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Notre Dame’s receivers prove themselves a threat against Florida State

| Sunday, November 11, 2018

With all the hype surrounding the breakout season of senior running back Dexter Williams, the Irish receivers proved Saturday against Florida State that they’ve quietly emerged as an integral part of this team’s playoff run.

When it was announced on Thursday that junior Ian Book would be out for Notre Dame’s last home game of the season against Florida State, the doubts about how senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush would play after being benched for six weeks came flooding in.

Would Wimbush still have trouble getting the ball to his receivers? How would Notre Dame’s offense fair against one of the best rush defenses in the country without a quarterback who can throw the ball consistently?

Saturday’s 42-13 routing of the Seminoles (4-6, 2-5 ACC) revealed a much more telling truth about Brian Kelly’s team — it was never really about the quarterback’s in the first place.

Elizabeth Greason | The Observer
Irish junior cornerback Julian Love runs back a blocked extra point attempt for a safety during Notre Dame’s 42-13 win over Florida State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Throughout this season, Notre Dame’s receiving corps has improved exponentially game-by-game. On Saturday, the unit proved that no matter who is under center, it can get the job done.

“We’re brothers. Whatever is going to give us the best chance to win we’re gonna do it, and I think Brandon will tell you that himself; him and Book are really close, and even just talking about the offensive side of the ball, we’re all close, we’re all brothers, and we all love each other, it doesn’t matter who’s out there playing, whoever gives us the best chance to win that’s what we’re gonna do,” senior wideout Miles Boykin said postgame.

Boykin helped the Irish strike first when he caught a 3-yard fade in the back left corner of the end zone from Wimbush to put Notre Dame up 7-0 just a minute and 15 seconds into the contest. It was Boykin’s eight touchdown reception of the season, and he now has caught a touchdown in six-straight games. The last Notre Dame receiver to accomplish that feat? Will Fuller.

Wimbush added two more touchdown passes throughout the night, both of which went to tight end Alizé Mack. Mack caught a 6-yarder in the first quarter, showcasing stellar footwork by tiptoeing the sideline to stay in bounds, and also added a backwards, full-extension grab in the second quarter that went for 15 yards and the score. Mack is the first Irish tight end with two touchdown catches in a game since Durham Smythe did so against Army in 2016.

For Boykin, the switch from Book to Wimbush has no effect on how the receivers execute on the field.

“It doesn’t change a thing,” Boykin said. “As a receiver we always talk about how we have to be in the right place at the right time for our quarterback, and the interception that Brandon threw was my fault because I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. … We understand that we have to be perfect for our quarterbacks and make their job a lot easier; when we’re not doing our job, they can’t do their job so it’s tough in that sense.”

Considering the history of fluctuating of quarterbacks under Kelly and the high caliber of competition between Book and Wimbush, Boykin understands the need to remain focused on his responsibilities.

“There’s no adjustment. We just go out in practice and get our chemistry back,” Boykin said. “It’s not too much of a shift we just have to go out there and do our job, we can’t be worried about who’s under center.”

It was clear that head coach Brian Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff wanted to get Wimbush comfortable in the pocket early, as the Irish started the game with a lot of quick passing routes.

Kelly said the team trusted Wimbush’s ability to throw the ball, despite his past struggles to strike accurately.

“Yeah, you know, we’re trying to attack a defense, but we’re also trying to be smart and utilize the strengths of a quarterback we feel can accurately do the things we want him to do,” Kelly said. “The game plan was solid. We wanted to get off to a great start. We did.”

Wimbush spread his 12 completions out to four different receivers on Saturday night. Senior Chris Finke caught four passes for 59 yards, Boykin finished with four receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown, Mack hauled in three passes for 29 yards and two touchdowns and junior Chase Claypool also added a 12-yard catch.

This improved unit was complimented Wimbush remaining more composed in the pocket.

“I think that I just started feeling more comfortable as the year went on. I knew it was gonna take a little time, but I could’ve kept rolling,” Wimbush said.

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