Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2020

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

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8 FEBRUARY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Offensive Line Will Be Expected To Set The Tone By Lou Somogyi The offense graduates its top two wideouts in Team MVP Chase Claypool plus Chris Finke, and junior tight Cole Kmet (as of Dec. 31) was weighing his option to turn pro. Defensively, the secondary will be in a state of flux, although standout freshman safety Kyle Hamilton does provide All- America-level talent. Thus, it might come as a shock that my selection is the offensive line — projected to be the most seasoned unit on the 2020 team. All five starters from the beginning of this season return, along with top reserve Josh Lugg, and they have com- bined for 114 career starts, a figure one seldom sees. Under Jeff Quinn, the offensive line has earned high marks and plaudits in pass blocking, but often been cited for poor technique and lack of push and physicality in the ground game — specifically against top opponents. In the three losses the past two years to Clemson, Georgia and Michigan, the ground game outputs were 88, 47 and 46 yards, respectively, whereas the opposition accumulated 211, 152 and 303. Notre Dame has morphed into a consistent top-seven to top-15 program the past three seasons, especially on defense with coordinator Clark Lea, while special teams also became a more consistent asset in 2019. Notre Dame's offense has demonstrated it can put up points and yardage against decent (Iowa State, USC, Virginia and Virginia Tech) or badly out- matched defenses, but it repeatedly disappoints, especially on the ground, against the better ones. To evolve into that tier-one group in the upcoming decade, the veteran 2020 offensive line must take the lead and assert itself — by land and by air. Cornerbacks The Easy Choice For Top Concern By Todd D. Burlage With all due respect to my colleague, at least the Irish offensive line returns intact, experienced and with minimal plug-and-play uncertainty. As for the Notre Dame cornerbacks, just the prospect of replacing gradu- ated standout Troy Pride Jr. brings more anxiety to this unit than the of- fensive line will face through the entire preseason and beyond. Add to Pride's absence the group's inexperience, the health of Shaun Crawford (expected to return), some looming coaching uncertainty on whether CB coach Todd Lyght will be back, and some elite quarterback-receiving tandems on the 2020 Irish schedule, and this becomes the area of greatest concern for Notre Dame. Junior-to-be and returning starter TaRiq Bracy provides someone the Irish coaches can build around within this position group. And if Crawford returns and stays healthy all season — seemingly a big if — that helps, too. Beyond that, it's dicey, especially after the experiment with sophomore Houston Griffith last spring resulted in him moving back to safety. The three-man incoming freshman class of three-star players is considered more of a project group than an impactful one. And, lest we forget, the Irish face Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and star wide receiver Justin Ross in early November, and then get the chal- lenge of stopping a lethal USC passing attack led by either Kedon Slovis or JT Daniels throwing to star-studded receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake Condon in the season finale. Improved play along the offensive line certainly will be worth tracking next season. But finding stability among the cornerbacks is a bigger challenge, and a greater priority. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH POSITION GROUP WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN 2020? OL LIAM EICHENBERG CB TARIQ BRACY Former Notre Dame men's basketball captain Scott Martin recently found himself ready to leave behind the game he loves to start a finance career in the real work world. The Irish team MVP in 2011-12, Martin battled injuries during his time as a player at Notre Dame (2008-13) but still managed to parlay a solid 84- game college career into a successful five-year professional career in Europe. Upon his return to the U.S. in 2018, Martin took a job at investment firm Merrill Lynch, where he lasted about eight months before making his return to the sport as the development and recruiting coordinator for the Notre Dame men's basketball program. Martin's responsibilities include supporting the program's recruiting strategy during the offseason and assisting with day-to-day team operations dur- ing the season. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey hired Martin for the job last July when another for- mer Irish player, Eric Atkins, left the position open to take an assistant coaching job at Howard University. BGI: What's a day in the life like on your new job? Martin: "It varies between in season and out of season. I handle all the film work, coordinating that, and getting the coaches what they need, cut- ting up game film and cutting practice film up, so that's a big portion of the job right now. "In the offseason, it's obvi- ously a lot more recruiting heavy." BGI: How did this opportu- nity come about? Martin: "I was at a for- mer teammate's wedding [Zach Hillesland], I ran into Coach Brey and that's how we started talking about this position. I was working at Merrill Lynch when this op- portunity came up. Coach Brey really didn't have to twist my arm too hard to come here; I jumped on it." BGI: What was the appeal to coming back to Notre Dame? Martin: "I'm from Valparaiso, [which is] not too far away from Notre Dame, so it was nice to get a job that is close to home. And Notre Dame will always be like home to me. This really is like a second go-around; it's great to be home." BGI: Where do you hope this position can lead you someday? Martin: "I want to definitely coach, that's kind of where the trajectory I'd like to take with this. But right now, I have a lot of great guys and current coaches who I get to learn from and teach me things. Right now, I'm just enjoying it, and taking every day, and getting through the first season for me." BGI: Since this was an un- familiar position for you, was there much of an adjustment learning how Coach Brey wants the job done? Martin: "Lucky for me is hav- ing played for Coach I kind of knew stuff that he looked for, stuff that he liked and it was an easy transition in that aspect, being familiar with the program helps a lot. I know what he likes and I know what he looks for and that has helped ease the transition for me." — Todd D. Burlage FIVE QUESTIONS WITH … Notre Dame Basketball Development And Recruiting Coordinator Scott Martin Martin's responsibilities include supporting Notre Dame's recruiting strategy during the offseason and assisting with day-to-day team opera- tions during the season. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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