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Just a Quarterback Away? Grading the Irish by Position

By: Michael Blough | Writer | Twitter: @MichaelBlough12


Just over a week removed from the feel-good win over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl, I felt like it would be a good time to look at the position groups from this year and grade them. Some of these grades you might not agree with (which is fine), but go ahead and leave a comment on this post and provide some reasoning! I'd love to hear some differing opinions on this topic as well. First, we will start with the defense, specifically the defensive line.


Defensive Line: B-

I'll admit, this was one of the harder grades to give. After both looking at advanced statistics and using the eye test, a B- was the most fair grade I could give. Based on the eye test, the D Line seemed to be missing a superior interior player that was capable of stopping the run. But, after looking at some stats, the Irish defense ranked in the top 40 in opponent rush yards per play, and also opponent rush yards per game. Now, should the Irish be expected to be better than this given the talent that was on the D Line? I think absolutely, and if the Irish have any hope of competing with the likes of Michigan and Georgia, they will need a standout interior line player to push them over the edge.


Linebackers: B

First of all, I'll just admit that I was somewhat biased towards this group. I really enjoyed watching this group, specifically JD Bertrand (let's try and limit the targeting penalties next year please). Early in the season Notre Dame faithful was not happy with how Bertrand had been playing, and perhaps rightfully so. But as the season went on, JD turned into maybe the most useful player on the defense. His high-motor allows him to make plays that he shouldn't. His sheer knowledge of the game, specifically when reading screens and other gadget plays is something that you see in great linebackers. I am really looking forward to seeing what JD can do next year. I also thought similar things about Jack Kiser throughout the season as he proved to be impactful. The last player I will highlight is Marist Liufau, and I am looking for some improvement from him. His big frame allows for him to be disruptive in the run game, but it seems he is not always filling in the right spot. For me, the linebacking core needs more speed and athleticism as the USC game highlighted the Irish's inability to contain a great athlete like Caleb Williams.


Corners: A

This year we saw Benjamin Morrison explode onto the scene in a way that I don't think anyone predicted, including myself. Morrison proved that he is capable of being CB1 on the depth chart by grabbing 6 interceptions this year with all 6 coming in 3 games. His ability to be a ball hawk is really impressive from a freshman, and maybe the thing I am most impressed with is his ability to read the wide receiver's eyes and be able to quickly track the ball. Several of his picks came on back-shoulder fades where he was simply able to beat the receiver to the ball. If he continues this trend, he could be one of the best we have ever seen at ND. Now, all the Morrison talk took away from a really stellar season from Cam Hart, who will be coming back for a fifth season. Hart was mainly left to deal with the opposing teams WR1, and I think he did a good job at containing them. The Irish look to be set for next year and beyond with their production and recruiting at the corner position.


Safeties: D

D? Really? Well, hear me out. Lets start with Brandon Joseph. I had watched him several times at Northwestern, and to be honest, I thought the world of him. He seemed to be a playmaker, a true free safety in terms of his ability to take away the deep ball in his part of the field, and a decent enough tackler. Well, what we got is someone who is not a good open-field tackler, s whose production seemed disconnected from what he is capable of, and someone who by the end of the season didn't seem locked in. Now, is he better than what we would've had out there if he didn't transfer here? Maybe, but that is not what this grade is about. Moving on, I thought DJ Brown had some great plays, especially in the run game, but nothing to get me too excited. Simply put, the Irish need to be better at the position if they want to compete for national championships.


Now, lets move on to the offense. I could write a million words on the roller coaster that this offense was, but consider yourself lucky because I don't really have the time.


Offensive Line: A+

Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Is it even necessary for me to write anything here? I mean seriously, this O-Line was something else. Let's start at the tackle positions, where the Irish were the best. Joe Alt and Blake Fisher had amazing seasons. Now, if you have been paying attention you'll know that Alt got most of the press because of his domination at left tackle, and rightfully was the highest graded lineman by PFF. You know what is even more amazing? He played tight end in high school. Now, the Irish had always planned on moving him to the tackle position when he got here, but his ability to pick it up so quick has been nothing short of amazing. His 6'7" 320 pound frame is enough to attract attention, but his ability to dominate against really good pass rushers (I'm looking at you Clemson) and be dominant in the run game was nothing short of stunning. And remember, he can't be drafted until 2025! At the other tackle position, Blake Fisher put in a pretty damn good year too. He might have allowed a few more pressure than Alt, but Fisher is pretty nasty in the run game too. Look for this duo to be even more dominant next year. Now, for the interior guys, their names weren't in the press as much but they were just as good. Jarret Patterson came off a preseason injury and made a huge impact in the dominant run game. Lugg and Correll seemed to be the same. In Hiestand's first year back as OL coach at Notre Dame, his presence was certainly felt.


