Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2016

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

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Page 72 of 127

BY JORDAN WELLS AND LOU SOMOGYI N otre Dame's defense is going to be considered its Achilles' heel in 2016, at least on pa- per, especially with the loss of numerous standouts, including But- kus Award winner Jaylon Smith, All- American lineman Sheldon Day and cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Even with them in 2015, Notre Dame finished 109th among 127 teams in turnovers forced (14) and 75th in sacks. Yet the perceived soft spot that Notre Dame lacks a dynamic pass rush could be mitigated by the fact that almost all of its 2016 opponents, other than Miami, are either replacing starting quarterbacks or have unre- solved issues at the position. Here's a synopsis of their springs, with an emphasis on the signal-caller position. AT TEXAS • SEPT. 4 QB Situation: Incumbent 10-game starter and redshirt sophomore Jer- rod Heard, who threw for just five touchdowns and had five throws in- tercepted last year, sat out the spring game with a shoulder injury. Fresh- man early enrollee Shane Buechele impressed by completing 22 of 41 passes for 299 yards with a score in poor weather conditions, while se- nior Tyrone Swoopes (7-of-22 passing for 93 yards in the 38-3 loss at Notre Dame in 2015) finished with just three completions in nine attempts. Top Storyline: Head coach Charlie Strong is on the hottest seat in Amer- ica after finishing 6-7 and 5-7 his first two seasons. The Longhorns were 83rd in scoring offense and 87th in scoring defense in 2015, so Strong cleaned house and brought in five new assistants, most notably offen- sive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert (an Art Briles disciple) from Tulsa. Summary: Seven starters return on both offense and defense, and the sophomore class appears to be the strength after three players received True Freshman All-Amer- ica notice last year: left tackle Connor Williams, right guard Patrick Vahe and linebacker Malik Jefferson. Also in the sophomore class is top return- ing receiver John Burt. True freshman Zach Shackleford might start at center. The top running back returning is 241-pound redshirt sophomore D'Onta Foreman, whose 681 yards last PASS OR FAIL Most of Notre Dame's 2016 opponents are trying to find a new quarterback

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