And In That Corner … The Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten West leaders

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Before No. 4 Notre Dame faces Chicago’s Big Ten team, let’s turn to Jonah Dylan, the managing editor of The Daily Northwestern, for some insights into one of the more confounding teams Pat Fitzgerald has put together:

DF: Let’s start with the micro … Northwestern’s offense is, well, bad. It averages 24.3 points per game, good for No. 102 in the country, tied with Pittsburgh and just three spots ahead of Ball State’s 23.8. Two factors stand out to explain the offense’s struggles, and the first would be the health of senior quarterback Clayton Thorson. He tore his ACL on Dec. 29 and played in this year’s opener Aug. 30. Did he come back too soon? Is he fully healthy by now?

JD: Thorson was back on the field just over seven months after his surgery, which is pretty crazy by any metric. He was on a snap count for his first couple games back while he split time at quarterback with T.J. Green, which was a weird situation for the whole team. Now, though, he appears to be fully healthy. He’s run less than in previous seasons, but that’s actually helped him become a better pocket passer and the passing game is operating at a higher level than it has in recent years.

A four-year starter, quarterback Clayton Thorson appears to finally be healthy again after tearing his ACL in the Music City Bowl in December. In the past quite a dual-threat, Thorson has relied on his arm more often, and more effectively, this season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Even with an improving Thorson, Northwestern cannot run the ball. If adjusting the stats for the 19 sacks allowed at a loss of 128 yards, the Wildcats have rushed for 107.1 yards per game and 3.25 yards per rush. The loss of sophomore Jeremy Larkin after three games certainly plays a part in that struggle, but even with him the offense never averaged more than 4.0 yards per rush. What has held back the ground game?

Well, the easiest answer is injuries. After Larkin’s medical retirement, Solomon Vault and John Moten were expected to lead the backfield, but both have dealt with injuries for extended time this season. Pat Fitzgerald also had to think about the new redshirt rule with freshmen Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson, so they didn’t play much at the beginning of the season. All this led to a running game that never really had a chance to get going, at least in the early part of the season.

The last two weeks featured the emergence of freshman Bowser. The running attack is not yet efficient, but the Wildcats did lean on it to the tune of 47 and 49 carries at Rutgers and against Wisconsin. Is Bowser the real deal or is this simply acquiescing to the necessity of quantity?

Bowser looks like the real deal, and you really only need to look at last week to see it. While Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor struggled in his worst game of the season, Bowser thrived, carrying the ball 34 times for 117 yards. He brings something different to the table than other NU backs with his downhill running style, which has been especially important at the end of close games when the Wildcats need to salt away a victory. All indications are he’ll be the featured back moving forward.

I mention the running game so extensively because Notre Dame has forced teams to give up on it, and at that point, the Irish defensive line pins its ears back and chases the quarterback. Each week junior end Julian Okwara seems to spend most of his time in the second half in the backfield. Do you expect the ratio shift toward handing off to continue this week, or might Okwara & Co. get 65 chances at Thorson, like Nebraska did?

There’s no question that Fitzgerald wants to run the ball. But at the same time, NU’s biggest strength is that it has a quarterback who can play at an elite level on any given Saturday. I don’t expect the Wildcats to have much success running the ball early, and Thorson will probably have to throw it a lot. Okwara and the Notre Dame front will get plenty of chances to go after Thorson, but he’ll also get plenty of chances to go after the Irish secondary.

Northwestern’s defense is worthwhile, but also not elite by any measure. Giving up 4.31 yards per rush will not get the job done, nor will allowing 62.6 percent of passes to be completed, especially when about to face the nation’s leader in completion rate. Yet, if I am going to defer to any piece of the Wildcats, it is Pat Fitzgerald’s defense. Am I giving it/him too much credit?

Northwestern’s defense needs to be getting a lot more credit. The defensive front — Northwestern’s best position group — shut down Taylor and the Wisconsin offensive line, which is littered with All-Americans. The defense is playing much better as of late, and really has played well throughout the season.

Shutting down the Notre Dame offense will be a tall task, and it’ll start with the guys up front.

