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And In That Corner … The No. 7 Stanford Cardinal and a top-10 matchup

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If there is any opponent this fall Notre Dame knows well, it is Stanford. Other teams are on this year’s schedule just as they were last season’s (USC, Navy, Wake Forest), but only the Cardinal return a starting quarterback and nearly all offensive weapons.

Yet, this No. 7-ranked team is unlike the Stanford renditions of the last few years. Let’s turn to Jacob Rayburn of the Cardinal Sports Report to explain how so.

DF: Jacob, as always, I appreciate you taking some time out of the week to offer some thoughts from the Cardinal side of the country. With this matchup a little earlier than its usual mid-October or late November slot, I know even less about Stanford than I would usually claim to.

I typically start by discussing an opponent’s offense, but I am actually more interested in the Cardinal defense. Entering the season I had low expectations for it, coming off its worst statistical season in David Shaw’s tenure with 368 yards and 22.7 points allowed per game. Then losing Pac-12 first-teamers tackle Harrison Phillips and safety Justin Reed, second-team cornerback Quenton Meeks and a few other pieces, I figured the defense would continue to slide. Before diving into what has become reality, were your preseason expectations similar?

JR: There was no doubt in anyone’s mind before the season most of the uncertainty was on the defensive side of the ball. Stanford lost playmakers in Phillips and Reid without any obvious heirs at defensive tackle or safety. On paper the defensive line was in the most questionable state of the Shaw era with only one returning starter, junior end Dylan Jackson, and not much proof they could consistently get into the backfield.

Any hope of a rotation up front relied heavily on underclassmen. There were a lot of eyes on the development of Dalyn Wade-Perry at nose tackle. The redshirt freshman has a lot of potential but before the season no one knew how fast he’d come along.

There actually was optimism before the season about the back seven, although there were several spots where depth was expected to be a problem. Joey Alfieri was back at outside linebacker after a year-long experiment to play inside. That really didn’t work and there wasn’t much doubt that his return to the outside would be successful. Sean Barton returned from a devastating knee injury last year and his athleticism combined with development on the mental side of the game was expected to be a big plus next to Bobby Okereke.

Stanford’s safeties were considered a weak link before the season and many people were in wait-and-hope mode. Ben Edwards and Frank Buncom struggled at times the past couple years and neither has the all-around game Reid brought the past two seasons. Comparatively, there was a lot of excitement about the cornerback situation. Alijah Holder was on the mend after a knee injury last year and a healthy Holder is one of the best cornerbacks in the country.

Furthermore, Paulson Adebo was set to make his collegiate debut after redshirting last year. The coaches were very excited about him and it seemed only a matter of time until he beat senior captain Alameen Murphy for the starting spot opposite Holder. Murphy is a versatile player who can play nickel or safety and is still one of the unquestioned leaders of the unit.

Only four games into his career, Cardinal sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo leads the country with 11 passes broken up. For context: Irish junior cornerback Julian Love is No. 3 with nine. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Instead, Stanford has allowed a mere 13.5 points per game. The 356.75 yards per game may not be a number Shaw likes, but that scoring defense stands out. To my eye, the Cardinal have relied on turnovers to effectively (and clichély) bend but not break. In the USC victory, for example, Stanford forced three turnovers. The defense has notched nine total this season. Is that the secret sauce or is there more in-depth analysis available behind the defense holding up thus far?

Compared to those preseason expectations the defense has been a pleasant surprise. There’s no magic touch here, just a lot of work done in the offseason to come together as a disciplined unit. Alfieri said the defensive players held extra meetings and as early as January realized they needed to commit to having a great offseason. The coaches challenged them to bring back the “Party in the Backfield” mentality and also focus on making plays on the ball. Stanford starts each practice with individual drills that include techniques to get the ball away from offensive players. They want it to be muscle memory for every guy who steps onto the field and that was validated when former walk-on, seldom-used backup safety Noah Williams caused the game-saving fumble at Oregon.

Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has been very happy with how well each defender is sticking with his job and not playing hero ball. It hasn’t been perfect in that regard and the Oregon game was a clear example of that.

