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Friday at 4: National Signing Day’s Things We Learned & Things We Knew

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From a pure numbers perspective, Notre Dame went above and beyond by signing 27 recruits this cycle. To a degree, that was expected. As soon as the Irish exceeded 23 recruits, the effect was the same, only increasing: Each signee meant another roster spot needs to be found by August. That was known.

It was not known the final piece of that boom would be consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (pictured above). His 11th-hour and unexpected commitment put Notre Dame’s defensive back haul over the top, joining consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown in choosing the Irish on Wednesday. Signing seven defensive backs in one class is a bit extreme, but considering a year ago included only two safeties and no cornerbacks, the overcompensation served a purpose.

Joe Wilkins (rivals.com)

To that point, Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght acknowledged Wednesday the influx of defensive backs could allow for some flexibility for the likes of consensus three-star Joe Wilkins, who excelled as a receiver as much as a defensive back in high school.

“I think there is going to be some two-way play for him when he first gets here,” Lyght said. “To really find out where his skillset is best served on this team, whether that be on the defensive side of the ball or on the offensive side of the ball, that’s too soon to be determined, but we’ll know soon enough.”

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Not that the receivers exactly need another piece to consider, either. Consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys appeared to be trending toward the Irish before this week, but sealing the deal with him created a receivers class of four, equally balanced between speed and physicality. Keys and consensus four-star Braden Lenzy offer the breakaway speed that can single-handedly force a coverage adjustment, while consensus four-star Kevin Austin and rivals.com four-star Micah Jones offer physical threats possibly ideally designed for sideline receptions.

“That’s the goal. Year-in and year-out you want to make sure you bring in a different skillset and that you’re not one dimensional,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said. “We’ve got quickness, we’ve got speed, we’ve got size, we’ve got a little bit of everything. That’s what you should do each year you bring in a group of receivers.”

The Irish may have had that with or without Keys, but considering the numbers game inherent to college football, doubling up on speed doubles the chances of it making an impact down the road. (See: Stepherson, Kevin.)

This class’s depth of defensive backs and receivers will be cited for a time to come. Eleven of the 27 recruits fill the edges of the passing game, be it on offense or defense or, in the case of Wilkins, perhaps both. In a year when Notre Dame did not excel in defensive line recruiting, focusing on the pieces of the aerial game served as an adequate alternative. If this class leads the Irish to the bowls always mentioned as a season’s goal, those two position groups will almost certainly be heavily involved.

Pardon the second usage of the following quote just today, but it best underscores the Irish success this year in recruiting defensive backs and receivers.

“From an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is [as] good as any class that we’ve recruited here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “… When I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we’ve done there.”

Admittedly, what the Irish had done at those two positions was largely hit-or-miss. If looking at the last three classes via rivals.com ratings, even just the top-end recruiting has yielded inconsistent results. Last year, Notre Dame managed only one defensive back (safety Isaiah Robertson) rated as highly as each of this year’s top two defensive backs (safety/cornerback Houston Griffith and safety Derrik Allen) and top two receivers (Austin and Lenzy).

In 2016, two receivers matched that ranking, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley. The former broke out a bit this past fall while the latter has been hampered by injuries. A total of five defensive backs reached that recruiting ranking. The cornerbacks (Julian Love, Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn) have largely lived up to that billing while the safeties (Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan) have not, just like the rest of the safeties on the Irish roster.

Similarly, three receivers met that metric in 2015, and their careers covered the spectrum. Equanimeous St. Brown is already headed to the NFL, Miles Boykin may be a starter Sept. 1, and C.J. Sanders is transferring out of the program. The two defensive backs offer a similar range: Finally healthy, Shaun Crawford excelled this past season; Mykelti Williams never took a snap for Notre Dame.

The objective here is to reinforce a point Kelly made while discussing the incoming depth.

“They’re all young players, and they’ve got to prove themselves.”

That echoed both common sense and words from recruiting coordinator Brian Polian on the first day of December’s early signing period.

“Let’s be careful about who we are anointing the next stars,” Polian said then. “… Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level, but sometimes it takes time, and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.”

