Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 14, 2020

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

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12 NOV. 14, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME UNDER THE DOME CAMERON EKANAYAKE NAMED RHODES SCHOLAR FINALIST Senior walk-on running back Cameron Ekanayake has been named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. The science-business major from Edwardsburg, Mich., owns a 3.71 GPA and as a postgraduate wants to study economics and public health in an effort to aid medical efforts in underserved areas. "Throughout my experiences, I have learned that there is no shortage of good people in the world, people who truly want to help others," Ekanayake said. "However, what I quickly realized was that this 'want' to help others was not limited by how compassionate people were, but rather by other factors such as economic, institutional and political constraints. "I want to focus on these factors that are keeping these people from reach- ing their full potential to help others." After a potential Rhodes Scholarship, he hopes to attend medical school and pursue a career as a specialized cardiothoracic surgeon. Ekanayake's mother, Sureeni, is a Notre Dame graduate who works in the school's investment office as an accounting manager. — Lou Somogyi JAFAR ARMSTRONG SHIFTED TO WIDE RECEIVER The combination of need at receiver and an established rotation at running back resulted in the shift of senior Jafar Armstrong back to wideout — where he was originally recruited when he signed with Notre Dame in 2017. The move began in preparation for the Oct. 31 Georgia Tech game — where he played two snaps — and was confirmed by head coach Brian Kelly during Clemson week when he was listed behind fifth- year senior Javon McKinley at boundary receiver. Entering the 2020 season, Armstrong returned with the most career rushing yards (505) and pass receptions (27) on the current roster among players who had suited up only at Notre Dame. How- ever, he found himself fourth on the run- ning back depth chart because of the emergence of leading rusher and sopho- more Kyren Williams, freshman Chris Tyree and junior C'Bo Flemister. Meanwhile, in late October the wide receiver rotation had lost junior Kevin Austin Jr. to foot surgery and junior Braden Lenzy to a nagging hamstring that had slowed him the majority of the season. "We felt like where we are in the program, the three backs we have are pretty constant and con- sistent, more comfortable there," Kelly said. "We think [Armstrong] can be much more of an impact player for us at wide receiver. He will continue to work there and eventually when he gets a little more time there, he's going to help us." When he signed with Notre Dame in 2017, Armstrong had set the Kansas state record in career touchdown receptions with 45 while helping lead Bishop Miege to its third consecutive Class 4A DI state championship. His 172 career catches accounted for 3,744 yards (21.8 yards per grab). After redshirting as a freshman, Armstrong was moved to running back because of a shortage of bodies that included Josh Adams turning pro his junior year, Deon McIntosh and C.J. Holmes getting dismissed from school, and Dexter Williams suspended for the first four games. Armstrong scored two touchdowns in his debut during a 24-17 victory over Michigan before an injury in the fourth game limited him the rest of the season. He began the 2019 campaign as the starter after Williams' graduation, but an abdominal injury on the opening series of the year slowed him significantly, and he finished with only 122 yards on 46 carries (2.7 yards per attempt) to go with 13 receptions for 97 yards. During Notre Dame's 6-0 start this season his 17 carries netted only eight yards and a score, and he added three catches for 38 yards. Armstrong could have two more years of eligibility at Notre Dame, per the 2020 NCAA ruling. — Lou Somogyi SHORT-RANGE GOALS Entering last week's showdown versus No. 1 Clemson, senior All-American running back Travis Etienne of the Tigers and sophomore Kyren Williams of the Irish had virtually identical rushing numbers. Etienne was 11th nationally with 103 carries for 606 yards, while Williams was 12th at 105 carries for 600 yards. One other similarity they shared was in the week prior both coughed up the football for the third time this season — with Etienne's returned for a 97-yard score by Boston College while Wil- liams' resulted in a 93-yard tally by Georgia Tech. Mental resolve was vital in both cases to bounce back in those victories while getting right back up on that horse that threw them. "You can't get down on yourself," Williams said. "If you get down, you are going to keep on making mistakes. I just know that I've got to shake it off, brush it off and come back stronger. … I'm doing my thing to make sure that doesn't happen again, so I am not really worried about that." Such self-assuredness is crucial whether one is a two-time ACC Player of the Year and the league's all-time rushing leader like Etienne, or someone like Williams, one of the game's up-and-comers after redshirting last season as a freshman and reshaping his body. "It wasn't my time to play," Williams said of 2019. "I accepted that role, I accepted that I would have to wait … I don't think it had anything to do with my ability or anything to do with the coaches not believing in me. I just think I needed another year to mature and become a more developed football player." Notre Dame's identity on offense this year under first-year coordinator Tommy Rees and run game coordinator Lance Taylor centers on the ground at- tack, especially third-and-short yardage. Last year the Fighting Irish converted only 24 of 52 (46.2 per- cent) chances they had on third-and-three or less: • 21 of 32 on third-and-one for 65.6 percent. • 2 of 10 on third-and-two for 20 percent. • 1 of 10 on third-and-three for 10 percent. Heading into the Clemson game this season, they were 28 of 36 overall (77.8 percent) in such situations on third and fourth down, including 6 of 6 versus Pitt, which had the nation's top-ranked run defense. "As soon as Coach Rees got the job as offensive coordinator, our first meeting early in the spring, that was something he really harped on, being 100 percent on third-and-short," junior center Jarrett Patterson said. "Quite frankly, we weren't up to that standard … weren't even close. That's something we take a lot of pride in [now]." "They're moving the line of scrimmage every single run," Williams said. "When you believe that, you can stay patient and you can tip-toe behind the line and still be able to get to the hole you need to get to. That's when you know you have a good offensive line. We're very grateful for them." Over the long run, the short gains matter. — Lou Somogyi During his high school career, Armstrong averaged 21.8 yards per catch and set the Kansas state record with 45 career receiving touchdowns. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS EKANAYAKE

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