Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 6 of 63 NOV. 2, 2019 7 UNDER THE DOME In every preseason assessment of a football team, position groups will be rated based on the experience, past production and quality depth. The strengths in 2019 were clear with the defensive end and safety positions which had two captains apiece — Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara up front and Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman on the back — leading the representation. Also considered primary assets were the experience of senior quarterback Ian Book, another captain who had the highest pass efficiency rating in the 10-year Brian Kelly era, four start- ers returning along the offensive line, and a wide receiver corps that featured 99 catches last year from the Chase Claypool/Chris Finke tandem. However, what often happens is the positions deemed as strengths are perhaps not as produc- tive as anticipated, while those that prompt more preseason concern end up becoming a surprise. Degree of expectations can often do that. Think about the areas of the team that were viewed with the most apprehension during the 2019 preseason: • Linebacker — Since the Sept. 21 outing at then- No. 3 Georgia, fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal and junior Drew White have performed far beyond outside expectations while holding off challenges from a strong corps of sophomores. Meanwhile, ju- nior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has star power that should continue to impact the Irish in years to come. Bilal shifted from rover while up- perclassmen White and Owusu-Kora- moah combined for 58 career snaps (all by White), entering this season. The trio combined for 17.5 tackles for loss through six games, all in the top three on the team individually. • Kicking game — Replacing two record-breaking four-year starters at kicker (Justin Yoon) and punter (captain Tyler Newsome) was going to lead to much angst. Yet freshman punter Jay Bramblett displayed out- standing maturity and hang time the first half of the year, while junior kicker Jonathan Doerer received the game ball for his clutch and unique perfor- mance in the victory versus USC (see more on pages 60-61), while producing well in general all year. • Interior tackles — Juniors Myron Tagovailoa- Amosa and Kurt Hinish have held their own, and then some, as first-time starters and received quality rotation help from sophomore Jayson Ademilola and freshman Jacob Lacey, who aver- aged 15 to 20 snaps per game between them. Like linebacker, this area should continue to thrive. • Running back — Despite early injuries to starter Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith, senior Tony Jones Jr. (557 rushing yards, 7.0 yards per carry, no fumbles during the 5-1 start) continued a remark- able pattern of Irish senior backs — Jonas Gray (2011), Theo Riddick (2012), C.J. Prosise (2015) and Dexter Williams (2018) — maturing into consistent, well-rounded and efficient mainstays. • Tight end — This position hardly ever seems bereft of outstanding play at Notre Dame, but when junior Cole Kmet underwent shoulder surgery in August that sidelined him the first two games, the position became somewhat of a question mark. Yet at the end of the first half of 2019, Kmet had 21 catches for 265 yards (12.6 yards) per catch and three touchdowns. If he remains healthy, he would be on pace to reach 60 catches for more than 700 yards, and break 1977 Walter Camp Award winner Ken MacAfee's single-season school record of six touchdowns by a tight end. The production of sophomore Tommy Tremble through the first six games (nine catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns) was a bonus after having redshirted in 2018. — Lou Somogyi Preseason Question Marks Now Exceeding Expectations DREW WHITE

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