Things To Learn: Notre Dame will need the year’s best rushing performance vs. NC State

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It is an age-old rule of college football: Nobody has played anybody.

As soon as a team is beaten, it is proof that squad was overrated. It is never evidence the victor was just a better team beating its scheduled opponents, the only objective at hand.

Alabama could be the next opponent and a diehard would insist, “The Tide hasn’t played anybody. Florida State isn’t any good this year. That’s the only win of note.” This would be ignoring the fact that the Seminoles have given up only 22.5 points per game this season despite playing Alabama and five ACC opponents in a season disjointed by Hurricane Irma.

Florida State is good this year, just not as good as years past. That was a high bar to start with. Only Nick Saban has found such sustained success in the last two decades, and let’s remember, he once described himself as not Attila the Hun. That’s a pretty easy bar to get underneath, in its own right.

Another mark difficult to replicate is any Heisman-winning campaign. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was going to be deemed a disappointment this year unless he threw for 4,000 yards, rushed for 2,000 and accounted for 60 total touchdowns. (His 2016 marks: 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing and 51 total scores.) Does any of that seem realistic? Of course not. Instead, Jackson is merely on pace for 4,027 passing yards, 1,411 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns.

Thus, while he may appear to be having a subpar season, it is only in comparison to his hardly-comparable 2016. When North Carolina State held him to 97 yards on 15 rushes (sacks adjusted) and an inefficient 55.3 completion percentage on his way to 354 passing yards, that was the Wolfpack defense limiting an offensive dynamo, not Jackson falling short again this season. (Jackson’s completion percentage on the year is 60.3.) He averaged 7.53 yards per attempt, more than a yard short of his season figure of 8.79.

When NC State scored 27 points against the Seminoles — none coming from short fields — that was the Wolfpack succeeding against one of the country’s better defenses, not a sign of Florida State’s demise.

These distinctions need to be made when discussing a conference as deep as the ACC appears to be this season. Reeling off four consecutive wins in that conference earns notice, hence why North Carolina State is up to No. 14 in the AP top-25.

Its rise further will hinge on that defense.

Can Notre Dame run against a genuinely good defense? It hasn’t yet.
Let’s use yards gained per carry as the metric for rushing offense and yards allowed per carry for rushing defense. By that measurement, the Irish have the second-best rushing attack in the country, gaining 7.06 yards per attempt, trailing only Stanford’s 7.74. North Carolina State has the No. 14 rush defense, giving up 3.04 yards per carry. (Note: For all rushing statistics in this section, they are not sacks adjusted. Unusual for this space, but making that alteration to the numbers would put the national figures out of context.)

Only one Wolfpack foe has ranked in the top half of the country as a rushing offense, Louisville at No. 8, gaining 6.13 yards per rush. How did the Cardinals, including Jackson, fare against NC State? They gained 116 yards on 29 carries, an average of 4.0 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, only two Notre Dame opponents rank in the top half of 129 FBS teams in rushing defense. You know the two. Georgia comes in at No. 7, giving up 2.82 yards per rush, and Michigan State is at No. 8 with 2.89 yards per carry. How did the Irish do on the ground in those two games? A combined 237 yards on 77 carries, an average of 3.08 yards per carry.

Clearly, the Wolfpack’s veteran-laden defensive front seven is more in line with the Bulldogs and the Spartans than it is with North Carolina (No. 98) and USC (No. 96). It has already limited one of the country’s most-potent rush attacks.

Notre Dame’s running game has improved since struggling against Georgia and Michigan State. The offensive line has developed as more of a unit. The running back stable has found a better semblance of health. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has become particularly apt at finding eight or 10 yards with his legs on any given passing play.

Has it improved enough to plow through North Carolina State’s defense? This answer may be the key to the remainder of the season. The next two Irish opponents also tilt more toward the top of the rushing defense spectrum than the bottom. (Wake Forest: No. 55, 4.14 yards per carry; Miami (FL): No. 57, 4.19 yards per carry.)

Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has yet to lead a successful in-game two-minute drill. Admittedly, that is primarily because the Irish have typically had such large leads this season. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

It has been awhile since Notre Dame won a close game. A close game often hinges on an offense’s ability to score at the end of a half. Can Wimbush run a successful two-minute drill?
In the first half of the season, the junior quarterback was asked to execute in short-order only once, the final minutes in the 20-19 loss to Georgia. Twice the Irish had the ball in the final minutes, yet the Bulldogs still came out ahead.

Wimbush had a chance to show his command of the offense at the end of the first half against the Trojans, but drops by junior tight end Alizé Mack and junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown cut short a drive at the USC 40-yard line.

Heading into that game, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Wimbush had started to find success in practice in two-minute drills.

“We couldn’t even get a first down [in those drills] throughout the entire camp and into the first five weeks,” Kelly said. “We were three-and-out. We move the ball down the field now and that’s a huge accomplishment.”

Some of that progress has come at the expense of the Irish defense. Senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said Wednesday he has noticed the differences.

“Those were the moments last year when we weren’t successful,” Tranquill said. “We lost a lot of games in the two-minute scenario at the end of the games.

“So it’s a big point of emphasis for us, and I think Brandon’s comfort in the pocket, his ability to deliver the ball downfield to the receivers just continues to grow. … When you have a quarterback who is as dynamic as he is to get out of the pocket and extend plays, but he continues to develop himself through the air, it becomes more of a challenge for the defense.”

It is not Wimbush’s fault Notre Dame has blown out its last five opponents and he has thus not needed to showcase this supposedly-developing skill. He may have that opportunity against North Carolina State, though.

Can the Irish defense stand strong for an entire game without the benefit of a forced turnover?
Notre Dame very well may take away the ball from the Wolfpack. It just seems unlikely. North Carolina State has lost three fumbles this entire season. There is no need to mention interceptions. Senior quarterback Ryan Finley hasn’t thrown any.

The Irish have forced 17 turnovers.

For this exercise, let’s grant the premise giving away just three turnovers in seven games is more impressive than forcing 17 in seven games. (This is debatable, hence the granting of the premise.) If removing those 17 possessions, Notre Dame has given up scoring opportunities (touchdowns or field goals attempted) 24 of 77 times. With an average of about 13 possessions per team per game, that rate would grant the Wolfpack four scoring opportunities this weekend.

Obviously, the Irish would rather take away the ball, but that might not happen against an offense this disciplined. In that case, the defense will need to hold its own 10 times or more.

Notre Dame senior linebacker Drue Tranquill could be the key piece to stopping North Carolina State’s offensive do-everything, Jaylen Samuels, this weekend when the No. 9 Irish host the No. 14 Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

To do that, who will keep senior Jaylen Samuels in check?
He isn’t quite a receiver. He is more than a running back. He seems far too talented to be a tight end. Samuels does a bit of everything.

This may be the assignment Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko envisioned when he first created the rover, his preferred schematic wrinkle. Tranquill can certainly match Samuels’ physicality, but Tranquill’s greatest lacking as a safety was his top-end speed. Samuels may test that.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, Samuels may also be too much for Irish junior cornerback Shaun Crawford to handle. Crawford is listed at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds.

This is why the Wolfpack features Samuels. No one defender can mitigate him. It is also why Elko has the safety/linebacker hybrid of the rover.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end

Associated Press
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ¾, 264 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Hayes will start as the drop end just as he did last, with classmate Julian Okwara providing able backup.
Recruiting: Rivals.com rated Hayes as a five-star prospect, the only such recruit to choose Notre Dame in the last four cycles. The U.S. Army All-American bypassed offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama. The No. 7 outside linebacker in the country, per rivals.com, and the No. 31 player overall, Hayes enrolled early.