Northwestern’s defense is led by linebacker Paddy Fisher, 42, and end Nate Hall, 32. Fisher has managed 61 tackles this season while Hall, despite missing three games, has 28 with 2.5 for loss. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly rattled off a number of Northwestern defenders he considered pending difficulties, including linebackers Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall, end Joe Gaziano and cornerback Montre Hartage. How does a collection of talent like that get gashed for 39 points by Akron? I suppose this is where I begin a turn toward the macro.

Let’s address the Akron game as a whole, because the Wildcats’ problems in that game have been amplified massively. First of all, Akron scored three defensive touchdowns, so it’s unfair to blame NU’s defense for the loss. Thorson simply did not play well and turned the ball over at an alarming rate en route to a complete collapse. And this is a defense with studs all over the field. Fisher was one of the best freshmen in the country a year ago. Gaziano is an All-Big Ten guy. Hartage is getting NFL draft buzz. They’ve been put in bad situations by their offense throughout the season, but as a whole Northwestern has been very good on the defensive side of the ball.

The other, “How in the world …” question that needs to be asked, and will be done so simply and bluntly, is, How in the world did Northwestern give up a 17-0 lead to Michigan without even turning over the ball? How deflating was that for the program?

I actually don’t think it was that deflating for the program, because it showed everyone they can compete with teams at the highest level. Northwestern had the same problem in almost every game at the beginning of the season — jumping out to early leads and then blowing them in the second half. That was the story against the Wolverines, who looked surprisingly mortal throughout most of the game. That game showed the Wildcats they can compete with anyone in the Big Ten.

Northwestern has rebounded well from that letdown, winning the last four to take control of the Big Ten West. Smoke and mirrors or viable conference contender?

As weird as it is to say, this is a team that could very well find itself in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. Northwestern will travel to Iowa City for a huge showdown with the Hawkeyes next Saturday in a game that will basically decide the Big Ten West. The 5-3 record doesn’t inspire much fear, but Northwestern is a legit Big Ten West contender in a down year for the divison.

Related, is there any chance Northwestern overlooks Notre Dame because of those Big Ten possibilities? That may sound foolish when discussing an opponent that is the No. 4 team in the country, but beating the Irish will not bring the Wildcats any closer to the Rose Bowl.

That’s absolutely a possibility. Northwestern has three losses and thus has no chance of making the College Football Playoff, so a non-conference game doesn’t do much to move the needle. The goal is to win the Big Ten West, and Notre Dame has nothing to do with that.

That’s not to say a win over the Irish wouldn’t be monumental for this program. Notre Dame is a perennial powerhouse and ranked No. 4 in the country, and a win would change the course of Northwestern’s program for years to come. There’s zero pressure on the Wildcats — no one expects them to win, and if they lose it doesn’t really matter — so it’ll be interesting to see how aggressive they are. I’m guessing Fitzgerald will make more than a few interesting fourth-down calls.

Irish fans certainly have not forgotten the last game against Northwestern, a 43-40 overtime Wildcats victory in 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Before getting to an actual prediction, let’s include the catch-all of, have I missed anything, aside from neglecting to mention this is Notre Dame’s first trip to Evanston since 1976?

How about the last two times these teams have met? In 1995, Northwestern – which had won just three games a season prior — traveled to South Bend for a matchup with the Irish. A huge upset win catapulted the Wildcats to a historic Rose Bowl appearance in probably their most memorable season ever.

Then in 2014, 3-6 Northwestern returned to South Bend and stunned the Irish 43-40 in overtime of an instant classic (at least in these parts). So believe it or not, the Wildcats are actually riding a two-game win streak in this series.

And, a prediction?

This will be a close game. It’s always tough to beat a team playing at home, under the lights with nothing to lose. But Notre Dame has firepower that Northwestern doesn’t. 27-21 Irish.

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Friday at 4: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success

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LAS VEGAS — No one would fault Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner if there was some friction to their relationship. The two Notre Dame quarterbacks spent the better part of a year competing against each other to be the new Irish starting quarterback. Some competitive animosity would be human nature.

Instead, the two give each other a hard time about a shared guilty pleasure. Pyne insists Buchner get his rehab work done before practice because he trusts the sophomore’s reads on the junior’s passing mechanics and wants that feedback every day, especially as Pyne readies to face the first ranked team of his starting career, against No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas on Saturday (7:30 ET; NBC). They have continued a trend of thorough tightness in Tommy Rees’ quarterback room.

