Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

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6 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T his November, Notre Dame's wide receiver corps must begin to "catch up" beyond just the literal sense. Other than senior Chase Claypool, who paced the Irish in catches (29), receiving yards (436) and touchdowns (four) during the 5-2 start, it's been a collectively difficult year for the wide- out corps with myriad setbacks. • Kevin Austin, potentially with the highest ceiling in a five-man sopho- more wideout corps, is reportedly serv- ing what might be a season-long sus- pension, a topic upon which head coach Brian Kelly can't and won't comment. • Junior Michael Young, the desig- nated starter on the wide side of the field (X), missed the first three games while recovering from a broken col- larbone suffered during practice in August, and officially entered the transfer portal Oct. 28 after catching only six passes for 21 yards. Young did not make the trip for the game at Michigan Oct. 26, while in the pro- cess of finalizing his decision. The 3.5 yards per catch does not fall into the deep-threat category in which Young had been pegged. While snaring seven passes for 138 yards last season, Young reeled in two of the three longest passes by the wideouts, including a 47-yard score in the 31-21 victory at Northwestern. However, he saw no extension of the opposing defenses this season, either vertically or with yards after the catch. Also a kickoff return man the past two years, Young had his best op- portunity of the year to score when he found a clear path for a potential touchdown on the second half kick- off by USC Oct. 12, but he lost control of the football without being touched before recovering it at his 36-yard line for a 32-yard gain. A native of Saint Rose, La., Young will remain enrolled at Notre Dame to earn his undergraduate degree either at the end of next spring or summer so he can be accepted as a graduate transfer and be eligible for immedi- ate action in 2020. Plus, because he played in only three games this sea- son, he will have two years of eligibil- ity remaining at his new school. "Our feelings are that we think Notre Dame is a great place, but if Mi- chael decides that he wants to move on, that's what the transfer portal is for," head coach Brian Kelly said. "He gets that opportunity and that option to pursue other opportunities." • With Young out early, fifth-year senior slot receiver Chris Finke (15 catches for 182 yards and one score) was moved to the outside, which didn't necessarily complement his skill set. • Sophomore speedsters Braden Lenzy (four catches for 87 yards and one touchdown in seven games) and Lawrence Keys III (seven catches for 70 yards) have flashed — similar to Young his first two seasons — but the overall passing game has taken a cou- ple of steps down from last season. • If there has been a surprise it's that senior Javon McKinley, who entered this season with zero career catches, caught 10 passes 242 yards and four scores entering November. Unfortunately, almost all of the damage has been done without real "game pressure." Seven catches for 189 yards and three scores came in 52-point blowouts of New Mexico and Bowling Green, and the fourth touchdown occurred at Michigan af- ter the Irish were behind 45-7. Still, McKinley has demonstrated enough progress where returning for a fifth season of eligibility in 2020 will be appealing to a receiving corps that will be without Claypool and Finke. This is where Young's return as a senior could have been an asset in 2020, but now the reliance will be on the younger corps that will need to accelerate its growth in November. Lenzy, Keys and Finke combined for zero receptions in the loss at Mich- igan while senior quarterback Ian Book went 8 of 25 for 73 yards. Claypool is the obvious mainstay with McKinley behind him. Finke will be backed up by Keys in the slot. At X, Lenzy has another sophomore behind him in Joe Wilkins, who played only 55 snaps the first seven games and is waiting to grab his first career pass, as is 6-4½, 219-pound classmate Micah Jones. Lenzy took a career-high 36 snaps at Michigan, but his lone touch was a one-yard run off a jet sweep. "They all have to be involved," Kelly said. "I thought it would be nice to catch a couple of balls here and there [at Michigan]. We got Law- rence in the game, might have been a little bit of a low throw, but we would like to see him make that catch. "We have to keep getting him in competitive situations. They all have to be in the rotation in some fashion." Beyond Claypool's star power, it must become a collaborative effort in November for the collective receiv- ing unit and overall passing game to grow. ✦ UNDER THE DOME PLAYING CATCH UP With Michael Young transferring, receiving corps is seeking more alternatives Young saw action in three games and caught only six passes for 21 yards this season before offi- cially entering the transfer portal Oct. 28. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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