a playoff game. Then we won three national championships.

“I’m not saying we’re ready to win three national championships. But stay the course, keep doing what we’re doing, keep recruiting, keep bringing in great guys like this, and we’ll get there.”

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Brown lands on a depth chart well-stocked at cornerback, with pairs of upperclassmen filling the two-deep at both field and boundary.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, the Under Armour All-American was committed to Virginia but did not sign during the early signing period, a sure predictor of an eventual de-commitment late in the cycle. He then narrowed his choices to Notre Dame, Cal and Northwestern while also holding offers from Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.

QUOTE(S)
After praising Brown’s intangibles (“a great background,” “a strong commitment to the culture here”), Irish head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged Brown could be a future safety thanks to his lanky frame.

“DJ has got the skills to play corner right now, but he’s 6-1, 190, so we know that he’s got the length,” Kelly said. “He’s got the ability to be a bigger, stronger player, as well. We liked his football IQ, we liked the way he played football.

“… Those are things that I think you can’t teach, 6-1, and we wanted some size at that position. He brings it to us.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BROWN’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Brown may be a genuinely prototypical cornerback, at his best in pass coverage and able to locate the ball in the air. By no means does he not need development, but given the stockpile of talent at the position two years ahead of him, Brown should have time to progress and be ready to contribute in a season or two.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Even if Brown is the one freshman cornerback to break through as a defensive reserve in competitive situations, that workload will be minimal, barring injury. It would take a disastrous preseason from junior Donte Vaughn to otherwise vault Brown (or any of the freshmen corners) into a consistent contributing role.

Brown will inevitably see some time on special teams, the question being if it is in only four games and preserves a year of eligibility or if it is season-long. Only time will tell how Notre Dame handles such situations moving forward with the new possibilities presented by this NCAA change.

DOWN THE ROAD
Is it cheating to pull verbatim from February’s “Notre Dame gets the letter”? It is a Sunday in mid-July … Please? Fine, it’s cheating, but only because senior Nick Watkins already transferred elsewhere.

Given the complete void of cornerbacks in the class before this, the position has some rapid turnover coming down the line. Junior Julian Love will have reason to consider the NFL after this season and senior Shaun Crawford will most likely have only one season remaining, something he could use elsewhere if he hears the footsteps of current juniors Troy Pride and Vaughn.

Even if everyone fulfills their Irish eligibility, that will leave two starting spots, a nickelback need and no reserves but for the young foursome in 2020. In that respect, the competition amongst themselves has already begun.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 200 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Moala joins a crowded depth chart at safety and does so along with two classmates of whom much more is expected. In the near-term, Moala is more likely to work with the scout team defense than he is to spend any time studying junior field safety Alohi Gilman’s footwork.
Recruiting: Coming from Notre Dame’s neighboring city of Mishawaka, Ind., and Penn High School, Moala earned his scholarship offer in one sub-five-second span at an on-campus camp in June of 2017 with a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. He still had interest from Iowa, Nebraska and Vanderbilt, but Moala’s decision was a quick and simple one once he had the offer following the Irish Invasion workout.

QUOTE(S)
Moala is more than just a speedster, packing a good amount of muscle on a compact frame, as well. In that respect, he is not simply a local storyline.

“Another outstanding young player who can come in and help us right away on special teams,” Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght said on National Signing Day. “With his combination of speed, size and strength, it makes him a very dangerous freshman coming in. He’s really going to push all the safeties in front of him and he’s going to compete early and right away.”

Lyght’s description of Moala is a bit lengthier and more detailed than what was offered by safeties coach Terry Joseph because Joseph joined the Notre Dame staff after Moala had already signed his National Letter of Intent during December’s early signing period.

“I’ve just gotten to watch his film here the last few days,” Joseph said. “Again, you see a guy who is athletic, big and has a chance to be a physical ballplayer for us.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN MOALA’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“The local product can turn some heads utilizing that speed in some coverage units, perhaps. … Irish coach Brian Kelly has often found ways to make the most of under-the-radar prospects. Not meant as a direct comparison, but rather as a name that pops to mind when making that claim: Former Notre Dame defensive back Matthias Farley became a reliable defender during his time with the Irish and now has an NFL career to speak of. Moala most likely will not reach such heights, but his slim recruiting profile should not rule it out by any means.”