Jarrett Patterson (rivals.com)

Speaking of the early signing period, it stacked the deck for the Irish to close this strongly. Kelly described the last six-plus weeks as “extremely intentional.” Notre Dame knew it needed defensive backs, and it got them in spades. It wanted a couple more offensive linemen, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn made a strong first impression in retaining consensus three-star Luke Jones’ commitment and in bringing in three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. The Irish hoped for a running back, and consensus three-star C’Bo Flemister will help relieve some of the burden felt by a depleted position group.

But let’s not forget the two areas already known to be excellent.
Notre Dame signed 3 four-star linebackers. Two of them, along with consensus three-star Ovie Oghoufo, enrolled early. As strong as the Irish coaching staff finished in recruiting defensive backs and receivers, this linebacker group is the best in recent memory, to say the least. It is not beyond feasibility to envision three of them starting as sophomores, nor would that necessarily be a bad sign.

And any year in which Notre Dame signs the quarterback it initially targeted can be counted a success at that position.

So, if defensive back, receivers, linebackers and quarterback were all recruiting wins, and offensive line and running back filled the depth as necessary, then 2019’s goal is clear: Defensive line recruiting will be the driving priority.

Thus spins the never-ending recruiting cycle.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Lawrence Keys, consensus three-star receiver

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Lawrence Keys

McDonogh 35 High School; New Orleans

Measurements: 5’11”, 160 lbs.

Accolades: Consensus three-star prospect, No. 22 recruit in Louisiana, per rivals.com.

Other Notable Offers: Holding offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma, Keys’ recruitment came down to Notre Dame and Texas.

Projected Position: Receiver.

Quick Take: Keys brings more speed to the Irish receiving corps. His measurements may indicate he is slight of frame, but that would not be wholly accurate. Nonetheless, time spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program will diminish those concerns and help Keys fit more in line with what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long typically prefers in receivers.

Short-Term Roster Outlook: Notre Dame’s current receivers do not boast an excess of top-end speed, especially after the dismissal of current sophomore Kevin Stepherson and the intended transfer of junior C.J. Sanders. Keys will not arrive as highly-touted for his speed as classmate Braden Lenzy will, but if he can establish himself before the Oregon track star does, then there may be a role for Keys right away.

Long-View Depth Chart Impact: Even if Lenzy gets the nod ahead of Keys this season, the latter will have plenty of chances moving forward, considering they are essentially the only two burners in the Irish receiving room at the moment. Junior Chris Finke is certainly quick and graduate transfer Freddy Canteen was brought in largely for his speed when healthy, but neither has the ability to take the top off a secondary like Lenzy and Keys should.

Keys is the fourth receiver in this class. That is quite a haul in every respect, and from a pure numbers standpoint, it sets up Notre Dame very well for the next few years.

U.S. Army All-American Bowl, featuring five Notre Dame signees: Who, what, when, etc.

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WHO? More than a hundred of the best high school seniors of the class of 2018, including five Notre Dame signees and two more targets, one of which will announce his commitment during the game.

The signed commits: Consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Rivals.com four-star tight end George Takacs.
Consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola.
Consensus four-star linebacker and possible future rover Shayne Simon (pictured above).
Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen.

Consensus five-star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (Mater Dei High School; Anaheim, Calif.) will announce a commitment to either USC, Stanford or the Irish during the game. The Trojans seem his most likely choice.

Consensus four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (Mater Dei H.S.; Anaheim, Calif.) will also play in the exhibition, with Notre Dame still among the contenders for his commitment.

WHAT? Arguably the top of the high-school all-star games, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is in its 19th season, having featured more than 400 eventual NFL players, per its website.

WHEN? 1:00 p.m. ET.

WHERE? The Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas. The game will be broadcast on NBC, hence its featuring in this space.

If considering watching online, this should work out for you.

WHY? It is a pretty simple argument: This will be the last chance to see these incoming freshmen in any form of competition until September, with the exception of Takacs. The Naples, Fla., product will enroll this month and should be involved in the Blue-Gold Game to conclude spring practices. Otherwise, the five, perhaps seven, will be behind a figurative curtain until any action seen in the fall.

Of the committed five, at least three of them and possibly four are likely to play for the Irish in 2018, with Takacs ironically the exception.

Ademilola’s and Simon’s chances of seeing consistent defensive snaps will rise significantly if current juniors defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’von Coney opt to head to the NFL rather than return for their final seasons of collegiate eligibility. Coney’s decision notwithstanding, Simon seems primed for special teams duties.

