Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Notre Dame at Michigan
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ⅝, 293 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: A junior, Lacey has three seasons of eligibility remaining despite already playing in 22 games in his career thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.
Depth chart: A balky shoulder — and COVID-impacted 2020 — has knocked Lacey behind junior Howard Cross as the primary backup to fifth-year nose tackle Kurt Hinish.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Lacey was the first of Notre Dame’s 2019 signees to commit, way back in July of 2017, 17 months before he would send in his National Letter of Intent. The No. 21 defensive tackle in the class, Lacey chose the Irish over finalists of Clemson, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and Tennessee.

CAREER TO DATE
Though his shoulder first started bothering him in 2019, Lacey still played in 11 games as a freshman, making 14 tackles with 1.5 for loss.

His 247 snaps were nearly 100 more than he managed in 11 games in 2020, a season in which Notre Dame’s defense did not play as many snaps in total because its offense maintained such ball control, but still the drop off for Lacey was distinct as he openly acknowledged a battle with COVID-19 impacted his conditioning.

Lacey finished 2020 with four tackles, including one for loss.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

QUOTE
The troublesome shoulder kept Lacey out of spring practices aside from some conditioning work in the later weeks.

“He’s working hard in our pit (conditioning area), staying in shape,” Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said in mid-April. “He’s leaning out his body, he’s focused and he’s got to make some progress this offseason with strength, even before the shoulder injury. He’s got a checklist of things that he’s grinding through and he’s very focused on it. We’re still getting a lot of work done with him even though he’s not on the field.”

2021 OUTLOOK
It starts with health, more so than every other case in football. Shoulder injuries have replaced most knee injuries as the trickiest to repair and come back from. Rushing Lacey back from his would only serve to further hamper his career.

But once healthy and strong enough to keep that shoulder healthy, Lacey will be a vital piece of Notre Dame’s interior defensive line rotation. Working through Hinish, Cross and Lacey will allow the first two to preserve their legs for the season’s grueling October stretch.

It will also allow Lacey a chance to prove himself once again. His 2019 was promising, but that optimism has been mitigated by these shoulder concerns. To become someone the Irish will lean on in years to come, Lacey needs to prove once again he can put together a full season.

DOWN THE ROAD
Presuming that health and season-long contribution, Lacey and Cross should then form a pertinent (and quite possibly potent) duo in 2022 and presumably 2023. Whereas Cross (and Hinish) displays an intuitive sense of penetration from the nose tackle position, and thus demanding blockers’ attention, Lacey is more a wide body that occupies the space and thus clogs up an offense.

Neither skill set is inherently better than the other. Rather, that change of pace can further frustrate an offense, having to adapt its blocking scheme as Notre Dame gladly rotates defensive linemen.

New Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman expects his defense to go as the defensive line goes, and that is not only a 2021 reality. That is what Notre Dame has built its four-years-and-counting resurgence on. Continuing that for a few more years will depend on Lacey’s shoulder more than one may expect.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
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No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman