Notre Dame Football In Need of Playmakers at Wide Receiver

It’s easy to place all of the blame for Notre Dame’s offensive struggles so far this year on the shoulders of the quarterback since he’s running the show.  A quarterback, no matter how good however, is often only as good as his supporting cast – and his play caller.  In that sense, Brandon Wimbush hasn’t gotten a whole lot of help through three games in either department.  We’ve already talked a lot about the issues with Notre Dame’s game plans and play calling.  Today we’re going to look at Notre Dame’s need for playmakers at wide receiver.

Miles Boykin Being Asked to Do Too Much

Against Ball State Miles Boykin hauled in 6 catches for 119 yards for the first 100 yard performance of his career.  Notre Dame utilized the senior wide receiver very effectively in the intermediate passing game and the results speak for themselves.  A week later Notre Dame asked Boykin to be a vertical threat against a tall, rangy corner and the results also speak for themselves.  One catch for 14 yards.

Boykin can be an absolute monster of a chain mover because of his size if used like he was against Ball State.  Notre Dame seems keen on using him as a deep threat though.  And while we’ve seen him make some incredible plays downfield – hello Citrus Bowl – that isn’t necessarily his game.

Brian Kelly admitted on Tuesday that they are asking him to do a lot – maybe too much – right now and that’s it’s impacted his performance.

“I just think we’ve put so much on Miles this year. How many catches did he have last year? 12? Maybe 12 catches, and I think that includes the bowl game. He didn’t play a lot of football last year. So we’ve heaped a lot on him this year, and I think the amount of scrutiny has put him in a position where he feels like he needs to be perfect,” Kelly said.

“I think you saw a little bit of that frustration this past weekend.,” Kelly added.  “Played a really good corner. That kid was really good from Vanderbilt, too, by the way. But not holding his line, vertically, down the field, some of the things that he’s been really good at. And to me that’s frustration,”

“We really just gotta get him back to the basics and doing the things that he’s really good at, and that’s just the learning process.”

Chase Claypool Still Inconsistent

Starting opposite Boykin, Chase Claypool has had a disappointing start to his 2018 campaign.  Expected by many to break through this year, Claypool has just seven catches for 100 yards through three games.  That puts him on pace for just 30 catches and 433 yards (assuming 13 games).  That would be nearly identical to his 29 catch, 402 yard, 2 touchdown output from a year ago. Not quite the improvement most were expecting.

Clayool has flashed some crazy potential over the past two seasons, but he’s been inconsistent to say the least.  One play he’ll drive a defensive back out of bounds on a block, the next he won’t engage the defender at all.  That inconsistency has been present in the passing game as well with drops and cutting off routes early.

It’s very clear that the potential is there, but so far this year Notre Dame still hasn’t really been able to tap into it fully.

Chris Finke Has Flashed But…

Starting slot receiver Chris Finke has flashed at times this year – namely his 43 yard touchdown against Michigan, but since then, however, his production has been stagnant.  Other than that crazy touchdown grab, Finke has 9 catches for 59 yards.  This past weekend he had 5 catches for 6 yards.

Part of the reason for Finke’s lack of production is that he’s the kind of receiver that needs to get the ball quick, on time, and accurately to take advantage of his athleticism in space and that just isn’t the kind of quarterback Brandon Wimbush is.  He struggles with the wide receiver screen as we saw again last week.  Finke could potentially be a weapon for the Irish in the short passing game if Ian Book were behind center, but it doesn’t appear as though that is anywhere near Brian Kelly’s radar.

Are Michael Young and Kevin Austin Part of the Answer?

With Notre Dame lacking any sort of real downfield threat right now, Kelly and Chip Long are hopefully looking for answers.  Afterall, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, right?  If they are, there are two obvious names on the roster right now who could help provide the playmaking ability this offense is lacking – sophomore Michael Young and freshman Kevin Austin.

