Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame
Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 335 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Fisher has four seasons of eligibility remaining. Not all that long ago, his appearance in the Fiesta Bowl would have cost Fisher a year of eligibility, but the uniform four-game eligibility exception removed that gray area from injury concerns to everyone’s benefit.
Depth Chart: Fisher will start for Notre Dame at right tackle, a year after beginning the season at left tackle before an injury — and then two more injuries to others — gave classmate Joe Alt a chance to star.
Recruiting: An All-American and rivals.com five-star, Fisher ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Indiana, the No. 6 offensive tackle in the class and No. 25 overall prospect in the country. Thus, expectedly, he held a scholarship offer from every pertinent program.

CAREER TO DATE
Fisher was the second freshman to ever start on Notre Dame’s offensive line in the season opener when he took the field at left tackle at Florida State last year, then a slight meniscus tear ended that role in less than a half. Initially, then-Irish head coach Brian Kelly suggested Fisher could return at some point midseason, but Kelly was notoriously optimistic when discussing injury timelines with the media.

Instead, Fisher improved enough to practice in the lead-up to the Fiesta Bowl, and when starting right tackle Josh Lugg needed surgery, Fisher was quickly deemed his replacement in the bowl game. He held up for 70 dropbacks, facing the best pass rush in the country. With freshmen book ends on the offensive line, Notre Dame gave up just two sacks on those 70 pass plays.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Remember when Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended in-season for selling his autograph in 2014? A key moment in the narrative shift around college players profiting off their own name, Gurley deserved none of that scrutiny, a nuisance current players are fortunately spared.

QUOTES
Sometimes a November quote does not get used in weekly game coverage because it is not entirely pertinent in that particular moment. When linebacker Drew White commented on Fisher and Alt as the Irish readied to face Virginia last November, the focus was on the Cavaliers’ potent offense and the questionable availability of their star quarterback Brennan Armstrong, so White’s thoughts on the pair of young offensive tackles were never relayed to the masses.

“They’re pretty mature for how young they are,” White said. “They’re also ginormous, so that helps, as well. Those are some really tall and big dudes.”

The lack of a red squiggly line under ginormous is how we learned that is actually a word and not merely an amalgamation of giant and enormous.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Despite all the springtime praise, it should not be presumed Fisher starts in Tallahassee. If he does so, he will be the first Notre Dame freshman starter on the offensive line in the season opener since Sam Young in 2006. And Baker is a quality player himself.

“But all that springtime praise makes it seem likely Fisher will start, quite possibly alongside (Rocco) Spindler. At that point, all bets are off.

“Many will see a pair of 18-year-olds starting on the offensive line and punt on the Irish season. That would be rash. Both Fisher and Spindler played at a collegiate level this spring, somehow.

“There will undoubtedly be hiccups, just as there would be with Baker getting his first true action, but if Fisher can find some footing in September and maintain through the grueling stretch that awaits the Irish in October, he could put together a November impressive enough to garner even more hype entering 2022. …

“It feels distinctly rash to look at a player that has not seen a single collegiate snap and ponder him jumping to the NFL after his junior season, but given that the Irish have produced only first- and second-round draft picks from left tackle during the entire Brian Kelly era, the thought of Fisher starting as a true freshman plays right into him heading to the draft after the 2023 season. (To again acknowledge one’s own error, suggesting 2023 would be when Fisher might first start was conservative to a fault.)

“To risk pulling this into a bigger and broader conversation than any “99-to-0″ entry warrants, at some point the years remaining in Kelly’s tenure need to be considered. This past spring, Aaron Banks became the first offensive lineman in Kelly’s 11 years to spurn one more season for the NFL draft when a first-round possibility was not assured. Banks going in the second round proved the logic to his decision, but the intended point is that Kelly and his staff have made a habit of talking elite offensive linemen back into one final season. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey top the list of those who benefited from such persuasion, but the list covers Kelly’s 11 years.

Come 2023, though, Kelly will have been at Notre Dame for 14 seasons. If he is retiring then — not a prediction, just an acknowledgment that with every season passed, the odds of Kelly stepping away increase — that sales pitch may not land with the same effectiveness. Fisher could head to the NFL after only three seasons, not that anyone could blame him.”

2022 OUTLOOK
The hype around Fisher was surprisingly muted this spring. Few Notre Dame practices were open to the media, Fisher never met with the media, and much of the offensive line content bandwidth went toward Harry Hiestand’s return as offensive line coach.

That hype will come this August. All the reasons Fisher earned the starting left tackle gig as a freshman are still applicable, but now he should be a bit stronger and with better fundamentals thanks to Hiestand.

“You can see there’s a very talented player there and someone that’s learning on the job and learning how to be the best player he can be,” Hiestand said of Fisher this spring. “Normally, those conversations are about fundamentals or things we saw in practice we’re trying to emphasize. We’re trying to get our technique to be tremendously consistent.”

Fisher’s technique was never sloppy, but it can yet become an asset.

Four members of the starting Irish offensive line are clear in Fisher, Alt, sixth-year right guard Josh Lugg and fifth-year interior lineman Jarrett Patterson. They average 313 pounds and 6-foot-6 ¼. Notre Dame’s offensive line is going to garner notice once it is solidified in August.

When that happens, Fisher will once again draw attention. Once the season starts, the combination of him and Lugg should give the Irish a vintage power side — anecdotally, that is usually on the left side, so that flip alone will spur a few stories. Fisher has proven himself adept in blitz pickup, but at this point in his career, his best skill is power in run blocking, and that will be featured a bit more on the right side.

That may sound odd, but it comes down to the wide side of the field vs. the narrow side of the field. With a right-handed starting quarterback, more plays will start on the left hash mark so he can more comfortably buy time rolling to the right,, making the right side of the field the wide side. Any offense is more likely to run around tackle on the side of the field with more room to operate.

Fisher will set an edge there, likely picking up some linebackers as he does so. Frankly, purely from a “good football is fun” perspective, those run plays could become some of the most enjoyable highlights of the Irish season.

DOWN THE ROAD
The earliest 2024 mock drafts will begin populating in October or November. Is that too soon? Absolutely. Do those articles still get published because they are very widely read? Indeed.

Will they include Fisher and Alt? Most likely.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77* Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65* Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59* Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 57* Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter

Scroll Down For:

    Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

    55 Comments

    Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

    ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

    “One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

    Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

    His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

    He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

    That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

    Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

    Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

    That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

    “I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

    Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

    In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

    Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

    For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

    He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

    The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
    Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

    Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

    3 Comments

    Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

    The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

    Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

    Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

    His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

    While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

    If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

    RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
    Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
    Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

    CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

    Notre Dame v North Carolina
    Getty Images
    9 Comments

    Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

    “Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

    “In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

    Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

    Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

    Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

    A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

    His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

    With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

    In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

    “You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

    There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

    HART CAREER STATISTICS
    2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
    2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
    2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

    Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
    Getty Images
    22 Comments

    There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

    USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

    “We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

    Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

    “USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

    If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

    Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

    And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

    The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

    Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

    Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

    Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

    Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

    But it was, regardless.

    His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

    If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

    Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

    The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

    Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.