Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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4 NOV. 27, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W ith the 47-40 double-overtime win over Clemson in the books, and hopes alive for a second appearance in the College Football Playoff in three years — and also a third postseason title run after reaching the BCS National Cham- pionship Game eight years ago — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was asked last week to compare this 2020 team with his previous two title hopeful squads from 2012 and 2018. Kelly explained that while the 2012 team had great individual players, the 2020 unit is deeper and more talented when evaluating the entire roster. "There were some really good pieces about that [2012] team," Kelly explained. "But this [2020] team obvi- ously has a lot more experience, depth, athleticism and speed. So in many ar- eas, quite different from 2012." As for comparisons between 2020 and 2018, Kelly said greater physical- ity up front is the prime difference. He illustrated his point after Notre Dame recorded 208 rushing yards against Clemson while holding the Tigers to only 34 yards on the ground. "Controlling the line of scrimmage is what my vision was in terms of what a championship football team looked like," Kelly said. "And then the other pieces come together in dif- ferent forms, but that physicality was certainly at the heart of it." Blue & Gold Illustrated took the ques- tion of Kelly's best team a step further and broke it down by best position groups year-by-year during his first 10 seasons on the Notre Dame job. Of the eight units we evaluated, the 2018 Irish were deemed the best in three categories, the 2017 and 2012 teams each claimed two top spots, and the 2015 team featured one. We based these evaluations on depth, success and production from each group during each season. All of this is fodder for debate, but what an all-star team it would make. Quarterback 2018 — Junior Ian Book and senior Brandon Wimbush They complemented each other be- cause of their different skills, Wimbush with his legs that helped beat Michigan in the opener and Book predominantly with his arm. Their contrasting styles blended into a 12-0 regular season and into the College Football Playoff. Running Back 2017 — Junior Josh Adams, junior Dexter Williams, sophomore Deon Mc- Intosh and sophomore Tony Jones Jr. Depth stands out with this four- some. Adams paced the group with 1,430 rushing yards and nine touch- downs, while the other three com- bined for 960 yards and 12 scores. Wide Receiver 2018 — Senior Miles Boykin, junior Chase Claypool and senior Chris Finke It's hard not including one of the previous Irish teams that featured the game-breaking Will Fuller. But the bal- anced production of this trio earned the nod. All three had at least 49 catches and 550 receiving yards while combining for 14 touchdown catches. Tight End 2012 — Senior Tyler Eifert, sopho- more Ben Koyack and sophomore Troy Niklas Eifert earned All-American honors, the John Mackey Award as the na- tion's best tight end, and a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Nik- las eventually became a second- round draft pick (2014) and Koyack went in the seventh round (2015). Offensive Line 2015 — Senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley, sophomore left guard Quen- ton Nelson, fifth-year senior center Nick Martin, junior right guard Steve Elmer and junior right tackle Mike McGlinchey As good as the 2020 offensive line is, this 2015 unit will stand as one of the best in Irish history. Stan- ley (2016), Nelson (2018) and Mc- Glinchey (2018) all ended up first- round draft picks, and Martin (2016) went in round two. Defensive Line 2012 — Fifth-year senior end Kapron Lewis-Moore, junior nose guard Louis Nix III, freshman tackle Sheldon Day and sophomore end Stephon Tuitt Little debate here. This unit — along with senior linebacker Manti Te'o — carried the Irish to the 2012 national title game. This quartet combined for 32.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks, and all four became NFL Draft picks. Linebacker 2017 — Junior Te'von Coney, senior Nyles Morgan, senior Drue Tranquill, and senior Greer Martini Perhaps not the most NFL-talented unit to choose, but it remains the deepest group Kelly has fielded. Led by Coney with 116 stops, these line- backers finished No. 1 through No. 4 in individual tackles that season, and combined for 32 stops for loss, five forced fumbles, four fumble recover- ies and two interceptions. Defensive Back 2018 — Junior cornerback Ju- lian Love, junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., junior safety Alohi Gilman and junior safety Jalen Elliott Gilman finished second on the team with 94 tackles, Elliott was fourth with 67 and led it with four interceptions, consensus All-America Love paced it with 15 passes broken up (a year af- ter recording a school record 20), and Pride added 10 passes defended along with two interceptions. ✦ The Win Over Clemson Inspires A History Lesson UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Stephon Tuitt led the way for a talented defensive line in 2012 that combined for 32.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks to help the Irish to a 12-0 regular-season record and a berth in the national title game. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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