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irish insider

Irish pitch recruits as missing links to success

| Friday, November 15, 2019

With the regular season winding down and only three games left on Notre Dame’s schedule, thoughts of the 2020 recruiting class become more prevalent. The Irish have struggled this season on the offensive side of the ball against premier competition, a fact that can be cause for concern with how much more offensive-minded college football has become. According to Bryan Driskell of Sports Illustrated, in order to alleviate their offensive woes, the Notre Dame coaching staff are seeking out athleticism to put the Irish on par with the top tier teams in college football.

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish graduate student wide receiver Chris Finke runs downfield during Notre Dame’s 38-7 win over Duke on Nov. 9 at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“I think Notre Dame is still trying to close the gap with Clemson and Alabama from a speed and explosiveness standpoint,” Driskell said. “Brian Kelly mentioned that recently and although they have certainly done a good job adding that to recent classes, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why the 2020 class is so important.”

The Irish have put their best foot forward in the recruiting arena, locking up high-end talent for the upcoming year.

“With [four-star all-purpose back] Chris Tyree in the class and [three-star wide receiver] Xavier Watts and [five-star wide receiver] Jordan Johnson, Notre Dame has three very explosive players on offense,” Driskell said. “So they’re certainly closing that gap on offense. I think there’s still a need for a little bit more athleticism to be added on the back end of the defense and I think that’s going to be a priority, especially for the 2021 class. … [But] those three guys are really just difference-maker type of recruits for Notre Dame.”

Despite missing some of his senior year with an injury, Tyree has been playing very well among strong competition, Driskell said.

“Chris Tyree missed a good chunk of the middle part of the season because he had an ankle injury. But when he’s been healthy, he’s been really dynamic,” he said. “Last I checked, he was averaging a little over 10 yards a carry. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the entire country. He plays at a very strong level of football in Virginia.”

At the receiver position, Watts has also been performing very well for his team on both sides of the ball.

“Xavier Watts has been absolutely dominant this season for Burke High School in Omaha, has over 1000 yards receiving,” Driskell said. “They won a conference championship again, and he’s also an All-State-caliber defensive back. And his ability to dominate on both sides of the ball really is what stands out about him when you compare him to other players in this class, he’s just a tremendous football player.”

As for Johnson, his numbers haven’t been what one might expect from a player of his prestige. However, Driskell said it is simply because he has had to defer somewhat to the various talent around him.

“Jordan Johnson is in an interesting situation, because his numbers aren’t exactly numbers you would expect to see from an elite player, and part of that is because his team is just so good, that they [are] just really dominating people. They are currently I believe … still 10-0, right now, and their closest game they’ve had this year was within a point. Every other one that they’ve had has been by double digits. I mean, they’ve won 63-0 twice, 49-7, 49-3, 49-7, 50-7, you get the point. His numbers haven’t exactly been great because he’s coming out of the game at halftime a lot. And so, if you look at his total numbers, he’s got 22 catches for 442 yards, but eight of those 22 catches were for touchdowns, and so he makes that early impact and then they blow a team out. So he’s having a really good season, he’s right on track for what you’d expect for him to be from a development standpoint.”

Despite Notre Dame’s offensive struggles, Driskell says the Irish have managed to use their disparities as a marketing tool to convince recruits to join them.

“I think what they sell is, “look, you’re that missing piece.” I think that’s very attractive to young people. … I mean, LSU all of a sudden went from a mediocre offense of the last decade to one of the best offenses in the country, and Oklahoma’s doing that every year, Ohio State’s doing every year,” Driskell said. “Well, how do you sell that? One [way] is to say, ‘Hey, look, you’re going to come in and be that guy, you’re going to be the reason that we’re going to get to that level; and obviously, we’re not a great offense so the guys that are on offense now don’t have conditions locked down, you come in [and] you prove yourself, you’ve got that speed that we need to get to that next level.’ And I think that can be very attractive to young people, especially with how affective Notre Dame has been as far as winning games. And ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s really what sells Notre Dame. You can look at the offense and the defensive numbers, and that’s important, but if Notre Dame is winning games, they’re going to recruit well, and it’s going to be an attractive option for young people.”

As Notre Dame gears up for a top-25 matchup against No. 23 Navy, this game holds few implications in terms of recruiting for the Irish according to Driskell. Rather, as he mentioned, this game — and the two after it — form a composite effort for the Irish to continue racking up wins and putting together another solid campaign to remain in the conversation as an elite program.

“The vast majority of Notre Dame’s games — with the exception of USC, Georgia, Michigan — most of their games aren’t games that are going to sway kids one way or the other. [They don’t] mean you’re all of a sudden going to land the No. 5 player in the country. It’s more about the big picture. It’s more about Notre Dame winning and getting to 8-2 and getting into the top-15, and then beating Boston College and then beating Stanford, going 10-2 and getting in the top-10,” Driskell said. “So it’s more about is Notre Dame, a program that’s put itself in position to be a playoff-contending team year after year? That’s more important than a specific victory.”

Driskell emphasized his point with stories of high-level Notre Dame commits remaining loyal to the Irish despite abysmal performances during their visits.

“I’ve seen kids, [like] Manti Te’o visited Notre Dame in 2008 in a game where Notre Dame lost to a two-win Syracuse team, and the student section was throwing snowballs at the players and he went inside at halftime [because he was] so cold. He still picked Notre Dame. So the specific games don’t matter as much,” he said. “I think Michael Floyd visited Notre Dame when they lost to USC 38-0. It’s more about can Notre Dame present itself as a big-time program where these young people can go and compete for championships? That matters more than a specific game.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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