Kelly was asked about Young specifically on Tuesday and it sounds like we might just see more of the speedy Louisiana native this weekend.  “He was limited in camp because of an injury, and I think he’s really started to come on. We saw his confidence kind of start to come in the last probably, I don’t know, ten days to two weeks physically where he really could cut loose,” Kelly said.

“We saw him on the kickoff return where he starts having a little bit of a bounce back. And then we’re starting to see it in practice, too. So I would expect if he’s going to continue to show that in practice and if he continues to do that, I think that’s going to translate into some more playing time for him.”

The kickoff Kelly referenced was a 48 yard return by Young where it was clear that he was the fastest player on the field at the time.  Young saw a crease and exploded through it.  That kind of speed has to be utilized in Notre Dame’s vertical passing attack if it is going to have any chance of success once the Irish start facing some better defenses.

Then there is freshman Kevin Austin.  Had Austin enrolled early, I don’t think there would be much question that he would already be starting.  As is, Austin was one of the most impressive freshmen in camp and his time has to be coming.  Kelly has been somewhat reluctant to play freshman receivers in the past outside of TJ Jones in 2010 (Jones was an early enrollee though), but he might not have much of a choice soon.

Two other names to keep an eye down the road a bit, if not sooner, are freshmen Lawrence Keys and Braden Lenzy.  Both might need a bit more time in the weight room before they are ready for larger roles, but both have the speed to get behind a defense.  With four games of playing time available without losing a year of eligibility now, it could be worth testing one of them out to try and open up the vertical passing game more.

If we look back to the insertion of Will Fuller into the lineup as a true freshman, it was in week four of the 2013 season when we first got the glimpse of what he was capable of.  He only had one catch that afternoon but it went for 37 yards and he and fellow freshman Corey Robinson also generated multiple pass interference penalties that afternoon in Notre Dame’s win over Michigan State.  Fuller wasn’t ready for a big role either, but they started using him as a deep threat to open up the underneath passing game.

This weekend just so happens to be game number four of the season.  Will we see a similar utilization of Austin or Young?  Or maybe even one of the the speedy freshmen waiting in the wings?  That remains to be seen.  What we have seen so far this year, however, is that the wide receiver rotation Notre Dame has been utilizing is not taking the top off of any defense and the Irish are in need of some playmakers.  There are some on the roster, it is just a matter of whether or not they are ready for extended action and whether or not the staff is ready to insert them into the lineup.

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  1. I like what the article stated about how Fuller was basically inserted to stretch a defense out with his ability to burn anyone. If Lenzy is the next Fuller, than I suggest doing this asap. Even if he only catches a couple TDs this year on go routes, it still makes a difference in the D having to worry about it which leaves more space underneath.

    I can’t believe Finke dropped that wide open perfectly thrown TD on that crossing route. I believe we only scored 3 points on that drive. We need consistency of catching the balls throw right to you at a minimum from all our receivers.

    1. CHRISJ , “asap” is the word. Coaches have to start inserting new blood –now. I said at start of season “All on hands on deck” for this 2018 schedule. Games are close–and will continue to be rest of the way. So , Kelly has to adjust–cause there won’t be any comfortable leads–where he feels it’s time to experiment at his leisure. Wide receivers is good place to start–find someone who has speed to put opponents D-backs on notice. Boykin and Claypool are okay talent — in their atmosphere. Get Young , Austin , Lenzy playing time—for deep threat. Get some fresh kids to spell Tillery and Bonner at tackle. Get O-line rotating and use QB Book between the 20’s. Wimbush and O are not doing well on 3rd down conversions. 3 and out common place in 2nd half. Insert Book for a series to provide a spark. Let Wimbush do red zone. Book and Jurkovec need to get playing time. If Wimbush or Book go down with injury — Jurkovec is #2. Kelly and coaches have to get “All hands on deck” — not play the “caution, he’s not ready crap.” Take risks or remain mediocre.