Tight Ends: A+

Two words. Michael Mayer. The best tight end in the nation (shame on you Mackey Award voters). The stats don't do justice to just how important Michael Mayer was to this team. A leader, a great run-blocker, and an elite pass catcher. As a matter of fact, he holds all of Notre Dame's tight end records. In a pass game that looked awful at times, the only redeeming factor was Michael Mayer. It got to the point where Drew Pyne was only looking at Mayer, and guess what, it worked. Several times Mayer was triple covered and that didn't seem to bother him. In my honest opinion, we will never see another one like him at Notre Dame. Another shoutout to Mitchell Evans, who was stellar in the run-blocking game and reinvented the way the team converted 3rd-and-short attempts. Needless to say, the TE room has massive shoes to fill, in fact, I'm not sure if the shoes are even fillable.


Wide Receivers: D

What a disappointing year from the WR room. Before the season started I was fairly high on Lorenzo Styles and thought he was primed for a breakout year. Boy, was I wrong. While he still caught 30 passes for 340 yards, his season was beyond confusing. He dropped the ball more than I thought was even possible and seemed that he lost confidence in the offense and the team within the first 4 games. He really needs to improve this offseason and come back with a stronger mindset. A bright spot was Jayden Thomas, who brought in 25 receptions for 340 yards. Early in the year, he was often found in the flat or near the sideline and was able to make a few impressive catches. Most importantly, he seemed to be a pivotal part of the passing game in the bowl game. I think this is a great indication of what we will see next year from him. A few other guys had great plays, but nothing that can convince me that the Irish don't need to get a whole lot better at this position. Another thing I'd like to mention is that I can't place all of the blame on the receivers. I'm sure they were open more than I thought, but when you are so limited by your quarterbacks ability and decision-making, this is what happens. As I mentioned before, the Irish HAVE to get better at this position.


Running Backs: A

If you watched any Notre Dame Football on NBC, you'd know that Jac Collinsworth couldn't get enough of this "running back trio". The trio was comprised of Audric Estime, Logan Diggs, and Chris Tyree. While Tyree's rushing attempts were limited due to his less-powerful build, he was still effective in the run game, and most effective in the short passing game. Tyree's speed is something that the Irish need to fully lean into, rather than having him run up the middle several times a game. As for Audric, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but what we got was an ultra-effective runner when between the tackles. The O Line was able to give him huge holes and get him up the second and third level where he is able to literally abuse defenders. His north-south running style allows him to use the stiff-arm and truck very effectively and is great in the red zone. If you're wondering, there isn't enough money you could give me to try and tackle him when he's running full speed. Lastly, Logan Diggs was solid as well. His running style is a blend of Estime and Tyree, as he likes to lower his shoulder and pick up yards, but is also agile enough to make people miss and pick up yards that way. I am very excited for this group next year, as Jadarian Price should get some looks as well.

Photo Credit: 247 Sports


Quarterbacks: D

Well, we made it. I saved the most important for last for a good reason. This team was held back by it's quarterback play and you can't convince me otherwise. Tyler Buchner made his first two starts and lost both games, which was very uninspiring for the future of ND football. He would then be injured and turn over the team to Drew Pyne. I won't spend too much time on him as he transferred to Arizona State, but simply put, he wasn't good enough. He stared down receivers, often made shaky throws, and was good for at least one ball batted down at the LOS per game. Now, Buchner would return from injury and play maybe the most confusing game ever, where he would combine for 5 TD's (3 passing and 2 rushing) but also throw 3 interceptions (2 would be returned for pick sixes). However, a lot of Irish fans were inspired by this performance because he was able to push the ball down the field which we really hadn't seen from him. Unfortunately for Buchner, he is in for a heck of a QB battle this upcoming season with Sam Hartman who committed earlier this week.






2 Σχόλια


Πελάτης
11 Ιαν 2023

Great Article. Would love more content from Michael. Great insights well done

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Michael Blough
Michael Blough
11 Ιαν 2023
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Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!😀

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