If there is a player on the Notre Dame roster whose season exemplified the nature of the 2014 Fighting Irish being oh so close to being great but just not quite ready to take the next step it was CJ Prosise. The junior wide receiver, two seasons removed from moving from safety to wide receiver, flashed big play potential with regularity but displayed the consistency needed to be an integral part of the Irish offense with irregularity. If his performance in the Music City Bowl is any indication of what his senior season has in store, however, the former defender could be ready to become a prominent weapon in the Irish arsenal next year.
CJ Prosises’s junior season opening performance would serve as a microcosm for his season to come. In the first half against Rice Prosise dropped a perfectly placed deep bomb from Everett Golson for what would have been an easy touchdown. A few drives later though, Prosise secured another bomb from Golson for a 53 yard touchdown. It was his only catch of the day.
Such performances became commonplace for Prosise in 2014. He had a reception or run of 20 or more yards in 10 of 13 games for Notre Dame this year. At the same time, he caught more than two passes in a single game just four times and only had more than four catches in a game just once.
In between though, Prosise was able to make big play after big play. There was the 53 yarder against a Rice. A 78 yard touchdown versus Navy. A 59 yard non-scoring catch against Arizona State. A 40 yard catch against USC. A 26 yard run against Stanford. Then there was the Music City Bowl. Just after LSU took their first lead of the game, Prosise took a jet sweep 50 yards for the first rushing touchdown of his career to tie the game at 28.
Prosise’s Music City Bowl performance was the best all around outing of his season. His 3 catches against LSU were only bested by his 6 against Florida State and 4 vs. Purdue. His 3 rushes were the most he had in any game this season and represent 30% of his total carries for the season.
Despite the big plays throughout the season though, there were still the big plays that Prosise did not make. Everyone remembers the “pick” play on 4th down against Florida State, but most forget that on 3rd down Prosise had a chance to give the Irish the lead but failed to haul in a pass that he got both hands on. It would have been a tough catch, but a catch that needs to be made in that situation. Prosise had a similar opportunity against Louisville but again failed to make a catch in the endzone that would have given Notre Dame the lead in the final minute. Notre Dame went on to miss a field and lose the game.
If Prosise can work on his hands and continue to hone his craft as a wide receiver, he has the potential to be a truly dynamic weapon in the 2015 Notre Dame offense, regardless of who the quarterback is. Prosise has shown that when he gets the ball in his hands, he can make things happen – the jet sweep against LSU was a prime example of that. Prosise got the ball, knifed through the LSU defense and then won a foot race to the end-zone against a defensive back from the SEC.
With two seasons of eligibility remaining, Prosises is really just scratching the surface of his potential and that is what makes that potential even more exciting. His final numbers in 2014 were already pretty darn good. Prosise totaled 29 catches for 516 yards for a team high average of 17.8 yards a catch along with 10 runs for 125 yards and three combined touchdowns. All of that came after Prosise entered the season with just 7 career receptions for 72 yards and no touchdowns.
If Prosise’s upward trajectory continues in 2015, Notre Dame could have one hell of a weapon on its hands from the slot position. Given the lack of depth on the Irish roster for next year at the running back position and Prosises’s ability to make plays out of the backfield, an expanded role in the running game seems like a given as well. Notre Dame will return just Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant as scholarship running backs next year. Currently they have just one committed back (Josh Adams) ready to sign on the dotted line next month although the staff is currently putting on a full court press for another back right now.
There are going to be a lot of fun story lines to follow this spring and into next fall but the continued development of Prosise is going to be right at the top of the list. If he improves even half as much as he did last off-season this off-season, #20 is going to be a lot of fun to watch next fall.