Derrik Allen (rivals.com)

Allen may well become a starter, as has been detailed concerning the situation at safety. He told ND Insider’s Tyler James he strives to prove he is ready for that possible opportunity.

“Just show people I can move,” Allen said of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “I’m fast. I can play safety at the next level. Show people I can do it.”

Similarly to Allen at safety, Jurkovec’s potential impact at quarterback speaks as much to the dearth of confidence there currently as it does to his talent.

ALLEN’S RESPONSE TO ELKO’S DEPARTURE
He may be only a high school senior, but Allen’s reaction to Notre Dame defensive coordinator departing for the same gig at Texas A&M was more mature than most fans’ or even current players’.

“Part of the buisness [sic],” Allen posted to Twitter on Thursday. “Sign to a place cause of their cultures and beliefs not because of a coach.”

Phil Jurkovec (rivals.com)

HOW COME JURKOVEC ISN’T ENROLLING EARLY?
Any debate about enrolling early seems unnecessary and inconceivable for those through college or irrationally cheering for a particular football team. But do not forget the subject of the debate is still a high schooler, looking to appropriately conclude what has been nearly two decades with friends. The cliché example of that nostalgic concept is prom. There are other reasons at hand, though.

Jurkovec has not only excelled on the gridiron at Pine-Richland High School, Gibsonia, Pa., but also on the hardwood.

“I’ve been playing [basketball] my whole life, so I wanted to play [this year],” Jurkovec told James while in San Antonio. “It helps me, too. For me, it shows I’m not really tapped out with football, because I don’t play football year-round. Playing basketball has really helped me develop athletically.”

BY HOW MUCH? Just kidding. It would take a real degenerate to know of a betting spread on a high school exhibition game.

WHO ELSE? Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith and consensus four-star linebacker Jack Lamb partook tin the Under Armour All-American Game earlier this week.

ANOTHER OUTGOING NOTRE DAME TRANSFER
Freshman defensive end Jonathon MacCollister announced on Twitter on Friday he will head to Central Florida … as a tight end. Originally from Florida, MacCollister spent this season on the sideline, as he will be required to again in 2018 due to transfer restrictions.

“I would like to thank the University of Notre Dame and Coach [Brian] Kelly and his coaching staff for giving me an amazing opportunity to be part of one of the best institutions in the country,” MacCollister wrote. “I would also like to thank my teammates for accepting me into their family and treating me like their brother from day one, and to me they will always be my brothers.”

One of two defensive ends in his class, along with Kofi Wardlow, the likelihood of MacCollister seeing imminent playing time decreased with the rapid development of sophomore Khalid Kareem and the presumed return of senior Jay Hayes after a productive season from the veteran. Additionally, sophomore Daelin Hayes (no relation) continued strong progression and MacCollister had a future of competing with sophomores Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji for any remaining playing time.

At tight end, MacCollister never would have seen the light of day with the Irish.

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF THE CITRUS BOWL VICTORY:
Book and Boykin heroics give Notre Dame a Citrus victory
Things We Learned: Kelly is open to a Notre Dame QB competition; WRs emerge
Things We Learned from the season: 10-3 Notre Dame is two glaring holes from being much more

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF DEPARTURES:
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko leaves for Texas A&M
Friday at 4: Notre Dame not at fault in Mike Elko’s departure, but the next decision could determine 2018
C.J. Sanders to transfer from Notre Dame; DT Pete Mokwuah, as well
Notre Dame’s leading receiver, Equanimeous St. Brown, heads to the NFL
One-time Notre Dame Heisman candidate, Josh Adams declares for the NFL

OUTSIDE READING:
Future Irish QB Phil Jurkovec catches Notre Dame’s fantastic Citrus Bowl finish
Analysis: Sizing up Brian Kelly’s next step after Mike Elko’s departure from Notre Dame
Fisher tabs Elko as Aggies’ defensive coordinator
Nelson, Yoon make AP All-Bowl Team
Under Armour All-America Game viewing guide for Notre Dame fans
USC QB Sam Darnold declares for NFL Draft
The final steps of Baker Mayfield’s inimitable college football career ($)

Notre Dame’s turnovers lead to 38-20 loss and 9-3 finish

Associated Press
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STANFORD, Calif. — Notre Dame had a chance to seize every ounce of control at Stanford on Saturday, just like the Irish had an opportunity in November to force their way into the forefront of the national conversation. By failing to deliver a blow to the No. 21 Cardinal, No. 8 Notre Dame completed its fall to a disappointing 9-3 conclusion from a strong 8-1 beginning.

