Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

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

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Page 30 of 63 JANUARY 2022 31 team. He had 44 total stops, which were the fifth most on the team. He also had four sacks, which ranked solo third. Foskey and Hamilton were really all anybody wanted to talk about this sea- son when it came to the Notre Dame defense. That duo, and of course Free- man in his first year with the team. But Ademilola just plodded along quietly as one of the most dominant defensive figures in the locker room. 3. Avery missed the final three games of the regular season after tear- ing his ACL and still finished fourth on the team in receptions (27) and third in receiving yards (386). He was well on his way to a 500-yard season, especially considering the de- fenses Notre Dame went up against in the final three games. A team captain and one of the most revered players by team- mates on the roster, Davis didn't always necessarily get his due from people out- side the team. He definitely deserved to. BEST "NEXT OPTION" 1. DJ Brown — A worthy candidate for most improved as well, Brown raised his hand when Kyle Hamilton suffered a knee injury Oct. 23 against USC that turned into a season-ender. With an as- sist from sophomores Ramon Hender- son and Xavier Watts, Brown ensured Notre Dame's defense didn't crumble without its All-American safety. Brown struggled in a sub-package role as a junior last year, but turned himself into one of the Irish's best tacklers this season and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He made 37 tackles (1.0 for loss) and broke up one pass. Pro Football Focus tagged him with just two missed tackles, tied for the fewest among Irish players with at least 300 snaps. 2. Tyler Buchner — There were ups and downs as expected from a freshman quarterback, but Buchner provided a change of pace as a run threat this year in a complementary role to graduate stu- dent starter Jack Coan. He was a neces- sary run-game spark early in the season. Buchner is Notre Dame's second- leading rusher, with 336 yards, and aver- ages 7.3 yards per carry to go with three touchdowns. His only extended action as a passer was Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech, which started with two touchdown drives but ended with a pair of interceptions. Following it, he completed eight straight passes over a span of three games. 3. Howard Cross III — The under- sized but slippery junior nose tackle filled in for graduate student Kurt Hinish with aplomb in a pair of early season games. In starts against Wisconsin and Cincinnati, Cross combined for five tackles, three pressures and 1.5 tackles for loss. Even in a rotational role, his first-step quickness and disruptive ability from the interior were hard to miss. At 6-1 and 275 pounds, he's light for a nose tackle, but his "violent hands" — as teammates call them — and burst allow him to slip into backfields. All told, he has 20 tackles (4.5 for loss), three sacks and 12 pressures. FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR 1. Joe Alt — The 6-8, 305-pound tackle arrived in June with star upside, but fig- ured to need a year or two before reaching it. Earning a spot on the second-team of- fensive line in fall camp signaled he might be further along than anticipated, but still a likely reserve and redshirt. Turns out, he was Notre Dame's blind-side stabilizer, even though he was option No. 4. An injury knocked out opening day starter (and fellow fresh- man) Blake Fisher for the regular season after just one half at Florida State. Inju- ries and inconsistency from sophomore Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody over the next month opened the door. Alt started Notre Dame's final seven games, surrendering just two sacks in seven pressures in that span. 2. Logan Diggs — A turf toe injury to No. 2 running back Chris Tyree created an opening for Diggs to make his season de- but at Virginia Tech. He impressed to the point where he hasn't left the rotation, even after Tyree returned. He ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries (4.7 yards per rush). With Kyren Williams off to the NFL Draft and skipping the Fi- esta Bowl, he could be in line to start. 3. Tyler Buchner — A 26-yard carry on his first career snap. Two touchdown drives on the road at Virginia Tech. A 68-yard rush in Notre Dame's final home game. A 55-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of a tense game versus Toledo. There were valleys for Notre Dame's freshman quarterback, but the peaks were impressive and critical in keeping Notre Dame's offense afloat in the first half while it searched for something sus- tainable. Another player viewed as a red- shirt candidate coming into this year, Bu- chner completed 60 percent of his passes while throwing for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. ✦ Senior safety DJ Brown stepped up in All-American Kyle Hamilton's place when the junior was lost for the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury suffered against USC Oct. 23. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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