Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2020

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

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8 OCT. 17, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME No, Unless Tyler Buchner Becomes A Game-Changer By Lou Somogyi Notre Dame's 2020 haul on offense was deemed the best at the school since 2008, when five-star prospects such as wide receiver Michael Floyd, tight end Kyle Rudolph and quarterback Dayne Crist, plus top-100 running back Jonas Gray, signed. Five-star Jordan Johnson was the highest-rated wide receiver to sign with the Irish since Floyd. The same with Michael Mayer at tight end since Rudolph. Mayer already has the look of a three- year college player (like Rudolph was). Meanwhile, four-star Kevin Bauman would be a regular at tight end already at a lot of Power Five schools. Wideout Xavier Watts also was ranked as a four-star by two services. The difference in these classes could be 2020 top-100 running back Chris Tyree, who immediately earned a spot on the two-deep. Had the Irish been able to secure Will Shipley (Clemson) in the 2021 harvest, then I would call it a wash at that position. With five-star Blake Fisher and four-star Rocco Spindler, among others, the 2021 group has the edge along the line, although tackle Tosh Baker and guard Michael Carmody also were top-250 recruits in 2020. Meanwhile, quarter- back Tyler Buchner (the nation's No. 80 overall player per Rivals) will arrive in January with more fanfare than current freshman Drew Pyne (No. 118). Buchner is right around the same place as Brandon Wimbush in 2015 and Phil Jurkovec in 2018, so we'll see how that plays out. If Buchner becomes a game-changer, then the 2021 group might even- tually become better. For now, 2020 might have a slightly bigger impact collectively. Yes, The 2021 Overall Unit Is Deeper And Stronger By Mike Singer Notre Dame's 2020 offensive class was top heavy, and freshmen running back Chris Tyree and tight end Michael Mayer have already made their presence known. The jury hopefully won't have a to make a verdict on quarterback Drew Pyne for quite some time. I am high on his talents, but 2021 signal-caller Tyler Buchner already has a ton of hype and is a true dual-threat as a runner and passer. Notre Dame's running back in the 2021 class is Logan Diggs from Louisiana, a three-star with a lot of promise. He's a different type of back than Tyree because he's more of a bruiser. What he lacks in speed he makes up with shiftiness and that southern swagger everyone loves. At receiver, the 2020 haul included a five-star in Jordan Johnson and a pair of three-stars in Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle, per Rivals. The 2021 group has three top-200 players, including Lorenzo Styles Jr., who is just one notch below five-star status according to Rivals' recruit scale. As much as I like the Irish's tight end commits in 2021, I don't have the same expectations for Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans as I did for Mayer and Kevin Bauman. I love the quartet of offensive linemen the Irish have assembled in 2021, headlined by Blake Fisher, a five-star, and Rocco Spindler, the No. 59 overall player nationally per Rivals. I give the 2021 haul the edge at quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line, while the 2020 group looks better at running back and tight end, at least on paper. Point ✦ Counterpoint: ARE THE RECRUITS ON OFFENSE IN NOTRE DAME'S 2021 CLASS BETTER THAN ITS 2020 HAUL? TYLER BUCHNER (2021) CHRIS TYREE (2020) Like each of the other four Notre Dame head coaches this fall season, third-year Irish volley- ball skipper Mike Johnson faced the challenge through the spring and summer of preparing a team for a season that might not happen because of coronavirus. Through all of it, an abbreviated eight-game volleyball schedule was built and the 2020 season began, but with a much different look from previ- ous years. With an objective to limit team travel, the ACC has eliminated non-conference games and placed its 15 schools into three regional pods of five teams each, meaning two matches against each of the four pod members. Notre Dame shares its pod with Pittsburgh, the defending ACC champion and the league coaches' preseason pick to repeat in 2020; pe- rennial power Louisville; Syracuse; and Boston College. The Irish were picked to finish fourth in the league this season. Notre Dame won its season-opening match 3-0 at Louisville Sept. 25, with all three games decided by only seven points total. Blue & Gold Illustrated caught up with Johnson to discuss the strange offseason and what he thinks this 2020 team can accomplish. BGI: The season is young, but what do you like about your team so far? Johnson: "When we opened the season, what I was so impressed with was really just how hard we played, how hard we competed. "There were a number of oppor- tunities where the match could've gone the other way, and the way our team kept believing, kept competing, our effort was really impressive." BGI: Looking back to the spring and summer, what were your thoughts while try- ing to prepare players during quarantine without even knowing if there would be a season? Johnson: "I really believe that in every difficulty lies an opportunity. And so, as we went through summer, as we kind of went through quarantine — with film study, conditioning on your own and self-discipline — I really viewed it as an opportu- nity where we can really gain an advantage on all of our competitors. "I felt that if we could quarantine better than our opponents it would give us a great shot at beating them on game day." BGI: What message was most important for your players to embrace during all the uncer- tainty of those months? Johnson: "Certainly the year was different. Our players didn't step into the gym for probably about six months. But I also just felt that if we could do a better job with film, if we could do a better job with our conditioning, if we could do a better job in the things just related to being a team, if we could do that better than everyone else in the ACC, then we can win the ACC." BGI: And when the players returned, how satisfied were you that they took the mes- sage to heart? Johnson: "I think that's measured in a number of ways. The most obvious is in improvement, and I can honestly say that we had players get better over quarantine, just through the way that they studied film; that's the first. "The second is through our physical tolerance, how hard were we capable of training earlier in the season? I think through those we were able to see just who did quarantine well and how well we did it." BGI: After the hard-fought road win against a really good Louisville team, what's next? Johnson: "I look to see us continue to take that to a higher level and continue to improve. I really like where this team can end up if we continue to do that." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … NOTRE DAME HEAD VOLLEYBALL COACH MIKE JOHNSON JOHNSON

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