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A Notre Dame Bye Week Mailbag: On bowls, momentum & passing game struggles

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This bye week mailbag starts off with a long answer. I’d apologize for that, but it would be insincere. The question was a valid one and I understand the thinking. That is why I took the time to dissuade it outright.

“One question I’ve been toying with in my head is, if we run the table, do I want us to make the playoff? I think we’d have the résumé for it, particularly given the back half of our schedule, but I’m worried the one-point loss to a potentially really good Georgia team is kind of obscuring the fact that we got Jake Fromm in his first start and honestly he played pretty poorly. I still don’t think we’re really playoff caliber.
I’d like to see us get to a winnable bowl that sets the table for next season.”
— “Marcus”

I’ve known Marcus for nine years. And no, his name isn’t Marcus. I look forward to him trying to figure out why I used that pseudonym. I’ll give only one clue: It has nothing to do with “The Matrix.” That’s a movie, and this is life we’re wasting here.

In nearly a decade, this may be the first time I have ever thought Marcus was 100 percent wrong. He has taught me much, led me toward both vice and virtue, even paid me a few compliments over the years. But here, he’s off-base. Then again, he probably was with those kind words, too.

Aside from getting ahead of yourself — it’s only natural during the bye week, and it isn’t even beyond comprehension considering fivethirtyeight.com gives Notre Dame an 11 percent chance of finishing 11-1 — and not questioning your assessment of the Georgia game, you want to make the playoff. Yes, Alabama and Clemson appear to be better than everybody else. The other two playoff entrants will likely leave with nothing but the wrong end of a rout on national television.

But what if? Sometimes it takes just one bounce.

Basketball and football are very different games, but when it comes to the performances of 18- to 22-year-olds, some things translate. If you talk to many college basketball coaches, their goal is not a national championship. Rather, they aim to make a Final Four in their career. At that point, they know one bounce could change the entire weekend.

One deflected pass could lead to a 14-point swing. Perhaps at that point, a still-proving-himself quarterback (Clemson’s Kelly Bryant) doubts himself and makes another mistake before getting his head on straight. Suddenly, a defense has more moxie than anticipated and that New Year’s Day hangover you are nursing goes out the window as you realize “What if” might have some validity.

That is not an outlandish scenario. Is it less likely than a 42-14 beatdown? Yes, much less likely, but it is not beyond feasibility.

Furthermore, bowl game wins are overrated. They do not offer as much momentum as fans like to think. The biggest perk, a few weeks of added practice time, comes in both victory and defeat.

Consider Notre Dame entering the 2009 season. The previous Christmas Eve, the Irish routed Hawaii 49-21 in the aptly-named Hawaii Bowl. Led by Jimmy Clausen (22-of-26 passing for 401 yards and five touchdowns) and Golden Tate (six catches for 177 yards and three scores), that was supposed to mark the arrival of a long-awaited offensive explosion no collegiate defense could stop. Instead, Notre Dame went 6-6 in 2009, leading to Charlie Weis’ dismissal.

Just this past bowl season, LSU beat then-No. 13 Louisville (and Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson) 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl, Tennessee finished a hectic season with a 38-24 victory over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl, and Boston College notched a postseason victory for head coach Steve Addazio, slipping past Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

LSU lost to Troy two weeks ago. Volunteers head coach Butch Davis is firmly on a hot seat after starting this season 3-2 — one of those victories came in overtime against Georgia Tech while another was by only four points at home against Massachusetts. Addazio’s job is also in jeopardy thanks to a 2-4 beginning to his fifth season with the Eagles.

For an even more distinct example of bowl games not setting a tone for the coming season, take a look at Washington State the last two years. The Cougars finished 2015 with a 20-14 victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl. It was supposed to mark the turning point in the rise of Mike Leach’s program. Instead, Washington State started last season 0-2 before winning eight straight to seemingly put those struggles in the rearview mirror. That momentum did not last long. The Cougars lost their final three last season, including a 17-12 defeat to tumult-plagued Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl.

How did that that dismal end to the season set the table for this year? Washington State is currently 6-0 and No. 8 in the AP top 25. If you put off reading this until Saturday, the Cougars are probably now 7-0 thanks to a matchup at Cal late Friday.

Bowl games make December tolerable and provide an excuse for fans to slip off to a southern clime for a few days. They inevitably produce fluke outcomes and comical conclusions. They do not provide or destroy any momentum for a season beginning nine months later.

