Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 3 of 63

4 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hile uncertainty de- fined the Notre Dame football program this time last year with three new coordinators devising a complete strategic overhaul, one obvious offensive obser- vation remained the same amidst all the change. Notre Dame needed to play to its strength, and it was committed to doing so. With two All-American linemen in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, a run- ning back in Josh Adams on pace to become the most pro- lific rusher ever to play for the Irish, and a green, first- year starting quarterback in Brandon Wimbush, the plan was straightforward. "We're going to be a power-running team," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly indicated when asked last preseason about his offensive identity. The plan stuck — and the Irish coaches stuck to the plan — and rode it to 10 wins, a Citrus Bowl victory versus LSU and the best rushing mark for an Irish team since 1996. The 269.5 rushing yards per game was also sev- enth best in the country last season. So while the best offensive strategy was the only strategy this time last year, finding an offensive identity throughout this spring season wasn't as easy. Last year, Wimbush had the se- curity of working in a run-reliant package that helped mask a sub- .500 completion percentage and his pedestrian 121.4 passing efficiency rating, the 86th "best" mark in the country. With Adams, McGlinchey and Nel- son all off to the NFL, Wimbush will presumably be asked this season to make more plays with his arm, one of many concerns this offseason when trying to define what the 2018 Irish offense will look like. The departure of Adams, coupled with the January dismissals of run- ning backs Deon McIntosh and C.J. Holmes, leaves the Irish with senior Dexter Williams and junior Tony Jones Jr. as the lone experienced players in a position group that also turned to quarterback Avery Davis and receiver Jafar Armstrong for help. With his rushing average of 9.2 yards per carry last season, Williams is the logical candidate to become the back most likely to best fill Adams' production. But is Williams up to the challenge? Injuries, inattentiveness and di- minishing returns have plagued the Irish senior during his first three sea- sons. Williams has never carried the ball more than eight times in any one game, while Adams averaged about 16 carries per contest in 2017. Through three games last season, Williams was averaging nearly 11 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. During the final nine games, Williams missed four of those, gained just 146 rushing yards and didn't score again. "It starts with Dexter," Kelly ex- plained, "and his ability to maintain himself in a position where he can be on the field for all three downs. … It's been something he's been below the line on." Williams isn't the lone key Irish player on offense whose profile fea- tures more potential than perfor- mance to this point in a college career. Kelly anointed returning senior Miles Boykin early this spring as the alpha of the wide receiver group after Kevin Stepherson was kicked off the team and Equanimeous St. Brown left early for the NFL. B o y k i n m a d e a n a m e for himself with the game- winning 55-yard touch- down grab and MVP honors against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Beyond that, he has only 17 career catches and a history of inconsistency. On the other side of the field, 6-4, 229-pound junior wideout Chase Claypool certainly looks the part of a budding superstar. But much to the Irish coaches' frustra- tion, Claypool is another figure who has often lacked details and drive during his time at Notre Dame. "The focus," Kelly said of his second-leading receiver from last season. "He's got to bring traits every day." And lastly, highly regarded se- nior tight end Alizé Mack is another cornerpiece to the Irish puzzle on offense this season that — by his own admission — has greatly un- derachieved so far. Academic woes, injury, suspensions and just a general disinterest in dedication and "traits" has made Mack among the biggest developmental disappointments of the Kelly era. Only two of Mack's 19 catches for the season and 12 of his 166 receiv- ing yards came during the last seven games of 2017, a season cut short by a suspension for the Citrus Bowl. The good news for Kelly and Co. is that each of these three players who need breakout years and sustained success have shown promise and flashes both this spring and during their careers. The bad news is that promise and flash don't necessarily equate to nec- essary dedication and desired results. Another opportunity awaits. ✦ Time For Some Key Irish To Finally Grow Up UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Despite senior Dexter Williams averaging 9.2 yards per carry last year, he has never rushed more than eight times in a game during his career and totaled just 146 yards on the ground in the final nine contests of 2017. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - May 2018