Alize Mack: 2018 Notre Dame Football Now Or Never

Notre Dame TE Alize Mack in action against Georgia.

We continue our “Now Or Never” pre-season series with senior tight end Alize Mack. He arrived in 2015 as one of the jewels of his recruiting class. He was ranked 63rd in the nation by composite, and the #1 tight end in the class. He played for national power house Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, and was a star for that team. For his high school career, he reeled in 85 catches for 1,725 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was to be the next star in a string of stars at tight end for Notre Dame. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s, on paper, the quintessential matchup nightmare.

His career got of to a promising, although admittedly inconsistent start. He entered his freshman season in 2015 as a backup to junior Durham Smythe, although he had a role as the second tight end. Smythe was lost for the season in week 2 due to a knee injury, and Mack was elevated to starter. While Mack wasn’t a week in and week out contributor as a receiver, he made some big plays his rookie year. He hauled in key, long, fourth quarter receptions against Temple (that led to the game-winning Kizer to Fuller touchdown pass), and against USC. He finished that year with a modest stat line of 13 receptions for 190 yards.

He came out of the 2016 spring practices as one of the stars. Couldn’t be guarded in the red zone and he was tearing up the Irish safeties. The sky was the limit. Then he was suspended for academic shortcomings, and he was shelved for all of 2016. His ascent was going to have to wait a year.

He returned in 2017 with similar expectations and a desire to make up for his suspension the previous season. That didn’t materialize.

He finished finished tied for third on the team in receptions (19) and sixth in yards (166). He caught his lone and first career touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against Miami. He wasn’t a threat up the seem and was basically a non-factor in the red zone. He was also a low efficiency pass catcher; according to Bill Connelly at footballstudyhall.com, Mack hauled in 48% of his targets and only had a 36% success rate on his 19 receptions. (Success rate measures how often his receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.)

As he moves into his senior season, this is likely his last chance to live up to not only the fans expectations, but also his own. By all accounts Mack was a three and out player coming out of high school, that plan was altered by his suspension, and three and out guys are looking to be picked in the first two rounds of the draft. A big last season could get him there and he is in the perfect situation for it.

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Reasons For Optimism

First of all, his offensive coordinator loves tight ends and coaches the position. Mack is going to be on the field all the time and the chances of two tight ends being on the field around 40% of the time this year is really high. The biggest variable for someone with visions of having a big season is opportunity, and Mack will have a big one.

Secondly, improvement for Wimbush means more chances for Mack. Mack might not be the type of guy who raises the level of his quarterback, like Tyler Eifert was able to do for Rees and Golson. He needs his quarterback to put him in good situations. I think Equanimeous St. Brown was the same way. Those guys need their quarterbacks to elevate them. By all accounts, Wimbush looked much better during the spring and subsequently, so did Mack.

Third, Mack is finally going through a normal offseason after completing a full season with the team. This is the first time the transition from one season to the next has been “conventional” for lack of a better way to put it. Coming off of a suspension after sitting and watching the year before, feeling like you need to make up for something, and live up to something, that sort of thing is what some guys thrive off of, and it makes other guys uncomfortable. Mack never seemed comfortable last year, as if he wasn’t totally sure of his place on the team, especially with Smythe still on the roster. Everything was normal this offseason. No drama. No one ahead of him. A bit of normalcy could be good for Mack.

Lastly, it’s a contract year. This is his last shot. There is something about a players senior year, the last bite at the apple that tends to elevate their play. If being a football player is how he wants to make money, now is the time.

Reasons For Pessimism

Mack simply has not been a playmaker for Notre Dame in 26 games in an Irish uniform. And I don’t really consider two receptions in 2015 where he was essentially uncovered to be evidence of being a playmaker. Maybe it was the comfort thing. Maybe he couldn’t get on the same page with Wimbush, but he’s had chances, and it just hasn’t happened.

This play against Temple is a good example. He runs an out and up late in the first half, and Wimbush puts the ball in a position where Mack can go up and make the catch. He clearly sees the safety coming over and he short arms the ball a little bit, and it goes down as a drop.

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This isn’t the only time this happened with Mack, and that’s a play someone like Tyler Eifert is making. I’m not so sure Mack suddenly transforms into a guy who is making that play.

I also question his ability to get open out of the slot, where he spends a lot time. He hasn’t shown he can use his size to get open against defensive backs, either by walling them off or just beating them off his route. And since he hasn’t been a good catch the ball in traffic guy, he needs to be open in order to be effective. If he spends more time attached to the line this season, I see that being where he is most effective, because it takes advantage of his ability as a blocker (where he is underrated), and gets him away from smaller defensive backs who are quicker than him, and against linebackers who can’t match his foot speed.

Overall, I see Mack being a positive for this team and putting together the best season of his career.  There is a chance, however, he is overshadowed by sophomore tight end Cole Kmet, although their numbers could be similar.

