First Domino Falls Notre Dame’s Way: Khalid Kareem Returning for 2019

Notre Dame’s run to the College Football Playoffs this year was fueled in large part by the return of the trio of Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, and Tevon Coney.  All three contemplated a move to the NFL but all three returned to lead the Irish defense.  ON New Year’s Eve the first domino for 2019 fell Notre Dame’s way again with the announcement from Khalid Kareem that he will bet returning for his senior season.

As a first time starter in 2018, Khalid Kareem burst on to the scene in week one with a dominating performance that overshadowed the vaunted Michigan defense in their first visit to Notre Dame Stadium in four years.  Kareem led the Notre Dame defensive linemen with 42 tackles and was tied for second on the team overall with 10.5 tackles for loss.  His 4.5 sacks were good for third behind Julian Okwara and Jerry Tillery who tied for the team lead with 8.0. He added 5 pass breakups, 8 hurries, and a forced fumble as well.

Kareem’s best game of the season was easily his first.  He spent most of that September night in the Michigan backfield collecting a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.  He and Jerry Tillery often were competing with each other to get to Shea Patterson first as neither was blockable for the Michigan offensive line.

Notre Dame loses both Jonathan Bonner and Jerry Tillery next season as the two exhausted their eligibility in 2018.  Kareem’s return means that Notre Dame will have at least one returning starter from its resurgent defensive line on the field on Labor Day when the Irish start the season against Louisville.  They could make that two depending on the decision of Julian Okwara who is also believed to have submitted his name for a NFL evaluation.

With Kareem’s announcement that he will be returning, Notre Dame’s staff must focus its attention on “re-recruiting” Okwara and a handful of other players – most notably Julian Love.  It is believed that it is likely right now that Okwara will end up joining Kareem in returning, but at this point nothing is official.  Getting back Okwara’s 8.0 sacks along with Kareem and Daelin Hayes will make Notre Dame extremely dangerous on the edges.

One of the few bright spots in the Cotton Bowl was the play of senior to be defensive end Ade Ogundeji.  Should Notre Dame get Okwara to join Kareem in returning, the Irish will be three deep at both end positions.  Getting both back would also help the Irish overcome the loss of both of their interior linemen.

On the offensive side of the ball, wide receivers Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin are also believed to have submitted their names for NFL Evaluations.  It’s hard to imagine either of them being overly high draft picks at this point though so logic would suggest that the likelihood of them return being high as well.

Love is undoubtedly the biggest question mark and also undoubtedly the most impactful potentially should he return.  We all saw just how important Julian Love was to the Notre Dame defense in the Cotton Bowl when Clemson blitzed the Irish in the quarter and a half that he was out.  When Love was off the field, the entire Notre Dame defense changed and Clark Lea couldn’t scheme around his loss in time.  If, and it’s a big if Love returns, Notre Dame’s defense will be very strong both upfront and on the backend.

For now though, the return of Khalid Kareem is a very positive first domino to fall for Notre Dame.  If the Notre Dame staff is as successful in their re-recruitment of their players as they were a year ago, the Irish will be in prime position to build off of the momentum built from this year’s run to the playoffs.

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  1. Something a lot of you seem to be missing about the Cotton Bowl game is the fact that until the Love injury, it was a very tight game that could’ve gone either way at any moment. Almost as soon as Love was off of the field, Clemson intelligently took a shot at his absence and it paid off. Clearly our biggest issue in this game was lack of experienced depth. This isn’t to say that Vaughn doesn’t have the potential, but those are huge shoes to fill for an inexperienced DB. One stat I saw was that Vaughn had been targeted 21 times this season, and had given up 16 catches (worst percentage on the team). Upon Love’s return after the half, we were simply playing uninspired football (with a few random spots of shine), which is disappointing but somewhat understandable after giving up 20 points in a single quarter.

    Don’t mistake this as my making excuses for the CFP performance, but don’t be blinded by the final score in your judgment of this year’s team’s real ability when healthy. The part that differentiates the Irishwith the likes of Bama and/or Clemson is simply talent in the depth. Most of Bama and Clemson’s immediate depth would likely be starters or fringe starters at most other programs.

  2. BAMA and Clemson’s distance ahead of everyone else is reflected in their won/loss records as compared to all the other teams. Just stating the obvious here, of course.

