Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

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Page 35 of 99

36 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED lowing week against Virginia Tech and was pulled in the first half, Rees and company put Buchner on the field. Pyne never played. That spoke volumes. Buchner has attempted 36 passes in his career. Pyne has attempted 33. Those statistics are a wash. Whoever starts at Ohio Stadium in September is going to be entrusted with doing something nei- ther has done before — starting a college football game. There's no position more important. Thus, the anticipation for Labor Day weekend through that lens is astronomical. A NEW-LOOK STAFF In the immediate aftermath of the Notre Dame coaching change from Kelly to Freeman, it seemed as if Freeman was going to retain almost all of Kelly's for- mer assistants. Running backs coach Lance Taylor an- nounced he'd stay. So did defensive line coach Mike Elston and tight ends coach John McNulty. All three have since taken jobs elsewhere; Taylor became Louisville's offensive coordinator, Elston went to his alma mater to coach the defensive line at Michigan and McNulty was promoted to offensive coordinator at Boston College. Freeman let go of offensive line coach Jeff Quinn after the Fiesta Bowl. Same went for wide receivers coach Del Alex- ander. Special teams coach Brian Polian bolted for LSU to stick with Kelly before the bowl game. Just like that, Freeman had more than a handful of assistant coaching decisions to make. He made some of them swiftly. He landed on Cincinnati's Brian Mason for the special teams role. Harry Hiestand is returning to coach the offensive line. Washington has filled defensive line va- cancy. Most recently, Indiana's Deland McCullough and West Virginia's Gerad Parker were hired as the running backs and tight ends coaches, respectively. As of early February, all Freeman hadn't done was name a new defensive coordinator. Whoever he chooses will likely coach the linebackers, too, which were both Freeman's duties in 2021. Since the debacle of a 4-8 season in 2016 and subsequent coaching changes, Notre Dame has more or less stuck with the same group of assistants over the last five years. Elston, Polian and Alex- ander became permanent fixtures on Kelly's staff. Taylor and McNulty had been around a couple years. Now every- body outside of Rees, Freeman, safeties coach Chris O'Leary and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens are new. How the newly assembled group works together is absolutely something worth monitor- ing this season. A TOP-TIER D-LINE Notre Dame fifth-year senior defen- sive end Justin Ademilola wasn't shy in sharing his goals for the Notre Dame defensive line in 2022. "It's going to be awesome," he said. "Hands down the best D-line in the country. We're going to bring it day in and day out." That's a subjective take. Does anyone even know who had the best defen- sive line in 2021? Georgia? Alabama? Oklahoma State? Pittsburgh? There's a handful of defensive lines that could claim to have owned that title. So maybe it's just better to be in the con- versation. Notre Dame was on the cusp of it last season, and maybe Ademilola is right — they could be one of the top- of-mind names in the debate in 2022. Ademilola's 5.0 sacks ranked second on the team behind Isaiah Foskey (11) last season. Both are back to hold down the "vyper" defensive end position. Ademilola's twin brother, Jayson, is also Rising sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner was an integral part of the Irish offense in 2021, but it'll be a whole new challenge for him if he's named the team's starter in 2022. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Justin Ademilola (above) finished second on the team with 5.0 sacks behind Isaiah Foskey (11.0) in 2021, and both pass rushers are back in 2022 with the all-time Irish single-season sack record in their sights. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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