Claypool leads Irish receiving corps in breakout performance
Elizabeth Greason | Sunday, November 4, 2018
Sometimes, a player is just due for a big game.
That’s how it felt for Chase Claypool on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.
The British Columbia native had a somewhat of a breakout season in 2017, totaling over 400 receiving yards. However, Claypool had found himself slightly stagnant offensively this season, recording 30 to 50-yard games, grabbing a touchdown here and there. His previous high on the season was 61 yards against Pittsburgh.
But against the Wildcats, the wide receiver tallied 130 yards for the Irish, and while he didn’t pick up any touchdowns or make tons of flashy plays, the junior certainly earned the game ball head coach Brian Kelly presented to him after the game.
“He has really ascended this year — I want to be careful in the way I put it — in the sense that his maturity has allowed that growth in everything that he’s done: his work ethic, the way he practices, I think that anybody that’s been around the game knows that the great players are great practice players,” Kelly said. “The way he practices now carries over to the way he plays. So, it’s great to see him have that kind of success, and it’s showing itself in his maturity and the way he practices.”
Claypool led the Irish (9-0) on Saturday with eight receptions, and more than doubled the next-nearest receiver’s total yards, as sophomore Michael Young picked up 60 on the day.
The junior wideout returned to the forefront of the receiving corps this week, taking advantage of the absence of senior tight end Alizé Mack, who is still in concussion protocol. Claypool’s size and athleticism allow him to act in a similar capacity to a tight end, at times.
“Alizé’s guy coming in is [sophomore tight end] Cole Kmet, and he’s huge. And then we’ve got [senior wide receiver] Miles [Boykin] on the other side, and then we’ve got me, so I think we work around it for sure, but we’ve always got targets to hit,” Claypool said.
Claypool noted that one of the major tasks he has been working on this season has been picking up yardage after the catch and increasing the physicality of the play. That was on full display against Northwestern (5-4, 5-1 Big Ten), as Claypool averaged 16.3 yards per reception, regularly gaining yards once he had the ball in his hands.
“It’s been our emphasis as of late, YAC [yards-after-catch],” Claypool said. “The first half of the season, we haven’t really been getting YAC, we’ve been more possession receivers, so we kind of emphasized throughout the week, yeah, tight turns up the field, so that’s kind of where that comes from, just practicing.
“I think it gives me an edge, if I can go attack the guy one play, and then slip by him and catch a ball the next. It makes it hard for the defender. So, whatever I can do to try and give me that advantage, I’ll try and do, for sure.”
Claypool said postgame he wasn’t necessarily expecting to have such a big night against the Wildcats, but he was hopeful he would be able to contribute in any way possible to the team.
“The game plan definitely set me up for that, I didn’t know it was going to be this many opportunities to make those plays, but going into the game you always want to feel like you’re going to play a big role in the game,” he said.
Junior quarterback Ian Book felt the connection with Claypool tonight, as evidenced by the pair’s combined stat lines, and felt confident going to him in tight situations — knowing he could trust the junior to do his job.
“Chase did awesome, and it was really good to see. I know how hard he works in practice, and he was due for a big night like tonight and he can make every play and every catch that he did out there, so it was awesome for Chase. Such a good night like that,” Book said.
“He’s so big and so fast, so when you get him the ball — that’s my job, get him the ball as soon as I can — we know he’s going to make plays for us, and obviously tonight he showed that he can shed some tackles.”