The Cardinal were shredded by Justin Herbert in the first half but the defense shut down Oregon on its last seven drives, allowing only one touchdown. After the game the players summed up the change as simply doing their jobs correctly.

Last year Phillips and Reid were the bad-play erasers. They’d chase down the mistakes others made. There aren’t any guys on this unit who can do that to the same level, so they shouldn’t try. But when each guy does his 1/11th — a common phrase at Stanford — then good things happen.

Things have obviously shifted at Notre Dame this week with the insertion of junior Ian Book at quarterback. His specialty is a quick progression and some precision in the mid-range game, but he lacks a dangerous deep ball. Will the Cardinal defense be susceptible to that attack or would you expect the secondary to withstand the methodical approach?

The emerging strength of the defense is the cornerback play. Holder and Adebo are playing at a very high level and Murphy is a solid player who is a better tackler than his performance at Oregon would suggest. If Book and Notre Dame want to try to string together four or five passes to move the ball downfield that fits into what Stanford prefers to give. Anderson protects against the big play and trusts that Holder and Adebo will bring down receivers right at the moment of the catch. Also, there is confidence that eventually there will be a pass deflection. Adebo leads the country with 11.

Stanford will be without starting safety Ben Edwards for the second straight week and Malik Antoine will play instead. Antoine and Buncom are solid in coverage. It’s Buncom’s strength after starting his career at corner, but he needs to have a much better day of taking angles on receivers who catch passes in front of him than he did at Oregon. He had a couple really rough plays when an Oregon receiver ran around him.

Bryce Love is not off to the same record-setting start he enjoyed last season, but that is in part due to opposing defenses scheming him out of the game. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Flipping to the offense, the needed question is, where is Love? That is not an attempt at a knock-off Haddaway song. That is a wondering of how and why senior running back Bryce Love has just 254 yards and two touchdowns on a 4.3 yards per carry average. He missed the UC Davis game, but even in just three showings, one would expect the Heisman runner-up to produce more.

Bryce Love’s disappearing act has much more to do with his supporting cast than his own ability. The offensive line has struggled mightily to open up lanes for him and there are a couple main reasons. One is that opposing defensive coordinators have constructed some dramatic unscouted looks that stumped the line and Stanford coaches at first viewing. San Diego State brought blitzers from all over the place in the season opener using their 3-3-5 scheme to create confusion.

Clancy Pendergast and USC went to an extreme mode with disguised shifts. Shaw said the following week it was unlike anything he’s seen in 20 years. Defenses aren’t sticking with their base against Stanford because what Love accomplished last season was unprecedented in terms of big plays.

The second biggest factor has been health. Stanford’s line has been constantly hit by injuries going back to the start of the offseason when fifth-year center Jesse Burkett wasn’t available until the final week of camp. He missed the first two games. Foster Sarell was injured in the USC game and he was a strong candidate to eventually win the left guard job. Devery Hamilton was the starting left guard but was out for the Oregon game. Right tackle A.T. Hall was hurt against UC Davis and played the second half at Oregon on one healthy foot.

But Shaw has also been disappointed by the lack of discipline — at least one holding penalty in each game and usually several — and the guys are getting beat one-on-one much more than is expected with a Stanford line. New offensive line coach Kevin Carberry implemented a new pass protection scheme and put in a lot of work improving pass protection, which has produced good results, but the same can’t be said about the run blocking performances.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside has used his frame to pull in 17 catches for 408 yards and seven touchdowns. The yardage ranks No. 13 in the country, while his 24 yards per catch is No. 7. The seven scores? Those are the second-most through the air in all of FBS. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Not that Stanford’s offense has lagged too much without Love excelling. Led primarily by quarterback KJ Costello and receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the passing game has taken off: 10 touchdowns against three interceptions, 264 yards per game. That average would be the highest since Shaw’s first year, the final season of some guy named Luck. Has this been the result of a shift in scheme or simply the development of personnel?

Stanford’s passing offense has taken the lead because that’s what Shaw has been forced to lean on as each game progresses. Costello has taken a step forward after taking over the job during last season. He is a smarter player now and has improved his pocket awareness and mobility in the backfield.

