Will Notre Dame Speed Up Lenzy, Keys in Cotton Bowl?

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

Neither Braden Lenzy or Lawrence Keys played a down of football for Notre Dame this season as true freshmen.  In any previous year the idea of playing them in a bowl game would have been off the table because it would burn a redshirt season.  This year, however, new rules allow Notre Dame to play one or both of them and still retain that redshirt.  With Notre Dame lacking some speed on offense, speculation has been running wild that the Irish could unveil one of them in the playoffs.  Speculation that Brian Kelly has helped to fuel.

In his press conference last week after the Irish were named to the Playoff field, Brian Kelly more than hinted that he and his staff might look to some players who hadn’t played yet for a spark against Clemson.

“They have been practicing for us, and there are some things we think we need against the competition that we’re playing, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next few weeks. But we think there’s a couple guys who could help us in a few areas, yes,” Kelly said.

At the time he was pressed for specific players, but didn’t mention any by name. “I just think if you look at our offense, there’s some areas that I think from a speed area that I think could help us out,” he added.

This past weekend Kelly didn’t do anything to quiet the speculation that we might see Lenzy or Keys unveiled in the playoffs.

“As we were kind of working through the year, there were other areas that we had to focus on, and that was the offensive line. It wasn’t to develop a third wide receiver,” Kelly stated over the weekend.  “Now, we’re looking for maybe one speed guy that could do some things for us in a limited role. We’ll see if there is someone that can up and do something.”

Now the question is whether or not Kelly and Chip Long actually do try to work in Keys or Lenzy into the offense in some capacity.  It is no secret that one thing the Irish offense is lacking right now is a legit big play, speed receiver.  Miles Boykin is capable of making big plays (see 2017 Citrus Bowl) but it’s not his forte.  He is a big, physical, chain moving receiver.  Chase Claypool has some downfield ability, but isn’t really a “burner”.  Finke is great in the slot and can get open downfield too, but he isn’t taking the top off of a defense.

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It does strike me as a bit odd that Kelly is openly talking about potentially using them as much as he is though which leads me to believe that it’s unlikely that either are used much, if at all.  Kelly stands nothing to gain by openly talking about it in the media unless he knows he isn’t going to use them but wants Clemson to spend some time preparing for the possibility.  I mean, why else would a head coach give the opposing team that kind of intel freely?

That isn’t to say it’s off the table though.  Even Kelly mentioned over the weekend that if either were to be used, it would be in a very limited fashion.  “He’s not going to be required to catch six, seven or eight balls. He’s going to do some things to create opportunities where it will be a hero-or-zero play for us.”  So in that regard, think Chris Brown 2012 Oklahoma game.  Brown, then a freshman, knew one route in the playbook and he ran it to perfection to get behind the Sooner defense.

Both Lenzy and Keys came to Notre Dame as dynamic high school wide receivers.  Keys was reportedly further along than Lenzy in training camp so he might have the edge in terms of playing in the Cotton Bowl.  On the other hand, Lenzy is considered to be the real burner of the receiving corps so his top end speed could give him the edge.  Asking either to play against the Clemson defense after not playing a down all season though, is a pretty tall task.

One scenario that could make sense is if Notre Dame struggles to move the ball early and Clemson starts crashing down towards the of line scrimmage, perhaps they send out Lenzy and just have him run a go route to get behind the Tiger defense.  The one area of weakness for Clemson has been against the pass so in theory that could work.

What is possibility more likely is that someone we have already seen play this year in a limited capacity sees a larger role in the vertical passing game.  We saw a glimpse of Michael Young’s big play ability against Northwestern and freshman Kevin Austin had a 35 yarder versus Wake Forest and a 38 yarder versus Navy.  Getting either of them more involved against Clemson could be a new wrinkle that the Tigers won’t have much game tape of.

Michael Young especially just has the looks of a player ready to explode.  He only had 7 receptions this year, but they covered 138 yards.

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Another possibility for Notre Dame to turn to to get some more speed on the field is Avery Davis.  The converted quarterback was expected to play a hybrid receiver/running back role this year but after the staff tried to get him involved in the offense early in the season, he was not seen much after the return of Dexter Williams.  Davis is, however, a dynamic athlete who could give the Irish some more playmaking ability.

Wherever Notre Dame turns for some extra offense, it seems pretty clear that Brian Kelly knows that his offense does need something more than what we’ve seen in order for the Irish to take out the Tigers.  Notre Dame’s offense took a big step forward this year with Ian Book running the show, but the defense they are about to face in a few weeks is a whole other beast from what they have dealt with thus far this season.  Notre Dame did face Michigan’s defense, but Ohio State showed everyone that Don Brown’s Wolverine defense was not all that it was cracked up to be.

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17 comments

  1. David R 10 months ago

    Uh oh. Just watched selected games from the past season. None of the d lines were near the quality of Clemson’s d line. Not even Michigan. Devoted fan but realistic about this challenge. Thoughts?

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    1. ndcrazymike 10 months ago

      AGREE Clemsons D-LINE is better than any we faced this year and maybe the best in the country. ALL the pressure will be on the O-LINE to try and establish a running game of some degree, ND has struggled to run the ball against good defenses! Pass protection and the ability to sustain drives and keep the Defense rested will be the key for ND!!! GO IRISH!!

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    2. Ron Burgundy 10 months ago

      No need to fear, as you suggested they are working on the triple option for this game which will totally fool them.

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  2. duranko 10 months ago

    I side with Karamello below and Darrell Royal 49 Decembers ago.

    After my beloved Ara Raoul pre the Cotton Bowl for the ’69 season, gave a long, thoughtful, precise answer about his proposed techniques for attacking the mighty defense of #1 Texas, Darrell Royal took the podium.

