Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 12, 2022 17 called it four times between that game and the win at Syracuse Oct. 29 — all with 1 yard needed to convert — and succeeded in gaining a first down or scoring a touchdown each time. The first instance was a 4-yard run on third-and-1 from UNLV's 37-yard line. Three plays later, with junior quarter- back Drew Pyne out of the game after taking a shot to the head on a scramble, Notre Dame called it again on first-and- goal from the 1. Evans plunged in for his first career touchdown. One week later vs. Syracuse, Evans converted on third- and-1 and fourth-and-1. "Drew comes in the huddle, it's 'Mitch-a-palooza,' and we're rolling," graduate student left guard Jarrett Pat- terson said. It's not how Evans envisioned he would help Notre Dame's offense, but it's a role he was more than willing to accept after his progression as a tight end hit a pothole this summer. He was catchless in his first three games back from a foot frac- ture suffered in July, which sideswiped a long run of positive momentum. Evans became Notre Dame's No. 3 tight end as a freshman and played all 13 games. He was on track to be the No. 2 before the injury (a role he since reclaimed). Spring practice was a showcase of his potential as a downfield receiving threat. He made progress as a blocker, a role still fairly new to him after he played quarterback, re- ceiver and tight end at Wadsworth (Ohio) High School near Akron. "Mitch really has unlimited resources in the pass game," Parker said in April. T h o s e re s o u rc e s we re s h e lve d , though, when Evans was injured during a summer workout. The foot fracture required surgery, which knocked him out for all of fall camp and the first five games of the season. It zapped a prime opportunity for growth and a chance to nail down the No. 2 tight end job behind junior Mi- chael Mayer. He lost the chance to play at Ohio Stadium in Notre Dame's opener, a game he had highlighted as an Ohio native. "The one thing I wanted to do was ex- perience camp and get better," Evans said. "That's like 20-something practices at getting better at the tight end position. "I had that thought of coming back this season, and it was a matter of when. I was going to do whatever I could do to get back. I rehabbed extra hard and did everything I could. I did extra box step- ups or whatever I needed to do." A midseason re-integration into the offense might have been trickier and might have contained fewer snaps if ju- nior Kevin Bauman hadn't suffered a torn ACL in late September. Bauman was second among Notre Dame tight ends in snaps when he was hurt. Fresh- man Eli Raridon then ascended into that role, but he tore his ACL in mid- October. Notre Dame couldn't get a full healthy Evans back soon enough. Evans stepped into the No. 2 tight end job when he returned vs. Stanford Oct. 15, playing 19 snaps. He logged at least 43 snaps in the next two games. He plays with a custom-made wrap around his foot that trainer Mike Bean designed for him. In his first three games, Evans ran 27 routes and saw zero targets. But he has 4 rushes for 7 yards and a touchdown. He was a run blocker on 80 snaps in that span, and after some initial rust, feels like he is back on the same pre-injury arc in that area. "In the spring, we focused on the first two steps and where my hand placement was," Evans said. "That's what I was say- ing with missing camp, I was like, 'I'm going to work on the first two steps and getting my hands inside midline.' "Getting back into it, the first week was a little bit rough. Everything was faster, guys coming across my face. This is different than just tempo practice. I'm picking it up, and it feels pretty good. The last two weeks, we have been run- ning the ball, so it has been really fun." He needed just a couple days to grasp the technique of the sneak, a foreign lan- guage despite his background as a high school quarterback. Every snap he took in high school was from the shotgun. The first practice after Rees and Parker told him of the plan, he took some under- center snaps from Zeke Correll and did not drop one. That was enough to con- vince Rees to call it in a game. Evans' pre-snap tasks are simple. No fancy cadence — just "Set, hut!" — snap and run in the gap between Correll and right guard Josh Lugg. Evans jogs in mo- tion after initially lining up in-line or out wide, taps Correll to let him know he's there and calls for the snap. So far, the play has batted 1.000. Evans' first attempt at it was also just Notre Dame's third sneak try on the sea- son. Injured starting quarterback Ty- ler Buchner scored on a 1-yard sneak against Marshall. An attempt with Pyne vs. North Carolina was stuffed on fourth-and-1. The Irish scrapped sneaks for the next two games. Rees, though, had an idea when he saw the Philadelphia Eagles run several of them against the Dallas Cowboys during a Sunday Night Football game Oct. 16. "They did the 'mosh' sneak, and we're like, 'We probably want a little more size in there,'" Rees said. The Eagles run it with quarterback Jalen Hurts, a 6-1, 223-pound hammer who squatted 600 pounds while in college. Pyne is 5-11 and 198. Rees knew Evans played quarter- back. He also knew Evans was nearly 6 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than Pyne. Having a tight end run the sneak or take a snap wasn't an original thought either. Former Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown for the Miami Dolphins ear- lier this year. Kansas City Chiefs all-pro tight end Travis Kelce has eight career rushing attempts. The "mosh" part is the offense mo- tioning into a tight formation after start- ing a few players out wide. Against Syr- acuse, Notre Dame brought three tight ends onto the field (including Evans) but lined them up wide along with running back Audric Estime and wide receiver Jayden Thomas. All five of them shift pre- snap. In the snap of fingers, an empty set becomes a short-yardage package. The next step for Mitch-a-palooza is making it work when everyone knows it's coming. After four attempts in two games, it's out in the open world of film study. Perhaps Notre Dame's counter is adding wrinkles to it. There will not be a Mayer-a-palooza, Rees said. But maybe a pass is in Evans' future. "It's up to Coach Rees," Evans said. "I just do what he tells me to do." ✦ "Drew [Pyne] comes in the huddle, it's 'Mitch-a-palooza,' and we're rolling." GRADUATE STUDENT LEFT GUARD JARRETT PATTERSON SAID ON EVANS' QB SNEAK PLAY

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