CAREER TO DATE
Hayes is on pace to play every game of his Irish career. Coming out of high school, multiple shoulder injuries gave reason to wonder about his durability, but 12 starts amid appearances in 25 games have largely eliminated those concerns.

2016: 12 games; 11 tackles, one forced fumble.
2017: 13 games, 12 starts; 30 tackles including 6.5 for loss and three sacks, along with one pass breakup and two fumbles recovered.

Hayes did not start against Navy last season — senior Andrew Trumbetti took his place — a common disclaimer with upperclassmen sparked by the triple-option offense. Hayes’ season highlight came in the blowout victory against USC, notching five solo tackles and one sack.

QUOTE(S)
Across Notre Dame’s final five games last season, Hayes managed only six tackles. Irish head coach Brian Kelly attributed that to inexperience showing itself with time.

“The only thing [Hayes is] missing, really, is continued confidence in the position in which he plays,” Kelly said during spring practice. “Not in himself, he’s an extremely confident young man and carries himself as such.

“The position he plays was new to him. The nuances of that position maybe got him a little tentative as the year went on. His knowledge base is so much better this year of understanding his position and how it relates to the 11 players.”

More practice and game reps will only aid that cause, just like more time on campus furthers any player’s development.

“He’s physical, and he’s playing the kind of football that we expect him to play next year right now,” Kelly said.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“In 2010, [former Notre Dame defensive end] Prince Shembo recorded 15 tackles, with five for loss including 4.5 sacks and forced one fumble (as a freshman). Hayes essentially matched those gross numbers (in 2016), the tackles just did not come behind the line of scrimmage.

“Obviously, that is a big difference, and one Notre Dame will be desperate to see change in 2017. Hayes represents [former Irish] defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s best chance at a true pass rush. He is, perhaps, Elko’s only chance at a true pass rush.

“Continuing to use Shembo’s on-field career arc as a template, he started eight games in 2011, saw action in 12 games and recorded 31 tackles. His numbers behind the line of scrimmage dipped — illustrating how much those may hinge on constant variables — to 3.5 tackles for loss with two sacks.

“Hayes should start 13 games this season, and in doing so easily notch 30-plus tackles. His raw speed alone could get him close to that number. Elko, defensive line coach Mike Elston and Kelly will all very much hope for more than two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. If healthy, Hayes should exceed those numbers, and after a healthy freshman season, there is no longer reason to readily presume injury.”

2018 OUTLOOK
At some point, potential must become performance lest it be seen as unfulfilled. Hayes is not at that point yet, but if he does not flash this season, it may indicate his ceiling is lower than always perceived. While that may sound extreme, keep in mind it came with a rather strong if.

Hayes improved drastically between his first two seasons, as most-evidenced by his 30 tackles and 6.5 for loss. (While on that topic, let’s give some kudos to nailing Hayes’ 2017 projected stats. Pure skill, obviously, no chance whatsoever.) His snap count this season will only increase without Trumbetti siphoning off a handful of plays a game, even if Okwara is ready to handle more. An increased snap count and more effectiveness should boost Hayes’ figures closer to 40 tackles with at least six for loss once again.

A dozen or so more tackles this year (meaning in the low 40s) would likely point to Hayes finishing the season stronger than he did last. That is one aspect of the sought improvement. The other will come in the simplest measurement of any defensive end: sacks.

From a defensive coordinator’s point of view, a sack not only pushes the opponent backward, it also takes away the opportunity of a play. If Hayes provides that twofold effect twice as often this season as last, he will be in line with the coaching staff’s hopes for him tracing back to his recruitment. More than that and Hayes will become a focal point of opposing offensive coordinators, helping the defensive line as a whole.

DOWN THE ROAD
It would take quite the jump this season for Hayes to ponder the NFL in the spring. Thus, expect him to start next season, making him a three-year starter for the Irish. That alone will send Hayes to the next level; how high he is drafted will hinge on what Hayes offers in 2019.

