The media got its last full look at the 2021 Notre Dame football team prior to the opener against Florida State, on Thursday. Throughout the first couple of weeks, news and tidbits have trickled out about some of the trends, to go along with what’s been observed during the two full practice viewings. Obviously, with 13 more fall practices to go nothing is set in stone, but there are some consistent reports consistent enough that we can extrapolate what they might mean for the team overall. Here are 12 of them.
1.) The Offense Is Going To Look Very Different
This one goes all the way back to the spring, but it’s pretty clear the offense is going to be much more wide open and dynamic than the 2020 version. The conventional wisdom is this is enabled by the change at quarterback, but it is more likely due to the shift in weapons. The top two wideouts at this point are seniors Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, whose strengths differ greatly from Notre Dame’s leading receivers last season. Where last seasons group relied on size and strength, Lenzy and Austin are all about explosiveness. Naturally, they’ll be used differently by Tommy Rees. Couple that with captain Avery Davis and fellow senior Lawrence Keys, and the overall look of the receiving corps has shifted.
Combine that with super sophs Michael Mayer and Chris Tyree, not to mention captain Kyren Williams, and an offense that relied on power and bulk will now lean on their skill and speed. Should be exciting, if nothing else. And a major headache for defenses, especially Florida State, who hasn’t seen this version of Notre Dame’s offense.
2.) The Offensive Line Is Set
One of the biggest off-season questions has been answered. It’s going to be Blake Fisher at left tackle, Zeke Correll at left guard, Jarrett Patterson at center, Cain Madden at right guard, and Josh Lugg at right guard. The top back ups appear to be Michael Carmody, Andrew Kristofic, and Tosh Baker. If one of the guards goes down, I’d imagine they’d be replaced by Kristofic or Carmody, with Baker replacing Lugg and Carmody replacing Fisher in that event. (Also possible Carmody is the #6 lineman outright.) If Patterson goes out it’s Correll or Kristofic.
3.) The Running Back Room Is Deep
It’s hard to know how much practical difference this will make in terms of wins and losses, but Notre Dame has clearly hit with their two running back recruits in 2021, especially so with respect to Logan Diggs. Every update, every viewing features him earning plaudits for his play, much like Josh Adams did in 2015 when he kept running for touchdowns during media viewings.
It’s hard to unseat players who have played as much as Williams, Tyree, and Flemister have. Don’t forget, C’Bo has rushed for 10 touchdowns the last two seasons. That’s a good amount, and not all garbage time. The coaches won’t just toss that aside. But, there were some questions about the post-Williams outlook and it appears to not be a concern at all.
4.) Marist Liufau Is Here
On our recent podcast with Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman, who spoke of how disruptive Liufau had been and raved at his overall size. Then his colleague gave big praise to Liufau following Thursday’s viewing.
Liufau has reportedly been playing all over the defense and is a freight train on the blitz. A playmaker at linebacker to take the place of JOK would obviously be a huge development. We may be on the verge with Liufau. (It might be time not to rank kids from Hawaii at all, the services clearly don’t have a feel for it.)
5.) Kevin Austin And Braden Lenzy Are Surging
Throughout fall camp, these two receivers have consistently risen above the rest of the wideouts in terms of buzz and level of play. Lenzy is getting deep at least once a practice, and Austin has been unstoppable. For the offense to take leaps beyond what it’s been in the past, this was a must. There are no dynamic legs at quarterback this season to help the offense along. They need the players with the highest upside to hit, and it looks like they will.
6.) The Receivers And Defensive Line Are Dominating, And That’s What We Want
One thing the receivers and defensive line have in common is they are dominated by upperclassmen, going against a younger or lesser experienced group. The offensive line, which features a true freshmen, a transfer, and another player who has been playing guard for ten minutes, needs to get its butt kicked a little bit to get where they need to go. And it’d be an issue if they were having their way with a couple of captains, a senior, and a bunch of other upperclassmen who have gotten significant snaps.
The same is true at wideout. The top three corners feature two sophomores and a converted receiver who is getting his first real playing time. A bunch of senior wideouts ought to be taking it to them every day. (Insert “Iron sharpens iron” quote here.)
Going through trials like this is no guarantee of success for the offensive line or the corners, but it’s the best way to get them prepared.