Start with that shared guilty pleasure. Asked this week on the ND on NBC Podcast what his allowed luxury is, Pyne initially tried to feign innocence.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t think of anything right now.”

And then an acknowledging pause struck Pyne. His eventual admission gradually slid from a rarity to a frequency, and he dragged the injured Buchner down with him.

“Tyler and I have a little bit of a sweets problem,” Pyne said. “Not a problem. But once a day probably, twice or something, if we see a small piece of candy, we’ll have it.”

Perhaps that is trivial but think back to the quarterback competition that divided the Notre Dame locker room and played a significant role in the 2016 faceplant under Brian Kelly. Neither Malik Ziare nor DeShone Kizer would have ever offered something so playful about the other.

“He and I know that there’s nothing that can get between us that can impact the team in a negative way,” Pyne said back in early August when Buchner was named Notre Dame’s starter. “… Tyler and I are really good friends, we’re best friends. We watch film together, we hang out together, we play golf together.”

Go back a year and both learned from Jack Coan how to approach the job professionally, each citing Coan’s dedication to sleep in 2021 as something they were trying to mirror in 2022’s preseason. Go back a year before that and Pyne still regularly cites Ian Book drawing inspiration from Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor’s mountains of self-confidence. Book was one of the first people to reach out to Pyne with encouragement when he took over for Buchner after the latter sprained his shoulder and ended his season against Marshall.

And go back to Book’s time stepping in for Brandon Wimbush a month into the 2018 season. Wimbush handled the situation so well, no one blinked when it leaked before the College Football Playoff that he intended to transfer away from Notre Dame after the season.

Credit should go to Rees. He may get — and deserve some of — plenty of criticism for his play calling. He may be partly at fault for the Irish lacking any receivers in the junior or senior classes on the current roster. But Rees’ delicate handling of the quarterback room amid three touch-and-go situations in six seasons has helped Notre Dame avoid a 2016 repeat.

Trace that back to Rees’ time as a freshman in 2010, working under offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who would cede the position to Mike Sanford Jr., who lasted just the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

“When I got here, Dayne Crist put his arm around me,” Rees said in August. “He was tremendous as a young quarterback, as a mentor, as a friend. We used to joke he was an older brother to me when I was here.

Andrew Hendrix and I, I was in his wedding. We were extremely close. We came in together and are still close to this day. I was supported by guys all around me that really were good, and then when I had the opportunity with Everett (Golson), I wanted to give back the same way that the older guys did it for me.”

The culture of Rees’ quarterback room has turned each quarterback competition into fertile ground for a trusting friendship.

Pyne pointed out, only he and Buchner know what it was like to go through that competition this spring and summer. They studied each other more than anyone else did, because they had more at stake, even more than the coaching staff.

Buchner is beginning to get in some workouts after shoulder surgery, and Pyne actively insists they not overlap with practice.

“I want him behind me telling me what’s going on in the defense,” Pyne said this week. “I want him to see things and come to me.

“The other thing great about him is he tells me technique-wise what I need to do because he’s seen me throw so many times, he’s seen how I’m looking with my eyes, he knows what kind of player I am. He does that to help me, tells me stuff like that every single day. I’m very thankful to still have him, and he’s in great spirits and helps the whole team.”

At some point, Rees and the Irish will need to toe this quarterback competition again. There will be plenty of wonder if one will transfer for more playing time, as is both common in college football nowadays and the appropriate move for passers who have shown their abilities on such a big stage. Pyne will have a diploma and three seasons of eligibility remaining after this year. Buchner will have three seasons, as well, though he’ll be at least a year from that diploma.

That is then, though. For now, any Pyne and Notre Dame success, including against BYU, can trace some credit back to Buchner, standing behind his friend on each practice snap and critiquing Pyne’s form, as only a friend can do.

If he does not do it in practice, he’ll do it as they sneak some sweets around the football facilities.

Things To Learn: Notre Dame needs to find a fast start for a change of pace vs BYU


LAS VEGAS — “We’re going to get there and be very strategic on what we do,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday referencing the Irish trip to Sin City to face No. 16 BYU (7:30 ET; NBC). And he wasn’t referring to always splitting on aces and eights. But let’s be clear, always split on aces and eights.