Guessing at those outcomes would be more conjecture than usual without seeing how Hayes fares this season first. Ideally for Notre Dame, he becomes an all-around end and Okwara shows elite pass-rush abilities. That combination would allow defensive coordinator Clark Lea a litany of possibilities in preparing for his second year.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, punt returner

Associated Press
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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 179 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Finke is in the mix to contribute in the passing game from the outset this year, competing with sophomore Michael Young to complement the size of junior Chase Claypool and senior Miles Boykin. Of the entire receiving corps, only those four bring any experience whatsoever.
Recruiting: A preferred walk-on to start his career, Finke earned a scholarship heading into his sophomore season.

CAREER TO DATE
Finke’s junior year mirrored his sophomore year’s receiving stats, a disappointing byproduct of the Notre Dame passing game struggling throughout 2017. His greatest impact came in the early September loss to Georgia, pulling in three receptions for 36 yards, all coming in the fourth quarter of the 20-19 defeat, as did all five of his targets. He had no more than one grab in any other game.

2016: 10 games; 10 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
2017: 13 games, one start; six catches for 102 yards.

Finke has also served as the primary punt returner most of the last two seasons, with a seeming-allergy to fair catches in obvious situations.

2016: Nine punt returns for 70 yards; five kick returns for 85 yards.
2017: 24 punt returns for 156 yards.

QUOTE(S)
Finke is many things: relatively sure-handed, outright quick, shifty to the point of it being a cliché. He is also mistake-free to such a degree it earns notice.

“Chris had the least amount of [missed assignments],” Irish receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “At this point in the game, Finke knows everything. I can move Finke anywhere, I can beat Finke up, I can get him in front of blockers.”

Those are all compliments, but there is still plenty of work to be done to improve Finke’s game.

“We’re doing so many little things with Finke that help him have a knack for the game outside of the playbook,” Alexander said. “… Because he understands exactly what we want, he knows the playbook, but at the same time, we’re talking about leverage, we’re talking about using his height to an advantage, using his quickness, timing on break and anticipation of people around him.

“We’re doing some things that help you play for a long time.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Finke will almost certainly exceed last year’s numbers, but the question will be when and where. Notre Dame is not wanting at receiver, and that assuredness is not even factoring in the number of skilled tight ends available, as well. Finding a role in the rotation for all those capable, including Finke, will be a unique balancing act.

“… Nothing in spring indicated Finke had yielded that second-half momentum surge. With it, he should be ready to contribute at either the slot or the field receiver position whenever Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long wants to downsize his target.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Finke’s consistency and unique playmaking ability puts him in position to contribute for Notre Dame, no matter how diminutive his frame may be. The presumed emergence of Young, though, will likely limit the opportunities. Some situations may call for multiple 5-foot-10, sub-200-pound receivers, but those moments are few and far between, especially when the offensive coordinator prefers targets with size and has the luxury of two upperclassmen receivers taller than 6-foot-4 and a trio of pass-catching tight ends even taller.

Finke will still see a non-negligible amount of playing time; it is just hard to project him as one of senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s primary targets, odd considering how much Wimbush relied on Finke in trying to mount a comeback against the Bulldogs.

As for punt returns, Finke’s desire to make a play has put his role there in jeopardy in the past. Recklessly hauling in punts inside the 10-yard-line is a surefire way to aggravate any coach. If Irish head coach Brian Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian have drilled rules into Finke’s head by now, then the job should remain his. He has shown the needed flashes to shift field position, most-recently in the third quarter at Stanford when he returned a punt 41 yards to set up a lead-taking field goal, also known as Notre Dame’s last points of the regular-season finale. Finke returned the Cardinal’s next punt 20 yards to position the Irish for a last-ditch effort, which stalled.

If, however, Finke continues to take unnecessary risks unfit a senior, then a change will need to be made to preserve future possessions.