    It remains of great interest to me whether or not, after Monday, BAMA has six NCs during the Saban era, to Clemson’s one NC during that time, or Clemson gets its second NC, and freezes BAMA at five (at least for the time being). It’s not so much how it will look Tuesday, or next season, etc. It’s how it will look to folks 15 years from now that interests me. I think it could be analogous to how ARA is remembered after winning his second NC in 1973, as opposed to if he had only won the 1966 title, and lost the ’73 Sugar Bowl. These things matter in the long run.

    This game Monday will be one for the history books either way. It may determine how the history is written, as much as what is written.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Disappointing finish but what a Fantastic year for Notre Dame football. Alabama vs Clemson Monday night should be a great matchup and must see tv even if you hate both these teams like most followers of this site do. Going to be cold, windy, and wet for this game. Notre Dame needed some breaks to keep pace with Clemson and have a chance for the upset. They got no breaks whatsoever. Every close marginal call went against them. They also needed some big plays from the offense. They got none as the O didn’t show up. Thought the Defense played great against a very talented and fast Clemson offense, but needed to force some turnovers and couldn’t. Notre Dame was a really good football team this year. Not Elite but really good. A Top Tier QB is the main missing piece from having a legitimate chance at beating the 5 or 6 Elite programs out there.

  4. Talent is not as disparate as some say. It is really depth and lack of a dominant offensive line that spelled the end for the Irish against Clemson. Clemson fared no better than Notre Dame running the ball, but had much better pass protection and receivers.

    Notre Dame needs a new offensive coordinator. Watching Chip Long for three years now, his playbook is vanilla and he does not adjust well during the game, like his defensive counterpart. Clark Lea is solid. The special teams performed well after the first few games; with the rule changes it’s hard to stand out on special teams unless they blunder.

    It’s hard to measure Book’s performance in the Cotton Bowl with the constant harassment, but his play trended downward toward season’s end. Could not hit his receivers long. Has to be spring competition with Jurkovec to find the right starter.

  5. Nice get..kareem good ball player..and think defensively
    they should be in pretty good shape..maybe a little
    worry at LB next year cause of experience..
    Great season for the most part..but scoring only 3
    pts in playoff is way too defense is
    that good to win, but thought for the most part played well
    enough to stay in that game and give the O a chance..
    Didnt happen but could be a nice season next year even
    with a schedule that will be very challenging..

  6. Texas is clearly trending up! ND not too much! Big difference in coaching, QB play, trenches, and. overall athleticism between ND and Texas. ND would’ve been better off playing either UGA or Washington. way they beat Ohio St.

    1. In hindsight that’s true. But say we played one of those NY Day 6 bowl games and beat Georgia, or Washington, or what the hell, even OSU? We’d all be thinking, damn, what if we were in a playoff game. In hindsight we know we got our butts kicked. But if we never played the game we’d be wondering what if. I know I would be.

      ND sadly still needs a lot of work to do. Back in 2012 I was ok with it, because it was our first NC game in decades. It was a lesson we needed to learn. In a sense, after playing Alabama we knew what we need to do if we wanted to be elite.

      But to find out in 2018 we are still just as far from elite as we were in 2012 was really disappointing. Had the game been 30-27, had we at least put up some fight I’d feel better. I mean, I’d still be disappointed of course, but at least I’d feel like we were closer. But to be just as far as we were in 2012 is troubling to me at least. I just feel like it’s an insurmountable barrier at this point. After Weis (and Davies and Willingham for that matter), BK was a definite improvement. ND is at least a team to take seriously during the regular season (and most bowl games even). But it seems to me that BK just can’t take them that final step.

  7. There’s been a lot of talk on this board arguing about Notredames talent and coaching compared to the elite teams. In watching I would say it’s a little of both.I believe Notredames defense was in the ballpark with Alabama and Clemson. Not as good but not that far off either. When you have offenses that average 50 points a game it’s much easier to play defense. Teams have to throw a lot and your defense isn’t on the field all the time.On offense Notredame under Brian Kelly has never been a machine like what you saw this year with Clemson,Alabama,Oklahoma,Ohio State.Notredames talent isn’t close on offense to those teams. Imho outside of Dexter William’s the other players on Notredames offense would not even start on Alabama Clemson, Oklahoma,OhioState Georgia.Kelly has never recruited or developed a Heisman trophy level quarterback.He has recruited some great receivers and backs but not all at the same time and never with great QBs to go with them.Unless this changes I don’t see any national championships anytime soon.