He was referring to Notre Dame skipping the Strip and heading straight to Allegiant Stadium for a brief visit today before an early bed check.

But he may as well have been discussing how the Irish need to start Saturday night. In perhaps an unexpected twist, Freeman has stopped preaching about Notre Dame’s finish to games even though the Irish blew second-half leads in his first three games as head coach. While the Irish clearly did not know how to finish, focusing on that failure overlooked the bigger picture.

“All of a sudden you sit here and you talk about finishing, finishing, finishing, but you go back and evaluate and there are plays in the first quarter that we weren’t executing the way we were supposed to,” Freeman said. “That’s where me as the leader said, ‘Hold on, take all the emphasis off of finishing and really look at every play of the game.’”

Your psyche may want to focus on your net losses when you get up from the blackjack table, but the third hand after you sat down was just as important as the last. (Don’t change your bet amounts throughout a sitdown at a table. Keep those wagers consistent.)

Notre Dame’s fourth-quarter collapses at Ohio State and against Marshall overshadowed the Irish mistakes early on, but there were Irish mistakes early on.

Against the Cougars, those first-half missteps should be more avoidable than usual. Maybe it has been a lack of focus as BYU looked ahead to this game, maybe it was disrespect for two inferior opponents in Wyoming and Utah State, maybe it was a coincidence. But it cannot be argued that the Cougars led the Cowboys only 14-10 at halftime two weeks ago and were tied with the Aggies at 17 last week. Despite beating UConn to open the season, Utah State should be universally disparaged as one of the worst teams in the country. Keeping up with BYU bode only poorly for the Cougars.

And then BYU outscored the Aggies 21-3 through the first 29 minutes of the second half. (Okay, that’s a lie. It was really 28 minutes and 51 seconds, but rounding up to 29 minutes there was as unaggressive as not splitting 10s. Really, why ruin a delightful hand?)

If once is an incident, twice is a coincidence and three times a pattern, then the Cougars have a pattern of starting slowly, reaching halftime at Oregon trailing 21-7 (as part of a 41-20 loss), three weeks in a row BYU has come out of the gates slowly. No thought of looking past the Ducks can be offered for that; there was no disrespect to a top-25 team.

The Cougars’ weakness meshes well with Notre Dame’s new emphasis.

“It’s not about finishing. It’s about finishing on every play,” Freeman said. “You have to make sure you execute on play one, no matter if you’re up or down, as you do in the fourth quarter.”

(No matter if you’re up or down, stick to basic blackjack strategy.)

This is more than simple coach-speak. Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had shown adeptness with the opening scripts in the past. Eight of Notre Dame’s 13 opening drives last season resulted in quality possessions. (Quality possession: Either a score or a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.) Those created 31 points on five scores, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and a costly interception inside the red zone against Cincinnati.

This year, only one opening Irish possession has resulted in a quality possession, a field goal in the season opener. But before the idle week, Notre Dame responded to its opening three-and-out with 10 consecutive quality possessions. To be clear, the Irish had only 11 genuine possessions in that 45-32 win. (“Genuine” ignores the final possession running out the clock.)

There is no rationale blackjack equivalent to that kind of hot streak. Heaters don’t last that long. Because when relying on cards dealt randomly, there is no force paving the way like Notre Dame’s offensive line, and there is no open highway like the Tar Heels’ defense.

“That’s what our identity has to be,” Freeman said. “We have to be able to run the ball. It’s not always going to be explosive, 10-15 yard gains, but if you’re able to move the ball with consistency and stay on track and stay in rhythm, it opens up everything in your offensive pass game.

“It’s great to see. It’s a testament to our offensive line. It starts with them. … Our offensive line continues to get better and better and better, which is really helping our run game.”

If there is any one thing to learn from this rendition of the Shamrock Series, it is if the Irish success running the ball two weeks ago was more because of North Carolina’s problems or because of Notre Dame’s development. In this unnecessary and forced analogy put into usage solely because how often does a writer have an excuse to so broadly discuss blackjack, the escalation facing the Irish is the equivalent of testing your counting abilities on an eight-deck shoe at Circa after working only with two-deck shoes in Treasure Island.