The final ledger will point toward three fourth-quarter Irish turnovers as the catalyst to the 38-20 loss. Head coach Brian Kelly cited them directly and frequently afterward.

“Each game that we’ve lost this year, we’ve turned the football over against quality opposition,” Kelly said. “… We turned a good game into a not-so-good game by turning the football over late.”

That is not an inaccurate telling of the game, but it is incomplete. Notre Dame outgained Stanford 415 yards to 328, but could never establish its running game, averaging only 4.58 yards on 38 rushes (sacks adjusted). The Cardinal sacked Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush six times, keeping him hemmed in for 81 yards on 11 rushes otherwise. Specifically, that was a piece of Stanford coach David Shaw’s game plan.

“I was not subtle this week about containing the quarterback,” Shaw said. “We had to keep him inside. … Get [Wimbush] to a sideline, he’s going to kill us either with his legs or his arm.”

Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson (29) and Notre Dame’s offense never found consistency during the 38-20 loss at Stanford on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Wimbush added 249 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-28 passing, though the scores and 158 of those yards came on two plays alone, an 83-yard touchdown to sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson and a 75-yarder to junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

Wimbush also threw two interceptions, two-thirds of the crippling dynamic Kelly focused on.

“I thought we were in a good rhythm,” Wimbush said. “I thought we had control of what was going on. I felt good about what we were doing.

“Can’t turn the ball over at that time.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The turnovers did in Notre Dame. That can hardly be denied. Yet, the Irish were not exactly humming before Wimbush’s first interception.

When junior Shaun Crawford downed a punt at Stanford’s one-yard line, he set up the Notre Dame defense to force the Cardinal’s hand. It quickly led to a three-and-out. Junior Chris Finke returned the ensuing punt all the way to the 19-yard line, breaking a tackle before finding a crease. Suddenly, the Irish were set to take a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter, having held Stanford largely in check all night.

“We’ve been really good all year about taking those possessions and turning them into touchdowns,” Kelly said.

That is not what happened.

To be clear, the Cardinal did not stop Notre Dame; the Irish did themselves in. Two procedure penalties created a first-and-20 from the 29-yard line. Stepherson gained all 10 of those yards back on a jet sweep — one of the few designs offensive coordinator Chip Long could count on this last month — but the momentum was already gone. The following two plays lost another two yards and Notre Dame settled for a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

“I didn’t feel like it was slipping away in that sense, but I felt like we left some points out there,” Kelly said.

Per usual, fifth-year left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey was even more blunt about the mishap.

“Just dumb penalties,” he said, himself guilty of the second penalty with a false start. “It can’t happen. That’s the only thing you can say about that.”

The Irish took an ideal situation, squandered it entirely on their own and by the time they had another chance to threaten, Stanford had scored three unanswered touchdowns to create the final 38-20 margin.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
The Cardinal took a 31-20 lead with most of the fourth quarter remaining. Notre Dame was very much still in the game, if not for possibly having already checked out mentally. Irish junior C.J. Sanders took the kickoff from the goal line and did not even get the ball to the 20-yard line. Instead, he deposited it on the grass to be recovered by Stanford.

The Cardinal did exactly what Notre Dame did not after Finke’s punt return. It took great field position and turned it into seven points.

Wimbush will get the headlines and the brunt of the criticism for his two turnovers, but he was not alone. The mistakes came in a number of varieties.

“We played really good football teams and turned it over,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to put yourself in a bad situation. There’s not that guys were tired, not mentally sharp, [or] they didn’t come ready to play. They came ready to play. They were ready to win today.

“Got to hold onto the football. Can’t turn it over.”

Stanford took two short fields and turned them into touchdowns. Notre Dame took a short field and turned it into a field goal. Remove the former scores and turn the latter into a touchdown, and this game would have been 24-24. Obviously, that isn’t how football works.

