No. 7 Notre Dame wallops New Mexico quickly and frequently


SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s offense bumbled through the first quarter only to explode in the second Saturday afternoon. Three lightning-quick touchdowns highlighted a 31-point quarter, sending the No. 7 Irish (2-0) well on their way to a 66-14 victory against New Mexico (1-1) on Saturday.

Notre Dame’s offense hardly functioned in the first quarter, bringing back memories of the opening half at Louisville, as it failed to score on two drives and gained all of 32 yards on 14 plays. On five running plays, the Irish gained 10 yards, while on nine passing plays (including one sack), they managed 22.

Aside from a 34-yard interception returned for a touchdown by freshman safety Kyle Hamilton, nothing seemed set to go well for Notre Dame. Even when the Irish got a first-and-goal inside the five-yard line, they needed four plays to literally shove senior quarterback Ian Book across the goal line.

Things changed and changed quickly when Book flipped the ball a foot to junior running back Avery Davis for a 59-yard score. Then he found senior receiver Javon McKinley for a 65-yard score featuring at least five broken/missed Lobos tackles. Not yet done, Book hit senior receiver Chase Claypool in stride for a 37-yard score.

“I thought we might have started a little slow in the beginning, but I think you saw that we were able to pick it up as the game went on,” Book said. “That’s huge. We need that in the offense.”

Those three touchdown drives took a total of 49 seconds and five plays to cover 193 yards. In game time, the drives stretched 4:54. A frustrating 14-0 Irish performance had switched into a 35-0 rout. And once the gloves were off, they were not going back on, no matter who might be next up on Notre Dame’s schedule.

“It felt good as an offense just getting the confidence up and going out there and being able to execute,” Book said. “[New Mexico] wasn’t a game we were going to look over.”

Book later completed another “pass” to fifth-year receiver Chris Finke for a 54-yard score, as well as added a second to McKinley, the first two of McKinley’s career. While those catch-and-runs inflated Book’s stats, his line still stood out both for its raw numbers and its efficiency. Book completed 15-of-24 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns, adding nine carries for 46 yards and a score. Claypool finished as the leading receiver, in fact the only one with more than two catches, with four receptions for 96 yards.

The damage was so quick and severe, Book was able to cede duties to sophomore Phil Jurkovec before the third quarter ended. Jurkovec completed one pass, a 52-yard bomb to sophomore Braden Lenzy, the first completion and reception for each part of that equation, to kickstart a drive that concluded with yet another Notre Dame touchdown on a one-yard run from sophomore C’Bo Flemister, another first tally. To keep with the theme, freshman quarterback Brandon Clark got his first touchdown on a mid-fourth quarter 22-yard throw to Lenzy.

The Irish defense may have played well — it is hard to argue otherwise when its scoring output nearly matches the opponent’s — but that offensive explosion was the salve needed to cure the worries sparked by the inefficient performance in the opener, particularly with No. 3 Georgia awaiting in a week.

Make no mistake, as Book insisted Notre Dame did not look past the Lobos, and a 52-point margin would agree with him, the Bulldogs were on his mind by the time he got to the post-game podium.

“It felt really good to be able to put it away (today), and like I said, it’s just Georgia week. We’ve been talking about this since the year began.”

Who knows what exactly shifted when the Irish began that run, but when it did, the initial competitive nature of Saturday afternoon immediately dissipated. The shift took about as long as it took Davis to run from one edge of the field around the opposite side of the Notre Dame offensive line. Once he cleared that corner and hit the ensuing seam, the Irish sidelines may as well have started thinking about Athens, Ga.

For anyone who lost track of Davis on the roster in addition to on that play, he arrived at Notre Dame as a quarterback, moved to running back, then to defensive back, and finally back to running back last week to provide depth amid injuries. His impact was clearly felt.

“Avery Davis’ electric run really got the entire team and the stadium into it,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

It spurred momentum, which manifested itself in McKinley’s pinballing run and Claypool’s paradoxically untouched score.

“Javon McKinley needed to make a play,” Kelly said. “He made a couple of really big plays. He’s been a guy that has been kind of lost in cyberspace, if you will, and he’s now going to have to play a significant role.”

The offensive onslaught began so quickly it could hardly be noticed. Its start came from players few would have expected. And it resulted in the most points of Brian Kelly’s 10 years in South Bend, topping the 62 scored against UMass in 2015.

His statistical impact may have been limited to only the one play, but Davis’ contributions reached further than that, not that a 59-yard touchdown scamper does not have its own impact.

Let it be known: This space had settled on Davis for this honor before learning Kelly gave him the game ball, another piece of deserved recognition.