    1. Pete, et al; Where does Georgia keep coming into the “elite” discussion from? This just baffles me. As I said earlier this year, in writing, “if the Committee puts Georgia in at the 4th seed, Georgia will simply lose to Alabama for a THIRD time in one calendar year!”
      Georgia is much improved under Coach Smart, no question about that…but they are no more threat to win out over BAMA than we are! Where’s your stupid EYE test when you need it dudes?

      I’ve asked this rhetorically (also in writing) before: now I ask it expecting an answer from somebody…WHEN was the last time Georgia had an undefeated regular season? Won the NC? Beat Alabama? Won the SEC title? Finished with less than TWO losses?

      Do me a favor, do Georgia a favor, and do Coach Smart a favor: Don’t crown them as “elite” quite yet! Yes, I think they are on their way, and dramatically improved in the last few years; tougher all around, but just like ND, they still have some things to nail down.

      I’m so sick of hearing that LSU is mediocre and Georgia is “elite” on this site. Neither is true.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. GEORGIA with 3 losses this year is hardly ELITE!! LSU , TEXAS AND BAMA tough teams yes but LSU had 3 losses TEXAS had 4 losses and what was GEORGIA’S big win?

      2. Thank you NDCRAZYMIKE! Exactly the point! Can “elite” teams really lose as many as 3 games? If so, ND has been “elite” three of the past four years…and we all know that’s wrong. But it is just as wrong to say that ND is not trending up! C’mon people…4-8 to 10-3 to 12-1 is “not so much” trending up? Are you kidding me?

        ND, Georgia, Texas, LSU and Florida are four teams that have improved a lot recently…and there are a few more besides, but the standard is BAMA and Clemson, though I would not call them equals quite yet…I sure will call them equals if Clemson wins it all again.

        Some people say it’s bad for college football that two teams are so far ahead of everyone else – but that is bull! In fact, a bunch of teams have upped their game trying to catch up to Clemson and BAMA…and that’s good…very good. It’s a hell of a lot better than “parity”, if anyone remembers that nonsense. What is bad for college football is trying to jam a four team playoff in there some way that preserves a couple of traditional bowl’s TV “rights” to New Year’s Day every year. That will end up diminishing them more than “saving” them. Start doing what our politicians in DC never seem to do: Identify the problem(s), define the desired outcome, and take the necessary rational steps to solve the problem in a way that gets you to the desired outcome…and give everyone a seat at the table EXCEPT the lobbyists, rather than the exact other way around. And do it transparently, exactly the opposite of the way OBAMA Care was done…where some guy from MIT’s Economics College came down from the mountain clouds proclaiming the solution! BTW – I often wondered why MIT even has an Economics Department…but then it dawned on me that our society has to have somewhere to send guys who get rejected by Cal Tech.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      3. Yeah, I don’t want to hear anything from Georgia. Their scheduling was not all that daunting, and the two times they had a chance to make a statement (LSU and/or Alabama) they failed. And then they lost their bowl game. They may be a ‘good’ team, I don’t doubt that, but they proved this season they are not elite.

        To be really honest, I think Alabama and Clemson are in their own class basically and everyone else is so far behind. I’m honestly not sure who would have beat those two teams this year. Oklahoma couldn’t do it at their end and was never any real threat to Alabama. I don’t think Texas would have done any better. And I can’t think of anyone else who comes close.

        I’m still disgusted ND couldn’t put up more than 3 points. I do think we are better than 30-3. But I really do think the only ones that could beat Alabama or Clemson this year is them.

      4. Bruce, I think its safe to say that the Georgia Bulldogs are loaded with ELITE TALENT. Not an Elite program yet but certainly trending towards Elite status. Notre Dame has a few Elite players but not enough to take them to the top. Elite QB at Notre Dame or lack there of is the main problem.

    1. Did he? I thought he said this game left him with a bad taste in his mouth.
      Didn’t hear anything about returning, though I hope you’re right, GK

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