Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 18, 2023

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

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6 NOV. 18, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME BY TYLER HORKA T hat garbage time touch- down caught by freshman tight end Cooper Flanagan in the 58-7 stomping of the Pitt Panthers Oct. 28 is going to end up mattering to Notre Dame a lot more than anyone thought. Immediately, too. Two days after the victory, it was announced junior tight end Mitchell Evans would be out for the season with a torn ACL. It's all hands on deck in the Notre Dame tight end room as a result. Flanagan will be much more involved in offensive game plans than he was in the first nine games of the season. "You don't make up for the production that Mitch gave our offense with one guy," head coach Marcus Freeman said Oct. 30. "I think every person in that tight ends room will be asked to do more, and I'm con- fident they'll be able to." Flanagan is not the high man on the totem pole. That's Holden Staes, who's been a clear No. 2 to Evans all season. Fellow sophomore Eli Raridon only recently came back from his second ACL injury in as many years, and he does not seem to be the same player he was previously. Not yet, at least. He had yet to play at least 15 snaps in any of the first three games he appeared in this season through Week 9. Then there is former walk-on Davis Sherwood, a junior, and Flanagan. Expe- rience is at a premium in the Notre Dame tight end room all of a sudden. Evans was turning himself into a Michael Mayer- type of all-around game changer, but now he won't play for a long, long time. He's going to be missed in so many ways. Evans was a fixture in every multiple- tight-end set Notre Dame sent onto the field this year. If it was 12 personnel, the tight ends were Evans and somebody else. If it was 13, it was Evans and two of his closest friends. Evans and fill in the blank. That's just what it was. It does not feel like Staes is ready for that every-down type of role. There is a reason Evans played 425 offensive snaps to Staes' 281 through Week 9. Sherwood was at 76, Flanagan was at 62 and Raridon was at 32. Those numbers are about to get big boosts. Evans' shoes aren't small. It'll take a bunch to fill them. He was an in- tegral part of the offense, as seen by his snap count and team-leading target total of 39. The next closest tight end in that regard was Staes with 18. It's more likely for Notre Dame to roll out a platoon than to ask for Staes to be the new Evans and bump everybody else up accordingly. Evans' injury has every- thing to do with both the Notre Dame passing game and running game. Gradu- ate student quarterback Sam Hartman loses his favorite target. The running backs lose a familiar blocker. To that end, an interesting sta- tistic: Flanagan was actually the Irish's second-best run blocker behind left tackle Joe Alt through Week 9, per Pro Football Focus. He notched a run-blocking grade of 78.4 on 48 run-blocking snaps. Evans had a score of 59.2 on 195 run-blocking snaps. O t h e r n o ta b l e f i g u re s : Raridon had a run-blocking grade of 56.7 on 30 run- blocking snaps, Sherwood was at 55.2 on 52 snaps and Staes had a 44.0 on 168 snaps. Per PFF, Flanagan is far and away the best run- blocking tight end Notre Dame has. And his sample size is not insignificant. There is a reason he has been a special teams staple since the start of the season. He's just a freshman, but he's physical and he knows where to be and when to be there. Let's finish this the way we started it; it's much easier to see Flanagan's first career touchdown as a sign of things to come now after the injury to Evans than it was in the moment. The numbers fore- cast exactly what that well-run route and over-the-shoulder catch foreshadow — his presence is going to be paramount down the stretch of this Irish season. "He presents a skill set that is a little bit different in terms of the power that he's able to block with," Freeman said. "He blocks with a physicality not ev- erybody in that room has. But he's also developing in the pass game. He's doing some things in practice in the pass game that [are] really impressive." ✦ UNDER THE DOME NEXT MEN UP Replacing tight end Mitchell Evans will be a team task for Notre Dame Evans, who tore his ACL in the Fighting Irish's 58-7 win over Pitt Oct. 28, led the team in both receptions (29) and receiving yards (422) through nine games. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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