Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 26, 2022 15 with a different plot than expected. Ev- ery day, buying into it is a choice. But one he's happy to make. "You handle it one of two ways," Lenzy said. "You go about it and do it correctly and in a mature way for the betterment of the team, or you go about it in a pouty way. You can feel both sides when you're on a team. It's an act of choice you have to make every day." ACCEPTING A ROLE Even after the 5-catch, 67-yard game versus Navy, Lenzy had totaled just 19 catches for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns through 10 games. He ran 232 routes in that span, per Pro Football Focus — sec- ond on the team behind tight end Michael Mayer — and had just 33 targets to show for them. He has been a run blocker on almost as many snaps (230) as he has run routes. His outburst against Navy came after two straight catchless outings. The deep-ball chances Notre Dame has afforded Lenzy have often gone sideways because of a throw that sailed, a block that was missed, a sack that didn't need to be one or a route not run well enough. He has been targeted 11 times on throws that travel at least 20 yards downfield. Just three of those have turned into catches. All that makes a SportsCenter-wor- thy moment even more special. It's also proof of concept for Notre Dame coaches, who have asked receivers to embrace an imperfect offense's run-first identity for the betterment of the team. "He's resilient," head coach Marcus Freeman said. "He's a guy who didn't complain, continued to come to work, continued to work his tail off. "As I tell guys all the time, you don't know when your reward comes. For Braden, the ability to continue to work tirelessly throughout the season, and all of a sudden, you have a game where you're called upon, the ball comes your way and you're able to make some huge catches." That maturity comes with five years of college football that have contained no shortage of speed bumps. Injuries sideswiped Lenzy's 2020 season and nagged in 2021. The breakout visions after a 2019 season in which he aver- aged 18.9 yards on 24 touches with 4 touchdowns haven't materialized. They might never materialize. It's not the ideal script for a career. Just like this year has not been the story he thought he would write when he re- turned for a fifth season. But it's one he embraced without complaining. "I'd love to say it was hard, but it wasn't," Lenzy said. "That comes with time. Maybe it would be if I was younger. I just want to win." Notre Dame learned its winning for- mula with a backup quarterback and a limited passing game was to lean on its offensive line and rushing operation. In doing so, a flawed offense became functional. The Irish won three straight games by running for at least 223 yards before changing course vs. Navy. They ran for 287 and 234 yards in wins over North Carolina and BYU, respectively. Mean- while, they had plummeted to 117th na- tionally in pass attempts per game (25.3) entering play Nov. 19. They have as many games with 10 or fewer completions than games with 20 or more (three). In beating Clemson Nov. 5, Notre Dame posted its fewest passing yards in a win since 2003. In beating Syracuse, it gave two running backs at least 20 car- ries for the first time in 20 seasons. Lenzy has found himself blocking more and catching less, but learned how to put it in perspective. "When your game plan is run, run, deep shot for your big plays, you live and die by that," Lenzy said. "It's not a bad thing. When it comes to these, you have to take what you have. We knew if we could really pound the rock, people would eventu- ally start loading the box and we'd have to throw. Navy was the game we felt that was about to truly happen and manifest it." 'JUST WANT US TO WIN' Oddly enough, the Navy game offered arguably the best example of how this season has challenged Lenzy. With about six minutes left in the game, Notre Dame called a shot play for Lenzy after starting a drive at its own 38- yard line. The Irish led 35-24 and wanted to effectively end it. They put three tight ends on the line of scrimmage and split Lenzy out as the only receiver. It was a similar look to the formation for two straight run plays the prior drive. This time, the call was play action with a nine man-protection. Lenzy was the sole route runner and had a one-on-one with no safety help. The ABC broadcast didn't show his entire route, but he confirmed the popular assumption was correct. "It's a touchdown," Lenzy said. "A touchdown or a huge play." If the ball was thrown, that is. Mayer, in a rare pass-protection assignment, lost the block on Navy safety Rayuan Lane III and allowed a sack. Lenzy's second touchdown of the game instead became the latest in a long line of his 2022 almost-had-its. That list starts with a potential 73-yard touchdown right before halftime vs. Marshall. Lenzy ran past a defender on a post route, but quar- terback Tyler Buchner's throw sailed long. If completed, it might have changed the outcome of an eventual 26-21 loss — and perhaps the rest of the season. He did his job, but wa s n 't rewa rd e d with a highlight. These are the spots where frustration knocks on the door. Lenzy hasn't opened it, though. "I've had many drops in my career, whether it be practice or in a game," Lenzy said. "You remember that. You want to encourage everyone, but I'm not perfect. I don't expect the quarterback to be per- fect. I don't expect anyone to be perfect. "Obviously, there are plays through the year that can be frustrating. But you have to look at it on a different side. You were able to win, you got past him, the quar- terback saw you win and gave you that ball. That's a positive you can build on." So is mere playing time, even in an offense where receivers are role play- ers. Lenzy's 473 snaps through 10 games were 53 more than the next Notre Dame wide receiver. He was the target of choice when it came time to throw against Navy. Those are the little triumphs he counts as he tries to help Notre Dame win however he can. "I've always felt that I've been good and can contribute," Lenzy said. "I'll continue to keep working — win, lose, run, pass, cold, hot. I just want us to win." ✦ "He's a guy who didn't complain, continued to come to work, continued to work his tail off." HEAD COACH MARCUS FREEMAN ON LENZY

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