He may not have been the most heralded recruit, but he was a quarterback coming to Notre Dame. Certain buttresses to an ego naturally come along with that, but Davis never made much of an impact on the quarterback depth chart, and his time at running back last year was marked more by miscue than by production. Thus, his flip to cornerback this spring. By all accounts, his athleticism fit there. The Irish were optimistic about his future on defense.

But losing junior Jafar Armstrong for a month or two (torn abdominal muscle) and sophomore Jahmir Smith for at least this week (sprained toe) left Notre Dame without much depth at one of the most physically-punishing positions. Davis was called upon again.

“We gave (him) the game ball, for him being so humble a player and so unselfish to flip from quarterback to running back to defense and back to the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said.

Davis did not need to be so easy-going about it all. Many players past and present would not have been. His pay-off? That 59-yard score and at a minimum one moment of spotlight, at a maximum a distinct role back within the Irish offense.

Yes, more could be coming.

“[His package in the offense] was bigger than what we featured today,” Kelly said. “We wanted to get him involved a little bit today and we didn’t want to show a whole lot today. He’s a smart kid, played high school football at a very good program. He knows the game well, was able to retain most of our offense.”

Book was just happy to have another play-maker at his disposal.

“Someone, you might switch their position, you might think it’s going to be a bigger issue than it was with [Davis],” Book said. “Shows the type of player he is and where he’s at mentally and he’s ready to go. Nothing better than to see him get that run tonight.

“I’m excited for him and I know he was, too. I like to say he belongs on offense. That’s what we like and we’ll keep him there.”

By the end of the second-quarter fireworks, not to mention Book’s two additional touchdowns in the third quarter or the pair of touchdown drives led by backups in the fourth quarter, the only score of the opening frame had been all-but-forgotten.

Down the road, it may be oft-cited as the first public moment of stardom from freshman safety Kyle Hamilton. Senior defensive end Daelin Hayes deserves a fair amount of credit for the interception returned for a touchdown, as well, being it was his astute tip of the ball that put it right into Hamilton’s breadbasket. Then it was off to the races, Hamilton needing nearly every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to reach the pylon.

“The defense kind of set it up for us,” Kelly said, implicitly nodding his head at the offense’s slow start. “The big interception by that kid, No. 14, who is — he’s around the ball. He just has a great nose for the football. The interception for a touchdown got us some great momentum, and then we were able to feed off that.”

With two pass breakups in the opener and now this interception, Hamilton is off to an aggressive and impressive start, to say the least.

By the letter of the law, Davis’ and Finke’s touchdowns were passes. The ball left Book’s hand and moved forward through the air to them. That is, by definition, a pass. After all, words have to have meaning, lest society fall into a disarray lacking any viable means of communication.

But even Book knows those shovel passes (or jet sweeps) are more akin to handoffs than throws. And in real-world terms, the distinction does not matter. Yards gained are yards gained. Touchdowns are touchdowns. The results are the results.

“I guess it feels good because it’s considered a pass,” he said. “But either way, if it was a run, I’d have been just as excited. I’d run down there and celebrate in the end zone, regardless.

“But when you have guys like that with speed who can really get around on the edge, it’s a great play design and being able to do that twice and get some big chunk plays was awesome.”

The “passes” exaggerate Book’s stats, but even if removing them, his afternoon was prolific and productive. Minus the two completions for 113 yards and two scores, Book went 13-of-22 for 247 yards and three touchdowns.

That is 11.23 yards per pass attempt, 19.0 yards per completion. Book may not yet have the best deep arm, but he did target Claypool downfield a few times, drawing a pass interference flag, and he targeted sophomore Lawrence Keys on another about 35 yards downfield, a ball Keys will learn to catch but it would be overly-critical to describe as a drop. These are the numbers and the plays of an offense finding its footing.

First Quarter
10:09 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyle Hamilton 34-yard interception return. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, New Mexico 0.

Second Quarter
11:47 — Notre Dame touchdown. Ian Book one-yard run. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 14, New Mexico 0. (10 plays, 49 yards, 3:59)
6:34 — Notre Dame touchdown. Avery Davis 59-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 21, New Mexico 0. (1 play, 59 yards, 0:10)
3:21 — Notre Dame touchdown. Javon McKinley 65-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 28, New Mexico 0. (2 plays, 80 yards, 0:28)
1:50 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 37-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 35, New Mexico 0. (2 plays, 54 yards, 0:11)
0:29 — New Mexico touchdown. Bryson Carroll 47-yard rush. Andrew Shelley PAT good. Notre Dame 35, New Mexico 7. (5 plays, 75 yards, 1:21)
0:00 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 36 yards. Notre Dame 38, New Mexico 7. (4 plays, 46 yards, 0:29)