    In response to a question about offensive “adjustments” Darrell, original from Hollis, OK simply drawled:

    “Were going to dance with the one what brung us.”

    There is plenty of ordnance in the Notre Dame offense. Don’t be lulled to sleep by mass statistics. The offense that took the field in Winston Salem NC is NOT the offense that finished the season nor the offense that Chip Long will deploy in Arlington on December’s final Saturday.

    Kelly is quite the master of of
    Disinformation’
    Red Herrings
    False Football Flags

    Observe his pre Michigan comments re Dexter Williams
    Observe his post FSU comments about Brandon Wimbush
    Observe his “deafening silence” in the week before Wake Forest.

    If his musings can cause consternation and furrowed brows in Brent Venables defensive coaching meetings, well, then, good on Brian.

    Karamello is apt and incisive below.

    But think on these things:

    After A&M and South Carolina who were Clemson’s strongest opponents?
    What team, other than A&M and South Carolina posed a potent offensive threat to Clemson?
    What team, other than A&M and South Carolina posed a potent defensive threat to Clemson?
    How many of Clemson’s opponents lost FEWER than 5 games?
    Is the word “gullible” in the Dictionary?

    I must admit it; I didn’t see it coming: the second “silly season”

    16 days and counting.
    I like our X’s
    I like Our O’s
    I like our coaches
    and I ABSOLUTELY FREAKING LOVE OUR SENIOR LEADERSHIP.

    I LOVER OUR GANG OF FOUR on defense: Coney, Tranquill, bonner and Tillery did not return to take a trip to texas to eat Angelo’s barbecue or to be bit players in the Trevor Lawrence show.

    Buckle your chin straps lads. It could be a fun afternoon.

    Go Irish!

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  3. Greg Kelly 10 months ago

    Jeff, that’s all we need is “ cable guy”. The Wife gets all Her movies on amazon prime. I catch the games on regular networks. We found a hard core Irish hangout pub to watch the Irish WIN the Cotton Bowl. ☘️☘️ Not that all to long ago I remember peeking through the neighbors fence to watch closed circuit boxing matches.

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  4. ndcrazymike 10 months ago

    IF you can throw a different look or run a formation CLEMSON has not seen on tape that’s a plus!! Speed is in desperate need for ND’S WR’S, a couple posts or just fly patterns to shake up the safeties on a week secondary will only add to ND’S OFFENSE!! Clemson will try the same thing you have to give a team a different look then what they’ve watched for 3 weeks! But it will always come down to what your strengths are, unless you find that wildcard a team struggles to adjust to!! GK I think MCKINLEY is buried on the depth chart and might be transferring after this year.

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    1. Greg Kelly 10 months ago

      NDCM, It’s all about who gets the last laugh. Just the other night I watched Cordarelle Patterson shred my Vikings. He was hell- bent on revenge. But, it works both ways. The Irish got Alohi Gilman to bolster the Irish defense. I think I have seen 2 balls thrown to McKinley in His career at Notre Dame. I keep waiting for His break out. As most of you astute football watchers know a lot of tricks are up the sleeves for the BIG game. Hope McKinley is one of them.

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      1. jeff 10 months ago

        Game is televised on ESPN which doesn’t bode well for you. Wife going to let you upgrade the cable?

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  5. Karamello 10 months ago

    Now…my question is this. Why didnt these 2 guys get a few touches prior to this. There are top teams all over using true frosh and contributing. Any reason why these two could not have got some jet sweep
    or a couple of now routes…whatever. Instead of waiting til…NOW?? I mean how hard is to put a kid for 5-10 plays over 12 games?
    I’ve never understood this with Kelly…it’s how you build depth and keep kids interested and engaged instead of sitting on the bench staring and drinking Gatorade for 48 quarters

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  6. Bruce Gregory Curme 10 months ago

    If they are ready, physically and technique-wise, use them if you want to. Why not? And if they are not completely ready, leave them be until Spring, right?
    I have complete confidence in Coach Long.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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  7. EdMo 10 months ago

    Book doesn’t have the arm to hit burners though.

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  8. ChrisJ 10 months ago

    Kelly and Long better run the damn offense as it was run all season long!!! This sounds to me like their you know whats are tightening up and all of a sudden they aren’t trusting what we have been doing all season. This is absurd. Trust our guys and what we’ve been doing all season long and we will be successful against Clemson just as we were with everyone else. It’s about execution not about rearranging the offense. Maybe I’m overthinking what they are saying but this scares me a bit hearing anything that remotely sounds like we need to change what we’ve been doing.

    Past history has told us Kelly has not prepared our kids for big games very well and things like this help to prove that. Just be confident and go in there and kick Clemson’s butt. It sounds like they are so scared of them. Gameplan to take the strength of their d-line away and move forward!!!

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  9. KH 10 months ago

    Jafar is one of the fastest players on the team,a 4.4 sprinter who won the 100 & 200 yard high school state titles. Kelley will look to use Jafar in unique sets. These other Frosh guys are decoys for the media and Clemson.

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  10. BC 10 months ago

    No thanks on Avery Davis. Great kid. Great teammate. Willing to switch positions to help the team. Just haven’t been impressed with him at his new position. Can’t waste any downs in a semi-final.

    I would love for them to use Jafar more in 1 and 2 back sets. What a receiving threat and something that could be a great weapon vs. linebackers and safeties. Hopefully he is healthy.

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  11. Greg Kelly 10 months ago

    And one last time. How about giving Javon McKinley a shot at it.

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    1. Karamello 10 months ago

      McKinley is not a burner either. So that really doesn’t fit with this story.

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    2. duranko 10 months ago

      damaged goods

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