2018 OUTLOOK
It would be a shock to see Moala break into the two-deep on the defensive depth chart this season. Four veterans are most likely to fill that much with Moala’s classmates — early-enrolled Houston Griffith and incoming Derrik Allen — nipping at their heels.

Instead, Moala may become a great test case for learning how Notre Dame handles the new freshman eligibility rules as they pertain to special teams focus. An obvious parallel would be now-senior Nicco Fertitta, also a hard-hitting, compact safety. As a freshman in 2015, Fertitta appeared in 11 games and made one tackle. If not for the change in eligibility options, Moala would seem to be on that path this season. Now, though, it could make sense to trot him out on special teams in only four games.

There are a multitude of questions about how each school and respective coaching staff will handle this newfound eligibility and no two cases will be exactly alike, but a few Irish freshmen are devoted to special teams every year. Seeing Moala’s usage could set a precedent for these instances at Notre Dame in the future.

DOWN THE ROAD
Joining the roster the same year as two four-stars at the same position is a tough challenge to future playing time and one Moala will need to overcome if he wants to ever be a defensive contributor. His difference in style, however, could create a few specific opportunities.

Excelling on special teams comes across as a cliché, but if doing so showcases Moala’s physicality and ability to fit a gap, then he could see future use against run-focused offenses, as well.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 160 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: More than the names ahead of him at a particular position, it should be noted what other receivers populate the Irish roster with genuine, game-altering speed. That list is short: sophomore Michael Young, arguably junior Chase Claypool and fellow incoming freshman Braden Lenzy.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Keys chose Notre Dame on National Signing Day rather than Texas and, to a lesser extent, SMU. His offer list also included big-time names such as Georgia, LSU and Michigan.

QUOTE(S)
In addition to describing him as “extremely athletic with the ball in [his] hand,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly welcomed the additional skillset Keys brought to the recruiting class.

“Keys really gives us an explosive playmaker,” Kelly said. “He adds to the depth at that class.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN KEYS’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Keys brings more speed to the Irish receiving corps. His measurements may indicate he is slight of frame, but that would not be wholly accurate. Nonetheless, time spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program will diminish those concerns and help Keys fit more in line with what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long typically prefers in receivers.

“Notre Dame’s current receivers do not boast an excess of top-end speed, especially after the dismissal of current sophomore Kevin Stepherson and the intended transfer of C.J. Sanders. Keys will not arrive as highly-touted for his speed as classmate Braden Lenzy will, but if he can establish himself before the Oregon track star does, then there may be a role for Keys right away.”

2018 OUTLOOK
The Irish have a slim top tier of receivers, namely Claypool, Young and senior Miles Boykin. After them, opportunities are up for literal grabs. Of the reserves, only senior Chris Finke brings any collegiate receptions to the table at this point, not factoring in the tight ends. Thus, it was vitally important for Notre Dame to strike big with receivers in the recruiting class of 2018, as it did by signing four.

Of those four, Keys and Lenzy possess real speed. It seems simplistic to say beating out Lenzy is the key to Keys’ playing time this season, but it is also true. And sorry for the pun, it had to be done somewhere here.

There are differences to their games, such as Keys being more of a deliberate route runner at this point than the pure burner that Lenzy is. With that in mind, Keys may fit into more roles as the needed backup if he outpaces junior Javon McKinley, as well. While Lenzy’s coverage-breaking speed could be the most-obvious threat right away, crisp route-running and good hands could get Keys into action across the field.

One way or another, expect Keys to get a chance in a few games this season. How he performs initially (and others’ health) will dictate if Keys plays in more than four games or preserves a season of eligibility.