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10 comments

  1. Bruce Gregory Curme 4 months ago

    Greg,
    I don’t understand why a player who has been in the program for three or four years should still need to build “confidence” – whether at tight end, QB, or anywhere else. If a lack of confidence is really the problem, it should have worked itself out by the end of year two, shouldn’t it have? I have confidence that the receivers this year will be extremely dangerous guys…guys who go after the ball wherever it is in the air, as Southside says below. I have HOPE for the tight ends as well, including Mack. But you have to really want that ball…and we need to see that from the TE’s. Again, as I’ve said before, we’ll know by halftime of the Michigan game. One thing is for sure, it definitely is “now or never” for Mack. Good people will be waiting on the bench for their chance.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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    1. Bruce Gregory Curme 4 months ago

      You know, since we’re talking about receiving more than blocking today, I’d like to preach briefly again on a previous topic. I only played organized football (in 1966?) in eighth grade. But back then the receiver tried to score on just about every play. And a lot of guys took their eyes off the ball to look for daylight or the endzone (or on third down, the sticks). And if you just caught the ball and hit the deck, you were a wuss, or something. But today, in traffic, just catching the ball and hitting the deck (if you are at or beyond the sticks) is smart football, and in the long run, it would cut down on concussion plays, and other injuries, if more guys did it. Besides, you did your damage already, right? First down…three more downs to damage them some more. Save the touchdown play for either a post or a fly that is two yards open, or a busted coverage…a blunder by their “D”.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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  2. Greg Kelly 4 months ago

    What He needs is a few big league catches early on to build up his confidence and gets comfortable fitting in with this years offense.

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  3. ChrisJ 4 months ago

    Mack has been the biggest disappointment of any ND player I’ve seen come through based on his 5-star status and #1 TE recruit out of high school. He has done nothing on the field basically. One TD and a countless amount of drops. Our TE roster is stacked right now so if we see the same Mack early on, I’m afraid his playing days are going to be over. For his sake, I hope he breaks out and has a monster season. I will say that he was making some really good catches that he typically does not make in the spring game this year. That was a big positive and hope that transitions into the season for him.

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    1. BrendanQ 4 months ago

      I agree, Chris. The only other player I would rank right there with Mack is Max Redfield. Hopefully we see him have a better conclusion to his Irish career than Max did.

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    2. southside 4 months ago

      ChrisJ , there’s just something about him — when he’s on the field of play. Play maker is a guy who wants the ball , can catch the ball –and can go extra yardage —by evading first tackle attempt , keep the drive going. Obviously he’s not a long threat in open field–like some outstanding tight ends in college football. Down near goal line Irish are more comfortable with Nick Weishar –TE who can catch in heavy traffic–and as former B-Ball player at 6’4″ leaping ability in endzone. I’m hoping Mack has a great senior season —and contributes to the offense. But if he don’t —Irish have good stable of tight ends that can do the job.

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 4 months ago

        Southside,
        We can put out the tallest set of eligibles we’ve had since Samardza et al played here. We just need to be 7-10% more accurate with the passing, and there is no defense for the brutal running and passing assemblage on offense, especially if the QB can run explosively too. If you think our red zone efficiency was good in 2017, wait till you see this! But, as I’ve said before, none of it happens at 49% pass completion rates. Those are OK rates for the bone, I suppose, but not for the spread or the I. Southside, personally I think the “O” is going to do it…they are going to look like we looked against MSU at East Lansing, and against USC at home.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      2. ChrisJ 4 months ago

        Southside,

        Our TEs are definitely stacked so Mack must catch everything early because he will be the #1 but he’ll have to prove it to keep his job for sure.

        Bruce,

        We definitely have some good size all around and red-zone efficiency should be amazing with the big bodies and also Wimbush’s ability to run. I’m pretty sure last year we were leading the nation in red-zone TD efficiency late in the season. I know everyone bashes Wimbush’s completion percentage but does anyone know how many drops there were last season from ALL of our receivers? Is this actually tracked as a statistic because last season I’ve never seen so many drops before from an ND team which really hurt considering you have a brand new QB that needed help more than ever. If you change 20 drops to catches, that’s going to raise the completion percentage quite a bit. I think Wimbush is going to have a great season this year and the receivers are going to help him out a lot more this year!

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      3. Bruce Gregory Curme 4 months ago

        Chris J.,
        I do not know the number of drops but it was really high for ND receivers, except vs. MSU early in the game and LSU late. But look, I think that problem is fixed…I really do. Between some big second half catches in the Citrus Bowl, and some pretty reliable play at the Blue Gold game, I think with this new mix, plus a freshman or two, and we should be good to go. Sometimes certain players just play together well…I believe that will be the case for our receivers in 2018. My brothers are going to Nevada for the week pretty soon…I am actually considering a modest wager on ND to win it all, though I rarely bet sports. David tipped me off to the nice odds for it.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    3. jeff 4 months ago

      Tyler Luatua was a 5star TE and every bit the disappointment Mack has been.

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