Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM MARCH 2022 29 aren't eye-catching, but he was second on the team with 35 quarterback pres- sures and a strong run defender. 9. Kevin Austin Jr., WR Austin was the go-to downfield pres- ence, averaged 18.5 yards per reception, had a team-high 888 receiving yards and caught seven touchdowns. He was the most easily identified breakout candidate on the roster because of his talent and Notre Dame's dire need for him to be one. But the final numbers mask the val- leys in his season. Austin caught just 58.8 percent of his targets, went catch- less against Purdue and decidedly lost a matchup with projected first-round pick Ahmad Gardner in the loss to Cincinnati. What does that make his No. 9 pre- season ranking? Probably about right. 8. Clarence Lewis, CB The Irish had few, if any, bankable assets at corner heading into fall camp. Lewis might have been closest to that status and therein a crucial figure. He played 79 more snaps than any Notre Dame defensive player and 832 total. Notre Dame essentially had three cor- ners it trusted all season. Lewis, though, regressed from his breakout freshman year and felt more like the best option on an unspectacular unit than an impact player. He made 53 tackles, but Notre Dame needed steadier coverage and more plays on the ball than he provided (four passes broken up, one interception). 7. Cain Madden, OG Notre Dame needed guard help and imported Madden, an All-American at Marshall. That alone was worth a top-15 preseason selection. Madden was far from an All-Ameri- can for the Irish but short of the year- long liability label sometimes given to him. He started every game on a line that had multiple starters replaced due to performance. Still, his rough first five outings and Fiesta Bowl happened, too. His 21 pressures were tied for the most among Irish linemen. 6. Isaiah Foskey, DE The primary defensive breakout can- didate lived up to the expectations and made clear he was among the five most important Notre Dame players. Foskey's 11.0 sacks were the third- most in a single season in program his- tory. He added 52 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 32 pressures. He also held his own in increased coverage responsibility. 5. Jarrett Patterson, C This may be a spot or two high, but that has more to do with others leapfrogging him in importance than any struggles Patterson had. He started every game, did not allow a sack for the third straight year and surrendered just 12 pressures. 4. Kyren Williams, RB Williams' toughness and ability to fight for extra yards was crucial in a year with hit-and-miss run blocking. He was a cap- tain, ranked third on the team in catches (42), was an asset in pass protection and averaged 10.8 yards per punt return. His fingerprints were all over the of- fense, and he was the heartbeat of it with 1,002 yards rushing and 17 total touchdowns. 3. Jack Coan, QB Coan had an argument for No. 1 in the preseason because of the position he played, but the lack of certainty around him compared to Ian Book kept him out of the top spot. That argument is stron- ger now, even if his two benchings high- lighted the fair reason to put someone else first in the preseason. He started ev- ery game, completed 65.5 percent of his passes, and threw for 3,150 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. It's fair to think Notre Dame didn't have a great chance at 12-0 or a College Football Playoff win with Coan lead- ing the offense. Would it have gone 11-2 with Pyne or freshman Tyler Buchner instead? That's far from a clear yes. 2. Michael Mayer, TE No Irish player ran more routes (422), saw more targets (95) or caught more passes than Mayer (71). He set the pro- gram record for catches by a tight end in a single season. He had 840 receiving yards and set another Notre Dame tight end record with seven touchdowns. He improved as a run blocker and will head into the 2022 season as arguably the best tight end in college football. 1. Kyle Hamilton, S Hamilton's case for postseason No. 1 is shaky with him playing just half the season, but his time on the field and away from it are reasons for him to re- main in the top five. Hamilton was Notre Dame's best de- fensive player pre-injury. He was aver- aging five tackles per game, had a team- high three interceptions (which still tied for the lead), broke up four passes and made two tackles for loss. ✦ PATRICK ENGEL'S POSTSEASON TOP 25 MOST VALUABLE NOTRE DAME PLAYERS RANKING 1. Jack Coan, QB 2. Kyren Williams, RB 3. Isaiah Foskey, DE 4. Michael Mayer, TE 5. Kyle Hamilton, S 6. Jarrett Patterson, C 7. Joe Alt, OT 8. Cam Hart, CB 9. Jayson Ademilola, DT 10. Kevin Austin Jr., WR 11. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, DE 12. Drew White, LB 13. Kurt Hinish, DT 14. Andrew Kristofic, OG 15. Jack Kiser, LB 16. JD Bertrand, LB 17. Justin Ademilola, DE 18. Tyler Buchner, QB 19. Lorenzo Styles, WR 20. Chris Tyree, RB 21. Josh Lugg, OT 22. Clarence Lewis, CB 23. DJ Brown, S 24. Avery Davis, WR 25. TaRiq Bracy, CB Junior running back Kyren Williams' impressive 2021 season — 1,541 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns — backed up his status as one of Notre Dame's most important players. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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