DOWN THE ROAD
The flipside of few Irish receivers having experience is they can all be around for a while yet. All 10 in the position room, including slash-running back sophomore Jafar Armstrong, will have eligibility remaining after 2018, though the following season will be the last of it for Boykin, Claypool and Finke.

With all that in mind, it may be a bit before any of the quartet in this class get a starting role, but they could quickly be in the rotation given they arrive with as much experience as most of the depth chart has.

Young will presumably keep Keys’ snaps limited, as they share profiles and likely positional duties, but as Young’s role develops, he may become Notre Dame’s primary receiver, leaving more-specific requirements for his understudy.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-¼, 198 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Thanks in part to starting as a freshman, Studstill has only two years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: After falling to the second-string last year, Studstill remains the backup to junior Jalen Elliott as the boundary safety.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Studstill enrolled early after choosing Notre Dame from a lengthy list of scholarship offers highlighted by Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

CAREER TO DATE
The dismissal of senior Max Redfield on the eve of the 2016 season led to Studstill starting in only the second week of his career, the first of his nine starts as a freshman. Last year, classmate Elliott claimed that role, moving Studstill down a peg.

2016: 12 games, nine starts; 38 tackles with one for loss, one interception and one forced fumble.
2017: 11 games; 18 tackles.

QUOTE(S)
Irish safeties coach Terry Joseph used Studstill as his example of a player needing to recognize his weaknesses in order to best compensate for them. In doing so, Joseph sounds as if he is extensively criticizing Studstill, but he really was simply the example presented. Among Notre Dame’s safeties, many flaws exist.

“I talk to [Studstill] all the time about good players are honest with themselves and know their limitations,” Joseph said in early April. “You can be a good player with limitations when you understand what your limits are and you don’t put yourself in position to get exposed. The better he can become before the ball is snapped, understanding what’s happening, understanding what are the weaknesses in his game and putting himself in position to not get those weaknesses exposed — the more he does that, the more he can be in the mix.

“That takes a tremendous amount of discipline, because at the end of the day, we recruit these guys and everybody thinks they’re 4.4 or 4.5, but there is probably only two or three 4.4 or 4.5s in America.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Studstill’s freshman season was an encouraging one, which makes Elliott’s surpassing him this spring all the more impressive. The same goes for [now-senior Nick] Coleman, but neither means Studstill will not be needed this fall. In many respects, a safety rotation could prove most productive.

“[Irish head coach Brian] Kelly alluded to that concept a few times in the spring, specifically acknowledging down-and-distance situational needs. Passing-specific instances may draw [now-junior] Julian Love from cornerback, but they could also lead to Studstill joining Coleman on the field, spelling Elliott.

“One way or another, Studstill will see plenty of action this season. Exactly when and where will hinge on how the theoretical safety rotation aligns itself next month.”

2018 OUTLOOK
While four safeties moved up toward the line of scrimmage this spring — junior D.J. Morgan to linebacker, sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath to Buck linebacker, sophomore Isaiah Robertson to rover and Coleman possibly splitting time at nickelback — Studstill remained at safety. That speaks to it being his position moving forward, despite the heralded arrivals of two four-star freshmen.

That also indicates Studstill will be a part of the safety rotation again this year. Being the second or third piece of that is certainly less of a role than starting as a freshman, but it is still a needed contribution. Look for another 15-20 tackles from the junior, with some perhaps coming on special teams but most of them in relief of Elliott while incoming freshman Derrik Allen gets up to speed.

DOWN THE ROAD
Allen and, to a lesser extent because he projects as a field safety, early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith will threaten Studstill’s playing time as a senior. Combine their presence with that of junior Navy transfer Alohi Gilman, and the snaps will become limited. Studstill is already behind Gilman and Elliott and arguably Griffith. If Allen moves ahead of him in the next 12 months, then the snaps for Studstill could be quite sparse.

His frame is not one that applies at linebacker, and he is not inherently quick enough to dazzle at cornerback. A three-year contributor in the secondary will not be relegated to benchwarmer status without cause, but if Studstill hopes for rampant playing time in the next two seasons, barring injury he may need to look elsewhere.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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