“Do you think there is credence to the term good teams win, but great teams cover?”
@IRISH_GL

To an extent. This next sentence is not meant to say Notre Dame is a great team, because the Irish aren’t.

Great teams do what Notre Dame did against Miami (OH). This space’s first sentence after that 52-19 victory, in fact, was, “The Irish did what good teams do, they blew out their opponent.”

That does not need to be the case every time. Great teams also find a way to win in close games. The last few years, Notre Dame has lacked in both categories. Notching five lopsided victories in the season’s first half speaks to developing one of those characteristics. The one-point loss to Georgia shows the other is still lacking, though more chances to prove otherwise will undoubtedly come in the next six weeks.

As for the general concept, spreads in expected blowouts attempt to factor in one fluke, be it a turnover, a garbage time touchdown or a broken tackle leading to an unlikely score. Covering a spread of three touchdowns or more means none of those things happened, a sure sign of a focused and disciplined team.

Great teams are focused and disciplined. Thus, great teams tend to cover.

“Odds we come out in the green jerseys against USC?”
@pe11iott

You had my attention by opening with that delightful four-letter word. Considering this year is the 40th anniversary of the first time the green jerseys were used, and considering that occasion was indeed against the Trojans, let’s knock the odds down by half from 40-to-1 to 20-to-1.

“Biggest positive and negative surprise of this year’s football team?”
@PrinceLeo103

The positive is easy: the defensive line. In retrospect, the world should have listened to Irish coach Brian Kelly, to defensive coordinator Mike Elko and even to fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. They all said Notre Dame’s defensive line was pretty good. No one, yours truly included, took them at their word.

The Irish defensive line is pretty good.

The negative is also easy: The ineffectiveness of the Irish passing game to date does not bode well for some of the challenges coming in the second half of the season. By no means was junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush expected to challenge records or the Irish receivers thought to be potential All-Americans, but a certain degree of potency was a reasonable prediction. Clearly, that has not yet been the case.

Notre Dame will need that to change if it wants to manage much offense against North Carolina State and Miami.

On that note …

“Are the problems with the passing game more of a reflection of the play calling, the QB, the receivers not getting separation or a combination of any of them? From my couch, it appears the issue is a combination of the QB and play calling. The play calling Saturday gave the QB a lot of easy reads, but in other games that has not been the case. If the QB is struggling, and we all agree he is, than why not give him easy reads and simplify things?”
codenamegee

All of the above.

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Why not give Wimbush easier reads? It is not necessarily that simple. Wimbush is most-dangerous when the defense fears both his arm and his legs, but he has not shown much accuracy while on the move, unlike sophomore Ian Book. Thus, to set up Wimbush for success in the passing game, calling plays keeping him in the pocket makes more sense. The flipside of that is in those situations, the defensive backs and linebackers can focus more on coverage, no longer worrying as much about Wimbush breaking off on his own to gain the first down.

The Irish receivers have not made Wimbush’s job any easier. Sophomore Chase Claypool’s increased involvement in the passing game should help with that in a few ways. Not only does he provide Wimbush a big, sure-handed threat on the sideline, but he also draws a bit of the coverage away from junior Equanimeous St. Brown.

St. Brown’s slow start to the season is the most startling of all the receivers’ struggles. At some point, one has to think he will break loose, assuming he is completely healthy. At that point, it may be akin to a basketball player making a layup. Seeing the ball go through the rim gives the shooter enough confidence to make a three-pointer on the next trip down. If St. Brown can break just one six-yard slant for a 45-yard touchdown, he may start approaching defenders with the expectation of making them miss rather than simply holding onto the ball.

“I’d like to see a comparison of Wimbush to date compared to other first-year starting quarterbacks with five games under their belts. I think he will compare well, exceeding in some areas but behind in others.”
glowplugv

That selection of quarterbacks could be skewed any which way. At some point or another, every quarterback fit the description in the beginning of their careers and common sense will quickly tell which ones were successful from the outset and which ones were not. USC’s Sam Darnold and Miami (OH)’s Gus Ragland both started their careers with winning streaks in excess of five games. Their statistics reflect that.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the coincidence of Notre Dame thus far facing five first-year starting quarterbacks (the exception being Ragland), and take a look at their numbers.

