Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 31, 2016

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

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 31, 2016 19 Redfield's dismissal in August, while nearly bringing down four un- derclassmen with him, was perhaps the first sign that the internal leader- ship is not as strong as it should be. QUARTERBACK QUANDARY Kelly was reluctant to name a starter in the spring and even en- tering the season. Two-quarterback systems can be tricky, although on occasion they have worked at the collegiate level. They can also spawn discontent or lead to factions. From the outset in the opener, it was evident it was not going to work. Notre Dame found its man in Kizer, but at what cost? Did it lose another senior in Zaire, who hasn't been able to find a niche at another position? SAFETY (AND CORNER) CONCERNS From the three recruiting classes in 2013-16, Notre Dame had a grand total of two safeties — junior Drue Tranquill and sophomore Nicco Fer- titta remaining, after the dismissal of Redfield. Back in 2015 it signed a stopgap measure in graduate transfer Avery Sebastian from Cal, but a litany of injuries has limited the sixth-year se- nior's effectiveness. Meanwhile, cornerbacks/nickel backs such as Shaun Crawford (Achil- les), Nick Watkins (arm) and Devin Butler (injury/suspension) are also out of commission, resulting in the most freshman-laden secondary in the country with five such regulars: safe- ties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott, and cornerbacks Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. The 2012 secondary that included true freshman KeiVarae Russell and former wide receivers Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley as first-time start- ers weathered extraordinary storms, but lightning striking twice was going to be more difficult this time. WHERE'S THE RUSH? Annually, there is no position that is more consistently difficult to recruit at Notre Dame than a premier pass rusher. Part of it is location (most of the elite ones are in the South, i.e. Ste- phon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch in 2011), some of it is academic curriculum — and there are just not many of them, which is what makes them such a prized commodity in the NFL. None were signed in 2013. Two A Missed Opportunity With A 'Favorable' Schedule Maybe the most exasperating aspect of Notre Dame's 2-4 start through the first half of the 2016 season was that the four losses came against mediocre to below average teams. The primary criticism or skepticism about the 2016 Fighting Irish after a 6-0 start this year should have been, "They don't play anybody! Their schedule is a joke!" • During its 2-3 start, Texas' only other win besides Notre Dame was against UTEP. Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel intimated in an Oct. 3 feature that Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, 13-17 in three years, was "ex- pected to be gone" at the end of the season. • During Michigan State's 2-3 start, its other win beside at Notre Dame was … Furman. The Spartans scored 36 at Notre Dame — but tallied just 41 points (13.7 per game) in the ensuing three contests it lost to Wisconsin at home (30-6), at Indiana (24-21) and BYU (31-14). It appears to be the weakest MSU team in head coach Mark Dantonio's 10 seasons. • Although Duke hung up 38 points in its win at Notre Dame, it totaled 60 points (15.0 per game) versus its other four Football Bowl Subdivision foes. The Blue Devils' only other wins were against North Carolina Central and Army, but it lost to Wake Forest, Northwestern and Virginia. • North Carolina State's wins other than Notre Dame were William & Mary, Old Dominion and Wake Forest, and the Wolf- pack lost to East Carolina. In other words, of the four op- ponents who vanquished the Irish, they collectively totaled through Oct. 8 only one other victory against a Power Five team — that being North Caro- lina State defeating Wake Forest. Furthermore, the projected strongest team on the schedule, Stanford, entered Notre Dame Stadium on a slide with back-to- back 44-6 and 42-16 demolitions versus Washington and Wash- ington State, respectively. One of the reasons why Notre Dame was a popular preseason top-10 pick was its favorable 2016 schedule. That has proven true — but the Irish haven't been unable to capitalize on it. To quote 1986-96 Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, "there is no greater reason for remorse than a missed opportunity." — Lou Somogyi Attrition and injuries have pressed five freshmen — safeties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott, plus corner- backs Julian Love (above), Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn — into action in the Irish secondary this fall. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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