“It’s what we thought it would be,” Kelly said. “We thought the game would get into the fourth quarter and we’d have a chance to win it. We didn’t expect to turn the football over a couple of times.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Wimbush’s first interception created one of those short fields for the Cardinal. After the debacle of a possession off the Finke punt return, Stanford scored a touchdown to take a 24-20 lead. On the very first snap afterward, Wimbush tried to force a pass to fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe for about a 10-yard gain.

He did not see Cardinal sophomore linebacker Curtis Robinson reading the passer’s eyes and jumping the route.

“I just didn’t see the Buck defender drop,” Wimbush said. “Then he got into my window. I thought I could squeeze it in there. He made a great play.”

Down only four points, the Irish were in good position to regain control. Three plays later, Stanford had all the control after sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello found senior tight end Dalton Schultz for a 12-yard touchdown pass.

“Brandon is a competitor,” Kelly said. “He’ll bounce back. He is who he is, he wants to win as bad as anybody.

“He’ll go back to work and work on his craft. He’s our starting quarterback. He’ll be starting in the bowl game.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
On the Notre Dame-specific side of things, the focus would go to either junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (six tackles, three for loss including one sack) or St. Brown (five catches, 111 yards, one touchdown).

Notre Dame limited Cardinal junior running back Bryce Love’s big plays, but he still found his way to 125 yards on 20 carries. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

For the game, the honor goes to Cardinal junior running back Bryce Love. Playing with a sprained ankle, as he has much of the season, Love took 20 carries for 125 yards. He broke only one run for more than 30 yards (31, to be exact), but he did enough to mandate the Irish defense’s attention all evening.

“It was tough,” Love said. “It’s just part of the Stanford brand of football, though. We enjoy those gritty games where you have to fight for yard after yard. That’s kind of what it was the first two quarters.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Things turned south for the Irish in a hurry, both in the game and in the season. Only 15 days ago, they were No. 3 in the College Football Playoff selection committee poll, 8-1 and looking to make a statement at Miami. Now, Notre Dame is 9-3 and likely headed to a bowl game in Orlando.

To start the fourth quarter Saturday, the Irish led 20-17 and looked to be in position to slug out a physical win at The Farm for the first time since 2007. In just three minutes and 36 seconds, the Cardinal turned that into a 38-20 margin.

QUOTE OF THE EVENING
The outsider’s focus right now may be backward, a retrospective of the season. Inside the locker room, however, the bowl game looms.

“Like any other game, we got to learn from this one and move forward,” junior running back Josh Adams said. “Got to really get back to that grind, finish this [season] out strong. We want to do it the right way, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
3:40 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kevin Stepherson 83-yard reception from Brandon Wimbush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 0. (3 plays, 86 yards, 0:39)
0:43 — Stanford touchdown. Trent Irwin 29-yard reception from K.J. Costello. Jet Toner PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 7. (5 plays, 72 yards, 2:49)

Second Quarter
11:29 — Stanford touchdown. JJ Arcega-Whiteside four-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 14, Notre Dame 7. (6 plays, 55 yards, 2:40)
2:36 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 38 yards. Stanford 14, Notre Dame 10. (15 plays, 69 yards, 4:34)

Third Quarter
14:48 — Notre Dame touchdown. Equanimeous St. Brown 75-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14. (1 play, 75 yards, 0:12)
10:23 — Stanford field goal. Toner 24 yards. Notre Dame 17, Stanford 17. (9 plays, 64 yards, 4:19)
1:23 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 38 yards. Notre Dame 20, Stanford 17. (4 plays, -2 yards, 2:43)

Fourth Quarter
13:46 — Stanford touchdown. Kaden Smith 19-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 24, Notre Dame 20. (7 plays, 70 yards, 2:31)
12:21 — Stanford touchdown. Dalton Schultz 12-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 31, Notre Dame 20. (3 plays, 29 yards, 1:22)
10:10 — Stanford touchdown. Cameron Scarlett three-yard rush. Toner PAT good. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 20. (4 plays, 18 yards, 2:06)

Gilman denied immediate eligibility; Alizé Mack healthy; Depth chart notes

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Sophomore safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman will not play in Notre Dame’s opener against Temple this Saturday. Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Tuesday the NCAA denied Gilman’s request for a waiver to be immediately eligible after his transfer. Notre Dame may yet appeal the ruling, Kelly said during his weekly press conference.

