ND FOOTBALL OVERVIEW: Irish face tough schedule in search of third CFP appearance | Across Indiana
SOUTH BEND – After a successful 10-2 season in 2020, this season’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish will likely face more obstacles on their way to the same kind of achievement.
The Irish No.9 face a tougher schedule on paper in 2021, with four opponents – No.8 from Cincinnati, No.10 from North Carolina, No.12 from Wisconsin and No.15 from Southern California – all ranked in the top 15 of the pre-season AP Poll. During the 2020 regular season, the Irish faced just two ranked opponents, No.1 Clemson and No.19 UNC.
After those four games and a tough test drive against Virginia Tech, the schedule is very favorable. However, the five-game period from September 25 against the No.12 Badgers to October 30 at home against the No.10 Tar Heels will determine the kind of success Notre Dame will have in 2021.
Outside of the schedule, the other hurdles that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his team face lie in the depth table. Veteran quarterback Ian Book, and arguably the 2020 most important defense player at Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, has gone to the NFL. The offensive line also lost three starters in the draft to Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey.
Despite attrition in a few important places on both sides of the ball, Notre Dame has added experienced transfers as well as returning veteran players who are expected to take a significant step forward this season. Quarterback Jack Coan, a transfer graduate from Wisconsin, will help ease Book’s loss with his experience leaving the Big Ten.
The rover linebacker position should also be in good hands, with Jack Kiser, Isaiah Pryor and Paul Moala each expected to split the snaps. On the offensive line, Marshall transfers Cain Madden, senior return Jarrett Patterson and junior Josh Lugg should help secure a line that includes four new starters.
For Kelly, the 2021 season will likely be special whether or not Notre Dame makes its third college football playoff in the past four seasons. At 60 in October, he will be the first Notre-Dame coach to lead the program in his 60s. On top of that, with 102 wins, Kelly is just four wins away from surpassing legendary trainer Knute Rockne – who went 105-12-5 from 1918 to 1930 – for most wins by a trainer- leader in the history of Notre-Dame.
Replacing a dynamic leader and veteran player like Book won’t be easy this season, but with an experienced signalman under the center and prolific weapons in the backfield and on the sidelines, Notre Dame’s offense could be tantamount to that of averaging over 33 points per game a year ago.
In the backfield, the Irish will be led by junior Kyren Williams. As a full-time starter in 2020, Williams showed why he was recruited so heavily by Notre Dame upon leaving high school. The second student at the time ran for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns on 211 carries. A high school slot machine receiver, Williams can also be a threat just as much with his hands as he does with his feet. He had 35 passes for 313 yards and one score in 2020.
When Coan doesn’t look to his stable of running backs for support, he’ll rely on the pass-detecting abilities of players like senior wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr., Avery Davis and Braden Lenzy and the winger. Close-up of sophomore Michael Mayer.
Austin Jr., Lenzy and Davis are expected rookies on the wide receiver and have a lot of college experience, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into production on the field. Austin Jr. has been with Notre Dame since 2018, but due to injuries and other factors he has only played 13 games, recording six catches for 108 yards. Lenzy has had 18 catches for 317 yards and one touchdown throughout his career, while Davis has 39 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns with the Irish.
On the tight end, losing Tommy Tremble is significant, but Mayer has done more than enough in 2020 to show he can take the top spot this season, capturing 42 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns over the course. of its first season. . Behind him sophomore Kevin Bauman had a great fall camp and is expected to contribute as well.
Perhaps the greatest uncertainty about Notre Dame’s offensive lies in the trenches. In the center, Patterson highlights a new starting offensive line elsewhere. Junior Zeke Correll and rookie Blake Fisher will take care of the left side of the line, while Madden and Lugg will take care of the right side.
Any defense that has a first round pick planned for the secondary should have decent success.
All-American free goaltender Kyle Hamilton is back after registering 63 tackles, four-and-a-half tackles for one loss and one interception in 11 games last season. At his side, veteran Houston Griffith, who registered his name on the transfer portal this offseason before deciding to return to Notre Dame.
In the corners, junior Cam Hart and sophomore Clarence Lewis will start for the Irish. Hart has faced injury issues during his career and saw limited action in his second season. At 6’2 “, 205 pounds, he’s got the size and height to be solid at the line of scrimmage with his physique. Lewis started in six freshman games in 2020, racking up 33 tackles and seven assists.
The linebacker hall suffered a huge blow when they lost junior Marist Liufau for the season to an ankle injury at the end of fall camp. The Irish should always be in good hands with senior Drew White and junior JD Bertrand starting in middle and outside linebackers respectively. White has appeared in 29 games, racking up 144 tackles (17 for loss) and three and a half sacks during his career. Bertrand was mostly a special teams ace, but he showed during fall camp that he looked ready to take on a defensive starting role.
In the trenches, the defensive line is full of experience. Junior Isaiah Foskey has the kind of whimsical athleticism needed to take on the starting defense role, while senior graduate Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is expected to be a defensive force after spending his entire career at Notre Dame on the inside. On the defensive tackle, senior graduate Kurt Hinish – who has 50 career games with the Irish under his belt – is expected to fill in the holes in the middle alongside senior Jayson Ademilola.
BREAKDOWN OF SPECIAL TEAMS
One area of the Notre-Dame team that has not been questioned this offseason is that of special teams.
Junior kicker Jay Bramblett and senior kicker Jonathan Doerer return to help secure a special teams unit that was solid in 2020. Doerer started the season 11 of 14 on field goal attempts, with four of them in victory over No. 1. 1 Clemson. Despite early success, he struggled in the last five games of the season, scoring just 4 out of 9. Doerer mentioned during fall camp that it was arguably the best offseason he’s had as a Notre-Dame player. Bramblett will be the starting punter for the third consecutive season after leading the Irish to 18th nationally in net clearance in 2020.
The return of kickoffs and clearances will be a combination of senior Matt Salerno, senior Lawrence Keys III and sophomore Chris Tyree.