      1. Amen to all that Southside. This page has a lot of useful criticism on it. It’s much better reading than the usual personal attacks and pointless insults. Some of it represents base, cynical interpretations, but at least they make sense for once.
        We need to get green receivers into a rotation. We need to get Book in the game if the “O” completely bogs down for more than one isolated series. We need to get young linemen into the games in Q4…something I’ve been saying for the past 4 coaches, not just BK. All very valid criticisms.
        Other stuff is still silly. “2017 is not a good year to evaluate BK”…but 2016 is?!? C’mon dude! Look at his record up to now…which of the two seems more representative, 2016 or 2017? I mean, try and do an honest evaluation here!

        BGC ’77 ’82

  2. I hope when Dexter returns the staff considers using Jafar in the slot with Finke more. Let Dex and Tony handle the carries. Claypool has earned less reps. Young has earned more reps.. Boykin is what he is, a senior without much experience being asked to do too much. It’s time to go young. We’ve seen over the past 3-4 years what our main guys can do. They are limited receivers at best.. Lenzy, Austin, Wilkins, Keys need to be getting reps..

  3. We need playmakers at WR, playmakers at QB, playmakers at RB, and playmakers at TE.

    Other than in those few positions, we are stacked with playmakers on offense.

    I think if Jurkovec had entered in January, Kelly would be considering a change by now. Phil’s old teammate, Kristofic (also ND-bound) said last week that he’s entering early, and that Phil regrets not having done so.

    1. Kelly’s record with QBs at ND is abysmal. He has run them off, ruined their confidence, misused their skills. Most have shown shockingly little progression or improvement over their ND careers.
      And often ends it by throwing them under the bus.
      The one kid who got into the NFL couldn’t even get a decent reference.


      1. FUNNY 3 transferred CHRISS , GOLSON AND ZAIRRE boy they really lit it up when they left only CHRISS started and that was for FAT ASS WEISS!! GOLSON went to the QB guru to work out during his 1 year suspension and came back worse than b4 he left!! ZAIRRE left to become a starter for Florida he couldn’t even get playing time on 1 of the worst offenses in the country!! Same with GOLSON on FLA ST !! KELLY said KIZER wasn’t ready and if you’ve watched his NFL career he still isn’t!! Talk to us after JURKOVEC davey boy!!

      2. NDCRAZYMIKE,. Who recruited them and gave them a Scholly? 2 out of 3, Kelly. He shouldn’t be anywhere near trying to coach the qb’s. It’s the same damn broken record with him.

      3. NAME the big 5 star QB we recruited who was supposed to b the next big thing? You guys do know there is and have been QB coaches at ND!! You credit O-LINE COACHES and DEF COORDINATORS but never blame to the QB COACHES or THE NEW OFF. COORDINATOR for horrible play calling!! KEEP CRYING!!

  4. So Brian Kelly is making excuses for players like Myles Boykin…”he didn’t play much and didn’t catch many passes last year”.

    Well, Coach Kelly (who has been doing this for 28 years): That’s why when you play teams you should beat handily that you step on their throats and DO that. So that your bench players get some game reps. So that next year you have some experience and some depth.

    This year, you’ve already wasted games to do that in Ball State and Vanderbilt. So who will next year’s Myles Boykin be? It’s pretty predictable that you’ll end up going to the same grab bag excuse for him again in a year. A subtle way of blaming him, not yourself for your utter failure at this job.


    1. David,

      You’re exactly right. A lot of games last season, the game was well in control in the 3rd quarter. I wouldn’t exactly call it unsportsmanlike to continue running your normal offense at least mid-way into the 4th quarter even if you are blowing the other team out. ND must take advantage of this. In game experience matters!!!

      1. No game I ever watched with Kelly ever appeared to be “well in hand”…and certainly not enough to ever pull the starters. And in Q3?! Really!?!

        Now, to be fair, he could not risk a loss that came after having pulled the starters. That is an automatic job review.

        You do it the way every other (real) Top 10 team is doing: you curb stomp ’em and get the subs some reps.