“We obviously feel as though we’ve got some information that we would like the NCAA to see,” Kelly said. “I don’t make that decision … but I think we have some information that we probably would like to share.”

Gilman’s appeal was based around the military changing its stance on how professional athletic aspirations would conflict with one’s service. Gilman made 76 tackles in his one season with the Midshipmen, good for second on the team, while also adding five tackles for loss and five pass breakups. Whether eligible this season or not, he has three years of eligibility remaining at the moment.

Without Gilman on the depth chart, the two-deep roster released by Notre Dame on Tuesday morning has junior cornerback-turned-safety Nick Coleman starting at field safety with sophomore Jalen Elliott getting the nod at boundary safety ahead of classmate Devin Studstill. Freshman Isaiah Robertson fills in behind Coleman on the depth chart, though it is conceivable sophomore cornerback Julian Love sees time on the backline, as well.

Mack at 100 percent
Junior tight end Alizé Mack has battled a nagging hamstring injury for the last couple weeks, but Kelly said he is fully healthy at this point.

“He’s looked really good and has been very active,” Kelly said.

Perhaps a nagging hamstring injury before the season does not usually warrant second-billing in a press conference notebook like this, but after he missed last season due to an academic suspension, Mack’s return has been long-heralded. Especially in new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system and its preference for using multiple tight ends, having Mack around from the outset could be crucial for the Irish offense.

Seven freshmen in the two-deep, including two DTs
Including Robertson, five freshmen have positioned themselves well to see playing time Saturday. Receiver Michael Young is listed as one of the two backup options behind graduate student and Arizona State transfer Cam Smith, along with junior C.J. Sanders.

Josh Lugg will back up Quenton Nelson at left guard while Robert Hainsey handles that duty at right tackle. Kicker Jonathan Doerer will handle kickoff duties, allowing junior Justin Yoon to focus on placekicking.

Most notably, Notre Dame’s second set of defensive tackles is composed entirely of freshmen, beating out players years their elder. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa will back up senior Jonathan Bonner and Kurt Hinish will back up junior Jerry Tillery.

“They have the physical ability to go in there and compete,” Kelly said of the young duo. “They’re strong, they possess the mental capability to handle what we’re throwing at them in terms of picking up the coaching techniques.”

Despite that praise, Kelly did try to temper expectations for Tagovaiola-Amosa and Hinish. The starters remain Bonner and Tillery. Juniors Micah Dew-Treadway and Brandon Tiassum could still see some playing time. At some point, junior Elijah Taylor could return from the LisFranc fracture he suffered in the spring.

“We’re talking about a role that we believe [the freshmen] can fulfill for us,” Kelly said. “… We’re not asking them to play 40-50 snaps. These are small roles that we’re going to ask them to play, and we think that they can handle that type of role that we’re prescribing them.”

Along with the freshmen, the Irish defense should routinely incorporate a number of backups this weekend. Senior defensive end Andrew Trumbetti is listed as a co-starter on both ends of the line, along with sophomore Daelin Hayes and senior Jay Hayes. Junior Te’von Coney is listed as an “OR” starter with senior captain Greer Martini. Whether or not Trumbetti or Coney actually starts, each will see plenty of playing time.

“Eleven guys playing 85 snaps is not the kind of defense that we’re about,” Kelly said. “Trumbetti is a guy who can play either end position for us, so right away he’s a guy that comes to mind as somebody that’s going to be sharing both sides of that. Te’von Coney, obviously, with Greer immediately. We can talk about more than two corners being on the field. We mentioned the two freshmen are going to have to play a role in the defensive line rotation.

“Just right there, you’re talking about 15-16 defensive players immediately having to be in a rotation.”

With the expectation of Long running an up-tempo offense and thus creating more possessions and plays, it will be even more vital for Notre Dame to have fresh options on defense.

Only Rees and Elko up in the box
Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees and defensive coordinator Mike Elko will be the sole coaches in the press box for the Irish this weekend, with the rest of the staff patrolling the sidelines. This is a bit more drastic split than has been seen in recent years.

Kelly said he makes those decisions based on what the coordinators prefer. Long, for example, wants to be immersed in the game as he makes play calls.

“He wants to get a feel and a comfort level,” Kelly said. “… He’ll start the first game on the sideline and see how that rolls.”