And why not lean on the passing game when you have Arcega-Whiteside and tight end Kaden Smith? They each have a chance to be one of the best in the country at their respective positions and are future NFL players. Tight end Colby Parkinson has become much more than a 6-foot-7 red-zone threat, so Costello is looking to him more and more between the 20s. Trent Irwin is “Mr. Reliable” at receiver and can be consistently counted on to make a play to move the chains. Then you add Bryce Love — who may get more involved in the passing game — and there are plenty of reasons for a quarterback to smile.

Stanford also is developing receivers redshirt freshman Osiris St. Brown and freshman Michael Wilson into greater roles. St. Brown had a big catch at Oregon and position coach Bobby Kennedy expects more from him with each game.

I have two broader view questions for you. First, how odd is it to be covering a Cardinal team seemingly driven by its offense and a bevy of playmakers? Aside from the 2015 fireworks provided by Christian McCaffrey, that has been rather rare at The Farm of late.

It’s interesting that you reference 2015 because before the season that was the most obvious comparison to what Stanford has on this offense. This is not the 2013 offense that seemed to rely on pounding away down the field with the occasional big play over the top. In 2015 there was an effective balance between the two with a nice mix of explosiveness and time-eating drives. This year there is a quick strike feel that’s different from last year. Last season Love’s ability to break 50-plus yard runs ended a lot of drives quickly. Against Oregon, Stanford had two touchdown drives of three plays — five passes and one touchdown run by Love.

Secondly, Brian Kelly made the point this week that Stanford knows what it feels like to beat the Irish, but not vice versa with these rosters. “They have beaten Notre Dame. They believe that they can come in here and beat Notre Dame.” Do you get that sense from the program at all? Just like nobody in an Irish uniform can claim to have beaten the Cardinal, all of Stanford’s roster knows only victories against Notre Dame.

Stanford’s players feel confident going into Notre Dame but the Oregon game served up plenty of humble pie to make sure they don’t swagger into South Bend expecting the game to go their way. Of course it helps that this is a mature team that knows what it feels like to play in South Bend and win.  

With that trend in mind, what are your thoughts when you see the Irish favored by 4.5 points? (Editor’s note: Since asking Jacob this, the spread has risen to 5.5 points.)

I think Notre Dame wins by a score. This has been a wonderful series to watch for most of the past 10 years and I expect a similarly tight game. I give the edge to Notre Dame with Book giving the offense a boost and knowing Stanford’s offense has yet to put together a good performance for a full 60 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

(@deundraymorgan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED READING: The quarterback Notre Dame needed, Brandon Wimbush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Early NFL departures hit Georgia, Michigan and Stanford hardest

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A sign of a strong program is one that loses players to the NFL before they exhaust eligibility. In that vein, Notre Dame lost a consensus first-team All-American cornerback, its leading receiver and a long-time tease of a tight end. The last of those (Alizé Mack) was never expected back for a fifth season; replacing Miles Boykin’s production is certainly within reason; and a consensus first-team All-American should be expected to take the route junior Julian Love has.

Even with that expectation, losing Love — and to a lesser extent, Boykin — alters the natural roster cycle, the inherent design intended during recruiting. Reloading is always the hope, the next intention, but very rarely is the young backup comparable to the near professional, even by the end of the coming season.

Nonetheless, the Irish got off easy this cycle compared to four of their 2019 opponents …

GEORGIA: Junior running back Elijah Holyfield, the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher, departs after gaining 1,018 rushing yards with seven touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry this season. Frankly, that is the least of Georgia’s losses. Three of quarterback Jake Fromm’s four favorite targets will leave eligibility on the figurative table:

— Junior receiver Riley Ridley: 44 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.
— Junior receiver Mecole Hardman: 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns.
— Junior tight end Isaac Nauta: 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns.