Wimbush in five games: 52.3 percent completions, six touchdowns, two interceptions, 782 yards, 5.92 yards per attempt.
Temple’s Logan Marchi in six games: 53.9 percent completions, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions, 1,302 yards, 6.82 yards per attempt.
Georgia’s Jake Fromm in six games: 60.0 percent completions, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, 836 yards, 8.80 yards per attempt.
Boston College’s Anthony Brown in six games: 53.1 percent completions, six touchdowns, seven interceptions, 909 yards, 4.73 yards per attempt.
Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke in five games: 61.3 percent completions, nine touchdowns, two interceptions, 1,057 yards, 6.82 yards per attempt.
North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt in six games: 58.8 percent completions, six touchdowns, three interceptions, 1,167 yards, 6.86 yards per attempt.

“Any predictions for players who have flown under the radar so far this year but end up with a big second half of the season? I’m not sure any of the RBs can even qualify anymore, but maybe a Boykin, Studstill or Cam Smith?”
jimharbaughcanbeunpleasant

Chase Claypool.

Let’s start with Claypool. He has 12 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown this season. Nine of those catches, 120 of those yards and that score have come in the last three games.

Then let’s go to junior receiver Miles Boykin. All four of his catches for 84 yards and a score have come in the last three games.

Lastly, let’s include junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. He has performed excellently thus far this season, but he has also flown under the radar in doing so. Well, as much under the radar as one can while making 27 tackles with three sacks and 1.5 more tackles for loss and a forced fumble. In fact, let’s go ahead and boldly declare Tillery will record his first multi-sack game of his career in eight days against USC.

“How many carries do you see CJ Holmes getting per game the rest of the season? I realize it was garbage time against a terrible defense, but I think he showed great poise and patience running the ball.”
ripvanroo2

This is entirely dependent on running backs’ health. Notre Dame will defer to juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams every step of the way in the high-profile matchups to come, bringing in sophomore Tony Jones anytime a multiple-back formation is desired. But, those three will need to be healthy, and thus far, they have had four troublesome ankles among them.

If those ankles hold up, and the coming games are as competitive as expected, don’t look for Holmes to garner many carries. Do look for him to make a few tackles on special teams.

 “A few weeks ago, in response to Brian Kelly’s arguably rude response to a reporter’s question following the Georgia loss, ESPN’s Paul Finebaum went on a rant about Kelly being a bad coach, a jerk and on his way out at Notre Dame. The comments felt more like a reflection of a preexisting dislike for Kelly (or ND?) than professional commentary. Is there some backstory to Finebaum/SEC and Kelly/Notre Dame?”
cbhoov144

The sensitive among Irish fans will insist I give Finebaum too much credit here. Oh well.

Paul Finebaum knows his audience. It is that simple. He rose to prominence by catering to SEC fans. There is no reason for him to stop now. That means any non-SEC school is wrong in all regards. Notre Dame isn’t in the SEC. Thus, Kelly is always wrong in Finebaum’s eyes.

The Irish outrage is only frosting on Finebaum’s cake. In today’s debate culture, many will tune in looking to be upset. To ESPN, the tuning in is what matters.

“Does Doug Flutie have a chip on his shoulder about being rejected by Notre Dame during his recruiting? Seems like it sometimes.”
oxnardpat

Every Saturday morning, I reorder my columns in Tweetdeck to make any tweets directed to the @NDonNBC account show up on the edge of my computer screen. Five of six weekends this year, those tweets have been filled with anger at the announcers. Note: Only three Notre Dame games have been on an NBC channel thus far. Either no one tuned in to watch the Irish top North Carolina on ABC this past weekend, or everyone was okay with the commentary provided by play-by-play announcer Bob Wischusen and color analyst Brock Huard.

The point is, your dislike of Flutie fits in line with no announcer being liked by any audience, no matter the network. (Wischusen and Huard being the apparent exceptions.) Flutie very well might not be the greatest color commentator in the world, but that is not because he has any ill will toward Notre Dame. He is simply doing his job, and that job does not include flattering the Irish.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 12 Ian Book, junior quarterback

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1/8, 200 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: A junior academically, Book has three years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Book will back up senior Brandon Wimbush this fall, deemed “1B” by Irish head coach Brian Kelly after the spring-concluding Blue-Gold Game. Book is entrenched enough in the position to lead to sophomore Avery Davis working at running back and receiver, but he will obviously now have to hold off the challenge of incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec.
Recruiting: Book’s recruitment was led by former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, having pursued the California-product while at Boise State before joining Kelly’s staff. A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 15 pro-style quarterback in the country, per rivals.com, Book originally committed to Washington State before reconsidering.