That may go badly. BYU has given up plenty of rushing yards this season, but it is leaps and bounds better than North Carolina. Count those decks wrong and you will be dissuaded from ever counting cards again.

In both cases, that should not be the takeaway. The takeaway should be returning to fundamentals, playing each hand smartly, finding holes in a good defense even if there are not as many available as there were against Gene Chizik’s unit.

“Sometimes it takes failures to really evaluate how you’re leading,” Freeman said Thursday. “It shouldn’t take that, but for me, after the Marshall game, I said hold on, let’s really look at how I am as a leader, where I can improve. …

“One of those parts was hold on, let’s stop worrying about finishing. That’s more outcome driven. ‘Let’s finish this game, we’re up in the fourth, finish the game.’ Let’s really evaluate every single play and make sure we’re executing.”

The final score matters most, just like the chips in your hand when you get up from the table. But Notre Dame needs to focus on the early hands in Las Vegas to better position itself for late in the game. That has been missing this season, and after two weeks of focusing on it, there is little excuse left for the Irish to drag their feet early at Allegiant Stadium.

How to watch Notre Dame vs BYU tomorrow and the Irish all season; TV, Peacock info for 2022

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The 11th rendition of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series will feature the Irish against the No. 16 BYU Cougars on Saturday, October 8, at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. Live coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock. See below for additional information and how to watch/stream the Notre Dame vs BYU game.

Notre Dame has never lost in the Shamrock Series, its not-quite-annual trip to a neutral site. The university hosts the game and makes an event of the weekend, and the football program has delivered each and every time, be it against a ranked Arizona State in Dallas or against No. 18 Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Irish (2-2) are now not only coming off an idle week, but are also just two weeks removed from beating North Carolina 45-32. Notre Dame set season highs in points, rushing yards (287), total yards (576), and first downs (35). Junior quarterback Drew Pyne finished with a career-best 24-for-34 for 289 yards and three touchdowns. After an ugly start to the season, Notre Dame’s offensive line allowed just one sack, which enabled running backs Audric Estimé and Chris Tyree to have their best performances of the season. Estimé finished with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Tyree added 80 rushing yards and a touchdown and RB Logan Diggs ran for 50 yards. Head coach Marcus Freeman credited the victory to the offensive line’s performance.

“I think it’s a testament to our offensive line,” Freeman said. “It starts with them. I don’t care what running back you have back there, if your offensive line isn’t executing, blocking, to the way it has to, nobody’s gonna be able to run the ball. Our offensive line continues to get better and better and better, which is really helping out our run game.”

The BYU Cougars (4-1) are coming off a 38-26 victory over Utah State last Thursday night. Led by quarterback Jaren Hall, who has thrown 142 straight passes without an interception, BYU is making gradual progress toward a possible New Year’s Six bowl in its last season as a football independent before joining the Big 12.

 According to Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake, Hall is an exemplary leader both on and off the field.

“He is a perfect example of what it means to be a BYU football player,” Sitake said.
The quarterback position at BYU always gets a lot of public attention, and Jaren does a tremendous job handling both that spotlight on him from outside the program and the important role he plays within our program as a leader on our team. But he really settled into his role.”

How to watch Notre Dame vs BYU:

  • Where: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas
  • When: Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Live Stream: NBC and Peacock

2022 Notre Dame Football Schedule:

  • Notre Dame at Ohio State – Saturday, Sept. 3  – 7:30 PM on ABC
  • Notre Dame vs. Marshall – Saturday, Sept. 10 –  2:30 PM on NBC
  • Notre Dame vs. California – Saturday, Sept. 17 – 2:30 PM on NBC
  • Notre Dame at North Carolina – Saturday, Sept. 24 – TBD
  • Notre Dame vs. BYU (Las Vegas, NV) – Saturday, Oct. 8  – 7:30 PM on NBC
  • Notre Dame vs. Stanford – Saturday, Oct. 15 – 7:30 PM on NBC
  • Notre Dame vs. UNLV – Saturday, Oct. 22 – 2:30 PM on Peacock
  • Notre Dame at Syracuse – Saturday, Oct. 29 – TBD
  • Notre Dame vs. Clemson – Saturday, Nov. 5 – 7:30 PM  on NBC
  • Notre Dame vs. Navy (Baltimore, MD) – Saturday, Nov. 12 -12:00 PM on  ABC/ESPN
  • Notre Dame vs. Boston College – Saturday, Nov. 19 – 2:30 PM on NBC
  • Notre Dame at USC – Saturday, Nov. 26 – TBD