Third Quarter
13:24 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Finke 54-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 45, New Mexico 7. (2 plays, 60 yards, 0:39)
7:19 — Notre Dame touchdown. McKinley 20-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 52, New Mexico 7. (6 plays, 65 yards, 1:58)

Fourth Quarter
14:25 — Notre Dame touchdown. C’Bo Flemister 1-yard run. Harrison Leonard PAT good. Notre Dame 59, New Mexico 7. (9 plays, 58 yards, 4:01)
7:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 22-yard pass from Brandon Clark. Leonard PAT good. Notre Dame 66, New Mexico 7. (10 plays, 88 yards, 3:49)
6:26 — New Mexico touchdown. Bobby Cole 37-yard rush. Shelley PAT good. Notre Dame 66, New Mexico 14. (2 plays, 75 yards, 0:48)

Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 220 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only three games as a freshman.
Depth Chart: Thomas’s moments of success in 2022 made him a clear starter for this coming season, the only question being at what position. By the end of spring practices, Thomas looked like the frontrunner at the boundary position, a similar big body as past boundary stars Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Austin, though significantly shorter than those predecessors.
Recruiting: Considered the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by, Thomas turned down most of the SEC as he chose Notre Dame, most notably his homestate Georgia. And any recruit chased by the Bulldogs in the last four years stands out more than usual given the overall quality of Georgia’s roster.

Thomas played all of 14 snaps as a freshman, spread across three November blowouts, but in practices leading up to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl, there was increasing hype around him possibly contributing. Then, Thomas did not play against Oklahoma State, despite then-Irish quarterback Jack Coan setting a program record with 70 dropbacks while throwing to effectively just three receivers.

That literal no-show threw Thomas’s progress into doubt. Was the hype real or the product of a fluke bowl practice?

Thomas proved it real with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season, including five snags for 66 yards in the Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. Of those 25 receptions, 18 gained a first down, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long. When Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and tight end Michael Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most frequent beneficiary.

2021: 3 games.
2022: 13 games, 7 starts; 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by three catches for 80 yards and a score against Navy.

Thomas is an avid golfer, at least as much as a Division I football player can be. (Scroll to the last picture in this Instagram post to see evidence of such.) Given NBC may be the biggest broadcast partner in golf, one would think some opportunity could exist for Thomas down the road, be it with a sponsor or simply a day watching a tournament from an up-close vantage point.

Until then, Thomas offers personalized videos for fans via Cameo.

Thomas excelled out of the slot last season, many of those first-down gains coming when he worked downfield just past the linebacker level but still in front of the safeties. That positioning was advantageous for Thomas, and he knew it.

“In the slot, I definitely feel like I can get mismatches, whether that’s a nickel, smaller nickel, safety or even a linebacker,” Thomas said this spring. “None of those people can guard me at all.”

But with senior Chris Tyree moving to receiver from running back, slot is most likely filled by his speed. Moving Thomas to boundary will require some physical growth from him, even if some analysts already mistake him for a tight end.

“Definitely in the offseason, the spring, got to gain a little bit more muscle just to help me with my physicality and also speed,” Thomas said.

“The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.

“That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.

“Notre Dame needs him to be.

“When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The ‘or seven’ will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.

“Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.

“And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.

“A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of [Braden] Lenzy, [Lorenzo] Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum. …

“Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.

“Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.

“Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, [Deion] Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.

“A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.”

Thomas met and exceeded last year’s modest expectations, more impressive when remembering he was not a consistent starter until the season’s final month. Stepping into a more leading role with a far more prolific quarterback directing the offense should amplify Thomas’s stats by default.

Are 50 catches possible? Yes, though that may be about Thomas’s ceiling this season, given Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman should want to spread the ball around his targets, and 50 receptions could be nearly a fifth of Hartman’s completions.

More precisely, Thomas continuing to provide needed chunk gains would propel Notre Dame’s offense in ways that other receivers may be unable. Continuing at last year’s rate of first downs while catching 50 passes would equal moving the chains 36 times. That may be extreme, but doing so twice per week would make Thomas one of the more crucial receiving targets in recent Irish offenses.

All of Notre Dame’s receivers, aside from former walk-on Matt Salerno, may return in 2024, and the junior duo of Thomas and Deion Colzie should be the established leaders next year. With that acknowledged reality, pondering a transfer from Thomas would be foolish.

It would take a far more prolific season than 50 catches for Thomas to ponder the NFL, not boasting elite speed or shiftiness which are the usual musts for early draft entrants among receivers.

In other words, Thomas may be looking to snag triple-digit catches across the next two seasons, if not more.

Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

One defensive lineman drops from Notre Dame’s class of 2024, consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas joins


Only a few hours after a consensus four-star defensive lineman de-committed from Notre Dame, the Irish landed a pledge from consensus four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas (Paetow High School; Katy, Texas) on Wednesday evening. After a visit to South Bend this weekend, Thomas chose Notre Dame over finalists Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Arizona.

LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC were among the others to offer Thomas a scholarship.

A two-year starter already in high school, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas’s body-type alone likely caught some recruiters’ attention. On top of that, he tested well at recruiting events following his junior season. ranks Thomas the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the class of 2024, the No. 30 overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 162 recruit in the entire class, all fitting for a player who has used his length to star at a strong level of high school football.

Length has long — pun intended — been a focus for Irish head coach Marcus Freeman along the defensive line, and Thomas’s combines with enough strength to make arm tackles without much worry of a broken carry. His stride is long enough to quickly cover ground in the backfield.

Thomas plays mostly out of a two-point stance, upright, so learning the nuances of rushing the passer from a three-point stance will be the first piece of growth ahead of him at the collegiate level. Adding some heft to his frame will also be on the to-do list, though that should occur naturally, at least to some extent, in the next 18 months regardless.

Thomas joins Notre Dame’s class the same day consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.) halted a year-long commitment.

“This decision was not made lightly, as Notre Dame has a rich football legacy that I truly admire,” Wafle wrote on Twitter. “However, I believe it’s important for me to explore other opportunities and find the best fit for my personal and athletic development.”

With Wafle’s de-commitment and Thomas’s commitment, the Irish continue to have 16 expected signees in the class of 2024 and three defensive linemen, Thomas joining consensus three-star end Cole Mullins (Mill Creek H.S.; Hoschton, Ga.) and four-star end Bryce Young (Charlotte Christian; N.C.).

Notre Dame announces 2023 NBC kickoff times, led by Ohio State and USC in prime time

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Notre Dame will host two preseason top-25 teams, possibly both top-10 teams, in back-to-back home games in prime time in 2023, the Irish and NBC announced Wednesday afternoon. Ohio State’s Sept. 23 visit and USC’s Oct. 14 arrival will both kick off at 7:30 ET.

Coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and third in the last four years, the Buckeyes look poised to again contend for the Big Ten title and a possible Playoff bid. Not to be too blunt, but the trip to Notre Dame will be Ohio State’s first genuine challenge of 2023, opening the season at Indiana before welcoming FCS-level Youngstown State and then Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame will have already played four games, including a trip abroad and a trip to North Carolina State.

That season-opening venture to Dublin will feature a later kickoff than may have been anticipated. Announced on Tuesday as a sellout, Notre Dame will kick off at 2:30 ET on NBC against Navy, much later than the 9 a.m. kickoff in 2012, the last time the Irish and the Midshipmen played in Ireland. This year’s trip is somewhat a make-up from having to scrap the planned trip in 2020, hence the unusual occurrence of Notre Dame playing a home game away from South Bend in this annual series.

After the dalliance across the Atlantic, the Irish will face an FCS-level program for the first time in history, Tennessee State and head coach Eddie George visiting on Sept. 2 at 3:30 ET. Logically, as soon as Notre Dame agreed to move its date with Navy to Dublin, meeting an FCS opponent became inevitable, either that or shoehorn in an early off week.

Instead, the Trojans will arrive in South Bend just before the first Irish off week, also kicking off at 7:30 ET on Oct. 14. With Heisman-winner, Heisman-frontrunner and contender to be the No. 1 pick quarterback Caleb Williams leading it, USC will also be a trendy Playoff contender in 2023. Competitively, the Trojans will be coming off a rather pedestrian early-season stretch.

Looking at ESPN’s SP+ rankings to gauge the first half of USC’s schedule sheds light on how likely it is the Trojans will be undefeated in mid-October. None of their first six opponents rank in the top 60 in the country, and three of them are in the bottom 30. Again leaning into the SP+ numbers, USC should be favored by three possessions in every one of those games, with the first three of those looking like edges well north of 30 points and two more being around four touchdowns.

Thus, Notre Dame and NBC should welcome multiple unbeaten top-10 teams in primetime this year.

The 33rd year of Notre Dame on NBC will feature six games aired on both NBC and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, as well as one game exclusively available on Peacock, the Sept. 16 tilt with Central Michigan at 2:30 ET.

The Irish home slate will conclude with a Senior Day showing from Wake Forest at 3:30 ET on Nov. 18, new Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman’s previous team.

Aug. 26: vs. Navy in Dublin at 2:30 ET
Sept. 2: vs. Tennessee State at 3:30 ET
Sept. 16: vs. Central Michigan at 2:30 ET on Peacock
Sept. 23: vs. Ohio State at 7:30 ET
Oct. 14: vs. USC at 7:30 ET
Oct. 28: vs. Pittsburgh at 3:30 ET
Nov. 18: vs. Wake Forest at 3:30 ET