        But you have to have what is called a “football program” to create the excellence that makes that scenario happen.

        Kelly has no program. He has a job. That he is clinging to. And in over his head at.

        Every Fall starts as an utter mystery. That is bullshyte.

      2. David,

        Did you watch last year’s games? We could have easily inserted backups and ran our offense with them in the 3rd quarter in some games. Granted, those leads might not be “comfortable” enough for a Kelly based ND team. But, here were some 3rd quarter scores

        Temple – 35 – 10
        Miami OH – 45 – 14 (at halftime!!!)
        UNC – 26 – 7
        NC State – 35 – 14
        USC – 42 – 14
        Wake – 41 – 23

        I mean, cmon!! That’s 6 games with basically blowouts and Boykin barely played last year. This just proves exactly what we are saying that you get these guys in and keep the pedal down until late in the game. This gives the young guys the necessary in game experience so when their number is called for real, they are ready to go.

      3. ChrisJ: 2017 is not necessarily a good year to assess Kelly’s coaching approach.

        Brian Kelly’s career at ND almost ended after 2016. IMO, it should have.

        So in 2017, he needed to win. Often and big.

        So leaving in the starters in for full games in 2017 and even trying to run up scores was sound. Not sound for long-term player development, but if Kelly didn’t survive the short term, no point for him to care about that.

        FWIW — given that lens — IMO those scores aren’t nearly as lopsided or impressive as they should be for a coach who was one more purple face away from unemployment.

        In summary: he kept his job with the 2017 results, but is left making excuses fro the lack of experienced players he left himself with for 2018.

        The treadmill of incompetence.

      4. David,

        That’s actually a good point about running it up with starters to save his job. I didn’t necessarily think of that but long term it didn’t help things leaving starters in. Another thing this leads to is how they ended the season when it seemed like they wore out. That was six games which you could have taken out a lot of these guys, all before the Miami game. Kelly just spoke of Coney and Tranquill (and defense in general) and how many plays they’ve been in. All he said was they are young and can handle it. We will see if that’s the case later in the year and if they’re still playing at the same intensity level every single snap. Everyone wears down at some point and these guys have been on the field a ridiculous amount of time.

      5. Chris don’t waste your time explaining anything to dopey davey he lies and says he doesn’t watch the games, then comes on the site to complain about the game he “watched sunday morning!! BOTTOM LINE ND IS 13-3 LAST 16 GAMES!!! #8 IN the country and he says fire KELLY!! WHAT A DOPE!!

    1. Thats what I would like to know. He could have gone anywhere in the country. Do you ever feel like Kelly can’t develop his big recruits. Frustrating as hell

  5. Great article that I think illustrates an issue that many Irish fans are over-looking. Its hard to replace two quality receivers that both should have returned this season but for different reasons are no longer with the team. St. Brown should have stayed and played one more season and dominated and potentially could have been a first round pick. Stepherson should have returned but for conduct issues is no longer at Notre Dame. If you add these two receivers to this team, I think that changes the entire offense and possibly would allow ND to compete for a National Championship this season.

    1. Totally agree Ryan! Even with St. Brown gone, Stepherson would have made a HUGE difference to the dynamic of this offense.

      1. Stepherson took himself out. He had his second chance, and found himself needing a third. Not in this solar system…at least not when they’re legal issues.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. It’s college football. You need to be able to reload every year, like the real programs do. If the entire offense hinges on two wide receivers, that’s pretty weak.
      Stepherson was suspended half the time anyway.

    3. Very good point Ryan. The receivers playing now would be backups providing great depth to that
      position. I think a more macro problem is although ND has not recruited enough breath (across every position including special teams) or depth of talent to be more than a pretender as opposed to contender for a NC. When we have a very good offense, no defense, or great front four and linebackers a weak secondary. That speaks to ND not being a school everyone wants to go to or could get admitted. We are not an Alabama or Clemson! In sum, we get some top talent just not enough at every position.

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