How to watch Notre Dame Football on Peacock:
Become a monthly or annual subscriber to Peacock Premium to watch all of our Premium sports, including Notre Dame football. Once you’re signed up, you can find LIVE coverage in the Browse section of the Peacock app and on

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

What devices does Peacock support?
You can enjoy Peacock on a variety of devices. View a list of supported devices here.

Notre Dame senior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey ends season, to enter the transfer portal; secondary injury updates

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Notre Dame lost some defensive line depth during its idle week when senior tackle Jacob Lacey chose to end his Irish career, confirmed by head coach Marcus Freeman on Thursday. Lacey will enter the transfer portal after the season when the portal window opens, but to preserve a year of eligibility, he has ended his season now.

“Lacey was a great player,” Freeman said. “Lacey did a lot of great things for us, but it’s a deep position. He made a decision that ultimately he felt was best for him and we respect it. We love Jacob, and the best thing about it is he leaves with a degree in his hand.”

Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver glossing over his 11 games in 2020, Lacey has two seasons of eligibility remaining and will be immediately eligible wherever he ends up in 2023. He ends this season with five tackles, all made against Cal, including two sacks. He finishes his career with 35 tackles in 37 games with 6.5 for loss including 2.5 sacks.

To some degree, defensive line depth made Lacey’s job that day easier but also made his season prognosis more dubious.

“It’s the greatest feeling ever, just knowing we probably have 11, 12 guys that can run out there and be as good, if not better, than the guy that was just in front of them, depends who’s hot that day,” Lacey said following Notre Dame’s first win of the season. “It’s fun to see the way we all execute no matter who’s on the field.”

That just will not be Lacey moving forward.

Fifth-year Jayson Ademilola and senior Howard Cross have led that charge from the interior this season, with Cross second on the team with 23 tackles. Harvard graduate transfer Chris Smith made three tackles against Ohio State, part of his five on the season, and his name was the first one Freeman mentioned on who will play more without Lacey around.

“It’s just a position that’s extremely deep,” Freeman said. “The defensive tackle position right now is one of the deepest positions we have on our team. Chris Smith will play a little bit more. (Sophomore) Gabe Rubio will play a little bit more. (Sophomore) Jason Onye has moved from scout team to getting reps with the defense.”

But Notre Dame also does not always need two defensive tackles, instead relying on a three-man front, not to mention ends Isaiah Foskey and Rylie Mills both have the size to play on the inside on clear passing downs.

A consensus four-star prospect in the class of 2019, Lacey was Notre Dame’s first commit of the class, pledging in July of 2017. The Kentucky native chose the Irish over finalists Clemson, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and Tennessee.

While he played in 11 games during the pandemic season of 2020, he was fighting a balky shoulder the whole time, and he struggled a bit with coronavirus in the preseason. By playing in 11 of 12 games, Lacey camouflaged how much those items hampered him.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very frustrated going through that year, battling through that injury,” Lacey said in November. “I’m glad I didn’t just stop playing. I’ve definitely grown a tremendous amount from that. It allowed me to drop weight and focus on gaining muscle, things I needed to do from the beginning, just really rehabbing, focused on things I should have done before coming to college.”

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter

Freeman expects both fifth-year safety DJ Brown (hamstring) and junior safety Ramon Henderson (ankle) to be active on Saturday against No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas (7:30 ET; NBC) after being hampered two weeks ago at North Carolina.

Freshman specialist Bryce McFerson has also finally overcome a groin strain that has bothered him since the week before the opener, but walk-on Zac Yoakam has so ably handled kickoff duties, that Notre Dame is going to let McFerson focus on improving his punting. He will not usurp Harvard transfer Jon Sot there, by any means, so it distinctly sounds like McFerson may preserve a year of eligibility this season.