DOWN THE ROAD
Finke will be an interesting case for roster construction discussion following the season. Including sophomore receiver/running back Jafar Armstrong, the Irish currently have 10 players at the position, all with 2019 eligibility available. If Boykin, Claypool and Young separate as a leading trio and any or all of the freshmen quartet impress, then Finke could be the fifth or sixth option as a fifth-year.

In such an instance, the coaching staff may opt to devote that scholarship to a player in the class of 2019, a grouping which could be tight for space as is.

Of course, if Finke catches 25 passes this season for 300 yards and a couple scores, that conversation would shift entirely.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, 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. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman

rivals.com
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 170 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Bracy should be little more than a reserve cornerback this season, barring injury to any of the upperclassmen in the two-deep.
Recruiting: Coming from the west coast, the rivals.com three-star and No. 39 cornerback in the country chose Notre Dame over the likes of Cal, Utah and Washington State.

QUOTE(S)
A small town north of San Jose, Calif., Milpitas is not ripe recruiting ground, leading to a quiet recruiting cycle for Bracy. Irish head coach Brian Kelly was glad to be the beneficiary of that calm.

“Tariq Bracy is a young man that I think if he’s in a metro area, his recruitment probably blows up, but he’s in an area that doesn’t get quite the attention,” Kelly said during December’s early signing period. “… [He] is an outstanding player.”

That recruitment was a quiet one despite Bracy excelling as a prep running back, kick returner and punt returner in addition to his defensive back skills. Oh, and he caught a bevy of passes, too. In winning the state title game, Bracy scored rushing (70 yards), receiving (35) and returning a punt (60). Those highlight-reel moments caught the eye of cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght.

“The strength and power area, he’s going to have to do some work, because he’s a little developmental there,” Lyght said in February. “His playmaking skills, his ball skills, his speed, his reactive athleticism are second-to-none in this class.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BRACY’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“The Irish might be alright with cornerbacks at the moment, but it will need them in 2019 or 2020, and without any in the class ahead of him, Bracy’s timeline will be expedited by a season. He’ll be contributing no later than his sophomore year and, given natural development, could be a starter as a junior.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Bracy’s experience in the return game adds a wrinkle to his playing possibilities this fall. It is most likely he dabbles in special teams coverages and sees defensive mop-up duties in up to four games, preserving a year of eligibility. There is a chance, however, of Bracy taking over the punt and kickoff return duties, albeit not inherently a great chance.

The outward transfer of C.J. Sanders opens up the kickoff duties while senior receiver Chris Finke remains the nominal punt returner, a duty he performed serviceably last season but not exceptionally by any means.

Sanders’ career, although now-truncated, proves Kelly has little qualm about putting a freshman on the goal line to receive kicks. The reserve receiver handled all return duties in 2015, returning both a kick and a punt for scores.

DOWN THE ROAD
The cornerbacks depth chart is a unique one to look at. The top four players all have two years of eligibility remaining, while the rest of the position group consists entirely of a freshmen quartet, all obviously with full collegiate careers ahead of them.

That dichotomy could keep Bracy off the field for a couple years before suddenly inserting him into a starting role. Being a first-time starter as a junior should not be considered a disappointment; it is often a norm. (See junior Troy Pride this season and possibly his classmate Donte Vaughn in a year.)

That slow pace will actually coincide nicely with Lyght’s hopes of progress in a next-level strength and conditioning program, as long as added muscle and physicality does not come at the expense of Bracy’s natural speed and agility.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ½, 200 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: After transferring from Navy last offseason, the NCAA denied Gilman’s appeal for a waiver granting immediate eligibility, thus stalling the clock on his playing time for a year. Gilman has three seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Gilman is in position to be the salve to Notre Dame’s years of safety deficiencies. The transfer is expected to begin the season as the starting field safety, displacing senior Nick Coleman and holding off the impressive debut of early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith.
Recruiting: Gilman’s was a low-profile recruitment out of Hawai’i, hence his landing at Navy for a year. At that point, he was hardly on the Irish radar.

