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 9 UNDER THE DOME 8. The offensive line greatly im- proved in the second half. Lugg and Madden weren't the only ones to stabilize down the stretch. The starting five of Joe Alt, Andrew Kristofic, Jarrett Patterson, Madden and Lugg only allowed 22 total pressures in the last seven regular-season games. Yes, the defenses ranged from mid- dling to poor, and the sound protection didn't carry over to the bowl game. But when Notre Dame gives up six sacks to Toledo, any progress shouldn't be un- derstated. 9. Notre Dame gave 10 starts to freshman tackles. Not the most encouraging sign for the 2021 offensive line, but a promising one for 2022-23. Alt was a Freshman All- American. Blake Fisher's Fiesta Bowl performance indicated he might have been one if not for his meniscus injury in the season opener at Florida State. 10. Michael Mayer surpassed two single-season tight end records. Mayer caught 71 passes this season, breaking Tyler Eifert's program record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season (63 in 2011). He finished with 840 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The latter also set a school record for a tight end. 11. The defense tied the single- season sack record with 41. The Irish matched their 1996 total of 41 sacks, with defensive end Isaiah Foskey supplying a team-high 11. Only Stephon Tuitt (12 in 2012) and Justin Tuck (13.5 in 2002) had better single-season numbers. 12. Jayson Ademilola led Notre Dame with 43 quarterback pressures. A nod to one of Notre Dame's most underrated players, who also ranked fifth on the team in tackles (49) despite his position on the interior line. Ademi- lola's motor stood out as much as his pass-rushing skills. 13. Cam Hart impressed in cover- age, holding quarterbacks to just a 61.1 passer rating when throwing to his man. Notre Dame received the breakout season it needed from Hart, a junior cornerback. He allowed catches on just 48.5 percent of his targets, snagged two interceptions and broke up seven passes. The receptions against him av- eraged just 10.5 yards. Quarterbacks had a 61.1 passer rating when throwing his way. 14. Kyle Hamilton remains the only Notre Dame player with dou- ble-digit passes defended (10) in a season since 2019. If there's one stat that highlights Notre Dame's need for more talent in the secondary, it's this one. The prob- lem boiled over in the Fiesta Bowl, when Notre Dame had zero passes defended on 51 Oklahoma State attempts. Hart in 2021 and Nick McCloud in 2020 had the second most in that stretch (nine). 15. Hamilton's range and closing skills limited opponents' passer rating to 55.6 or lower for the third straight year. There's not a more fitting descrip- tion of Hamilton than "eraser" — coined by former head coach Brian Kelly. He covered up mistakes. He came out of nowhere with his rare range to pick off or bat down passes. He anticipated and sniffed out run plays. His second inter- ception against Florida State stands as arguably Notre Dame's most impressive individual defensive play of the year. 16. Notre Dame burned 10 fresh- man redshirts last season. Some were out of need. Some were because the player was ready to help. Some were a mix of both. Either way, Notre Dame improving over the course of the year as it threw more freshmen and sophomores into the mix was an unexpected development and a credit to the coaching staff. 17. Notre Dame ranked 10th na- tionally in third-down defense. This was the first area Freeman stud- ied after two wobbly games to begin the year. By the end, Notre Dame was a third-down force because of its blitz packages and short-yardage sturdiness. All told, Irish opponents converted just 32.24 percent of their third downs. 18. Notre Dame ranked fourth in opponent red zone touchdown rate. You could get Notre Dame's defense to bend. Without chunk gains, it was hard to break. The Irish allowed touch- downs on 38.3 percent of opponent red zone possessions. Even in the bowl game, Oklahoma State reached the end zone on only 4 of 9 red zone tries. 19. Notre Dame ended the season with only five healthy scholarship wide receivers. That included none from the 2019 a n d 2 02 0 s i g n i n g c l a sse s. X av i e r Watts moved to defense and Lawrence Keys III left the team after the opener. Joe Wilkins Jr. and Avery Davis suffered season-ending injuries. Suddenly, Notre Dame had three freshmen and two seniors left at receiver. That's a recipe for throwing 68 passes with essentially a three-man rotation, which Notre Dame did in the Fiesta Bowl. 20. Most team win/loss streaks continued in 2021. Notre Dame will begin the 2022 sea- son with 42 straight wins over unranked teams, 24 straight regular-season wins over ACC teams, 10 road wins in a row and 42 consecutive wins when favored. Kelly won all the games he was sup- posed to win in recent years. One won- ders if a season with a first-time head coach might offer more appreciation for that. Any streak-busting will be easier for fans to forgive if Freeman wins a game or two he shouldn't — especially in Columbus, Ohio, next Labor Day Weekend. Freeman's debut, though, pushed Notre Dame's New Year's Six game losing streak to 10. Also, Cincinnati snapped Irish's 26- game home winning streak on Oct. 9, so the Irish hit reset and that mark now stands at four entering 2022. 21. Brian Kelly was the first Notre Dame coach in 114 years to leave for another college job. This job kicks coaches out for substan- dard performance or exhausts them from its demands. Not since Thomas A. Berry's Notre Dame to Wisconsin switch in 1907 had an Irish head coach voluntarily exited for another college coaching job. ✦

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