CAREER TO DATE
Book preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman in 2016 and then spent last season as the most popular player on any football team: the backup quarterback. Only a play away from running the Irish offense full-time, Book first saw genuine action in the blowout of Miami (OH) and his first real responsibilities came when Wimbush was sidelined at North Carolina with a foot injury. In his first career start, Book completed 17-of-31 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Tar Heels while throwing two interceptions.

Of course, Book is best remembered for leading the comeback victory over No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl, throwing for 164 yards on 14-of-19 passing with two touchdowns and one interception.

2017: 10 games, one start; 46-of-75 for 456 passing yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions; 207 rushing yards on 37 rushes.

QUOTE(S)
Book’s spring may have started a bit slow, certainly when compared to the dramatic ending of his season.

“Ian’s been a little bit spotty at times in the morning with some of his reads,” Kelly said at the end of March. “Sometimes that’s just focus and concentration on his part, but his feet are light. He’s throwing the ball well.”

Within a week, Book started performing closer to how Kelly had preferred.

“Ian has been, over the last couple of practices, much more consistent,” Kelly said. “The last time I was [addressing the media], I commented we wanted more consistency out of the quarterbacks. Ian has been much more consistent the last three practices, and that’s what we want from our quarterbacks, the ability to execute and work on a consistent basis.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Book will back up Wimbush. That also means, Book will play this season. By no means is that a prediction Wimbush will suffer an injury, though that is obviously possible. Rather, it is a prediction Kelly will get Book into a game the first chance he has, quite likely in the second half against Temple if the Notre Dame lead is cushion enough.

“Getting Book a few reps then, or perhaps two weeks later at Boston College, will help calm any nerves for when he may have to step in for Wimbush in a competitive situation. Perhaps Wimbush rolls an ankle a few minutes before halftime against North Carolina or maybe he takes a shot to the head against North Carolina State. Either scenario would force Book to move the offense forward without missing a step in what should be tight games.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Just as was said definitively a year ago, Book will play this season. While Kelly will want to get Jurkovec some in-game development, keeping Book at the ready will be a higher priority. The coaching staff will need to find the balance between Jurkovec’s development and the best competitive decisions for 2018.

There is a scenario where Jurkovec passes Book for primary backup duties, but that seems unlikely. Presuming that does not come to fruition, Book could be counted on in a make-or-break moment when Wimbush sprains an ankle against Stanford or loses his helmet at Virginia Tech. Those are not moments for a true freshman less than two months into his collegiate career. They are also not the time for Book to see his first action of 2018, no matter how much he played a year ago. Thus, some of the season’s first relaxed moments (looking at you, Ball State on Sept. 8) will land in Book’s hands for few series before turning to Jurkovec.

In the past, those blowouts focused solely on the backup quarterback getting reps. With the NCAA’s newfound generosity toward freshmen, a lopsided victory will also consider the true freshman looking to develop without losing eligibility. In a season where more than four blowouts is a wild pipe dream, those needs will come at the expense of each other, both statistically and practically.

DOWN THE ROAD
With Jurkovec arriving to raised banners, blown trumpets and elated crowds (Okay, that is an exaggeration.), Book’s chances at becoming the Irish starting quarterback narrowed. The best possibility requires Wimbush excelling this season while Jurkovec struggles with the college grind. That could lead to Wimbush heading to the NFL with a season of eligibility remaining and the Notre Dame coaches opting to develop Jurkovec for another season with more snaps as the backup rather than the eligibility-preserving freshman.

More likely, Wimbush plays well this year but does not scorch the Earth’s surface, bringing him back for 2019. At that point, with Jurkovec having two full years of prep, he would be stiff competition for Book to be the starting quarterback in 2020, Book’s last chance. With that in mind, a Wimbush return very well may precipitate a Book transfer.

Even if Wimbush does end up elsewhere in 2019, Jurkovec looms. Book showed last season he can lead the Irish in limited stretches, but he also threw an interception every 19 attempts and averaged only 6.08 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers will not produce a dynamic offense. Jurkovec’s ceiling should be higher than those figures. At least, that is why there are those proverbial banners, trumpets and crowds, right? (Yes, that is tongue in cheek.)

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
No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, 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. 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