CAREER TO DATE
Gilman spent last season on the sidelines, though he still made an impression on the Notre Dame coaching staff, being named the top prep team player.

At Navy, Gilman’s shining moment actually came against the Irish in a 28-27 Midshipmen victory. He made 12 tackles that day. At that point, Notre Dame had to dread facing him three more times in his career.

2016: 14 games, 12 starts; 76 tackles with five for loss while breaking up five passes, recovering two fumbles, including one he forced and brought to the end zone.

QUOTE(S)
The drawbacks of spending a season on the scout team by the NCAA’s decree extend past that fall. Gilman needed to get up to speed on the playbook this spring, something which limited his initial climb up the depth chart.

“He had a slow start to the spring,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in early April. “… He wasn’t taught the defense last year. He was taught everybody else’s defense because he was on scout team. That kind of put him back a few practices, but now that he knows what he’s doing, he can play fast and play physical. We’re really starting to see that skillset that he showed when he was at Navy.”

While first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea also saw that learning curve accelerate through the spring, what he did not need to see progress was Gilman’s leadership tendencies.

“He’s a guy that in one year has made an impact from a leadership standpoint,” Lea said the week of the Blue-Gold Game. “The guys follow him, they listen to him, they trust him. It’s apparent. He’s consistent, he’s dependable, all the things that you would want.

“He’s got it as a leader. We want to harness that and let that shine as he goes.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Kelly praised Gilman as a physical safety. That would seem to put him in the same category as [junior Jalen Elliott], though perhaps with better coverage skills. In that instance, Gilman could fill in for Elliott in intermediate down-and-distance situations, guarding against a pass while also providing strong run support.

“On more obvious passing downs, perhaps [junior Devin] Studstill comes in, or perhaps Gilman offers strong enough pass coverage he can continue to man the position, even allowing [then-] sophomore Julian Love to stay at cornerback, further strengthening the Notre Dame secondary.

“The reasons behind Gilman’s transfer should also be acknowledged here. He very clearly has NFL aspirations. That is to be lauded. Just keep it in mind: Once that opportunity presents itself, Gilman will likely take that chance.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Last season, the Irish safeties had their hands in a grand total of zero turnovers. The lack of interceptions is well discussed and a greater concern, but Elliott, Studstill and Coleman also failed to force or recover any fumbles. It took Gilman all of two drives in the Blue-Gold Game to showcase that part of his game, halting a big gain from receiver Michael Young by both forcing and recovering a fumble.

Along with his six tackles in the scrimmage, that strip presumably secured Gilman’s starting role entering 2018. Even with the strong springtime showing from Griffith and the arrival of consensus four-star freshman Derrik Allen, Gilman should start alongside Elliott against Michigan, each bringing a year of starting experience to the gig.

Further evidence of Gilman’s spot in the pecking order, Coleman’s work at nickelback during the spring hints at Lea trying to find a way to get his best players on the field one way or another. If Gilman supplanted Coleman, then Coleman spending time at nickel would offer a different defensive look in Lea’s inventory.

To hold off the freshmen duo, Gilman will need to continue finding the ball both in turnover situations and as run fits dictate. Those are the strengths of his game, items sorely lacking from the Notre Dame secondary for a couple seasons.

Coleman accounted for 44 tackles in 2017, Elliott just one behind him. In this system, the safeties do not rack up exceptional numbers of takedowns. Thus, do not expect Gilman to match his Naval total. His ball skills are more crucial to Lea’s defense, anyway.

DOWN THE ROAD
Starting the first day he is able usually indicates years of such a duty. Contrarily, the arrival of two four-stars at a position typically points to a short shelf life for the incumbents. One of those trends will have to yield.

It may take Griffith and/or Allen a full year or two to be ready to start. That would hardly bode poorly for their careers, but it would pave the way for Gilman to spend multiple years as the Irish starter.

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
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

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