Without running back Karan Higdon, Michigan will presumably rely on its passing game more in 2019, quarterback Shea Patterson’s second season as a Wolverine. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines got good news when quarterback Shea Patterson opted to return for 2019, but losing leading-rusher Karan Higdon (1,178 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.3 average) will be an issue head coach Jim Harbaugh undoubtedly hoped to avoid. Junior tight end Zach Gentry, Patterson’s third-most prolific target with 32 catches for 514 yards and two scores, will also head to the next level.

On the flip side, Harbaugh could have hoped linebacker Devin Bush (team-leading 80 tackles with 9.5 for loss including five sacks), defensive end Rashan Gary (44 tackles with seven for loss including 3.5 sacks) or linebacker David Long (17 tackles with one interception) might return, but no such luck for Michigan.

Duke junior quarterback Daniel Jones will head to the NFL after his third season as a starter, immediately lowering the Blue Devils’ 2019 expectations. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DUKE: Junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris paced the Blue Devils with 81 tackles, including seven for loss with one sack, doing so in only nine games. But losing Giles-Harris is hardly the concern for Duke. The decision to turn pro from quarterback Daniel Jones is.

In his third year as a starter, the junior fought through a broken collarbone to still play in 11 games in 2018, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He added 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Jones’ decision may come as a surprise, but it is one that should work out well for both him and Notre Dame. Some mock drafts project him as a top-10 pick. In a draft light on quarterbacks — partly because Oregon’s Justin Herbert returned for another season, yet already somewhat counteracted by the Monday draft entry from Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray — Jones could end up being the third or fourth passer picked.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles will say farewell to junior cornerback Hemp Cheevers after he notched seven interceptions this season, returning one for a touchdown, to go along with 39 tackles.

STANFORD: This will seem like the Cardinal lost a lot to the NFL draft, but it could have been worse: As the departures mounted, so did speculation junior quarterback K.J. Costello might follow them. He opted not to.

Stanford will be without running back Bryce Love after his prodigious two seasons as the starter. Consider that a loss akin to the Irish Love, the inevitable price of enjoying the success in the first place.

Junior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will capitalize on his breakout season of 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns, depriving Costello of his favorite jump-ball threat.

Junior tight end Kaden Smith will also head to the next level, in large part thanks to his 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns this past season.

Louisville, New Mexico, Virginia, Bowling Green, USC, Virginia Tech and Navy all did not lose anyone early or pseudo-early to the NFL draft.

Autry Denson leaves Notre Dame to take over at Charleston Southern

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Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher will no longer coach its current running backs. After four seasons at his alma mater, Autry Denson has been named the head coach at Charleston Southern, an FCS-level program, per a release Monday afternoon.

The second-longest tenured coach on Brian Kelly’s staff (behind only defensive line coach Mike Elston; tied with cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght), Denson had produced quality Irish backs, peaking with Josh Adams’ 1,430 rushing yards in 2017, leading an offense that averaged 269.5 rushing yards per game.

“I am so excited for Autry as he embarks on the next step of his coaching career as the new head coach at Charleston Southern,” Kelly said in a statement. “He has done a tremendous job for us during his time at Notre Dame.

“He not only developed our running backs to produce at a high level on the field, but he was also instrumental in their growth as young men.”

Only Adams and C.J. Prosise broke 1,000 rushing yards in a season under Denson, though Dexter Williams gained 995 in only nine games this past season. A third-round pick in 2016, Prosise has spent his entire career with the Seattle Seahawks, while Adams rushed for 511 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams should join them in the NFL in April’s draft.

All of them paled in comparison to Denson’s college days, a career that saw him gain 4,318 rushing yards, 43 touchdowns and three seasons of more than 1,000 rushing yards. A 1998 All-American, Denson then spent five years in the NFL.

Denson began his coaching career at the FCS level at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., a couple hundred miles up the coast from his hometown outside of Miami.

“I was drawn to Charleston Southern by the vision of this great Christian university of integrating faith in learning, leading and serving,” Denson said. “As a result, I knew this could be a place where I could build and lead a program to honor Christ by operating with character, integrity, transparency, accountability and community.”

Charleston Southern went 5-6 in 2018 under Mark Tucker, who went 11-11 in two seasons before resigning last month.