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Adams: Giving thanks for the 2019 season

| Tuesday, December 3, 2019

After Notre Dame’s senior day victory against Boston College, I wrote a column expressing my frustration for the game despite the 40-7 result in Notre Dame’s favor. I’ll be honest, I was looking for a reason to be negative. However, given that is Thanksgiving, I thought I would write this column in the spirit of Thanksgiving as my colleague Ellen Geyer did before the Stanford game.

So, with the regular season in the books, here’s a look back at everything I’m thankful for from this season.

Ending the streak in Palo Alto

With Saturday’s win, the Irish now have their first victory on the road at Stanford since 2007. Yes, Stanford is not good, as evidenced by their 4-8 record, but regardless it’s promising that Notre Dame could finish the season strong the way they have after a devastating loss to Michigan (can’t be thankful for anything from that game), the one that dashed their playoff hopes.

Finally blocking a punt

There have been so many close calls this season where the Irish nearly got to the opposing punter, but they haven’t been able to get those last few inches except for against Michigan (we’re not talking about that play) and finally against Stanford (and they should have gotten another one).

            66 points against New Mexico

            This is more of a moral victory, but it was the most points Notre Dame had scored in a game since scoring 69 in a win over Georgia Tech in 1977. Lobos head coach Bob Davie wasn’t there to receive the full force of his return to South Bend due to health reasons, but it was a fun afternoon nonetheless, especially because of …

            Kyle Hamilton

            ’nuff said. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound freshman safety is an athlete like I’ve never seen. The one mark against him coming into this season is that he was supposed to be a relatively weak tackler given his build, but have you seen the way he’s laid people out?

He has 25 solo tackles and 39 total on the season, he leads the team with four interceptions and opened the scoring at Notre Dame stadium this season with a pick-6 against New Mexico (2-10). He has one tackle for loss on the year, and of all the players it could be against, he tripped up Navy senior quarterback Malcolm Perry before the Midshipman could beat him to the edge. I could go on and on, but I digress.

Demolishing Brian VanGorder

It was only fitting to put up 52 points on a Brian VanGorder defense after his tenure in South Bend, and to make it the first shut out in South Bend since 2014 was particularly satisfying.

The kicking unit(s)

First, I have to give praise to freshman punter Jay Bramblett, who’s taken over admirably in the steed of Tyler Newsome and his mullet. Bramblett doesn’t have a huge leg, but he gives the gunners time to get to the punt returner, and he’s managed to consistently pin opponents within their own 20 by keeping the ball out of the endzone for a touchback. Plus, his “knuckleball,” as Brian Kelly calls it, resulted in a muffed punt by Georgia to let the Irish go up on them 7-0.

Now, I gotta hand it to Jonathan Doerer. The junior kicker taking over for Justin Yoon, the leading scorer in the history of the school, and Brian Kelly himself expressed uncertainty as to whether or not he or freshman kicker Harrison Leonard would be the go-to guy this season. Even so, Doerer has done his job this season and then some, knocking four field goals through against Boston College and setting a school record against archrival USC by being the first to make three 40+ yard field goals in a game, including a 52-yarder into the wind.

Doerer may have hooked a field goal against Stanford and barely made another, but he’s been steady all season. Also, as I write this the morning after the win, ESPN plays highlights of Alabama’s Iron Bowl loss to Auburn and says that since 2007, Nick Saban’s kickers have missed 101 field goals, eight more than any other FBS team in that span. Thank God for Jonathan Doerer (didn’t think you’d see that this season, huh?).

Cole Kmet coming back

If you missed it, junior tight end Cole Kmet said he’d be coming back for his senior season, and Halleluiah is all I can say. After exploding onto the scene in his first game back from a broken collarbone against Georgia, he had over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown as the Irish nearly pulled off the upset in the first non-conference top-10 matchup in Sanford Stadium since 1966. It’s especially fantastic that “the Comet” returns next year with the departure we all dread …

Chase Claypool being Chase Claypool

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Claypool has always had stud potential, but my word, why couldn’t we capitalize on him earlier in the season? You can thank Claypool arguably more than Kmet for keeping the Georgia game in reach after recovering the aforementioned muffed punt to set up Kmet’s score and for scoring their only other touchdown to cut the lead to 23-17.

You have to feel for a guy playing his best football when it’s too little, too late for his team in terms of a national championship, but he’s been making himself some money over the past few games. 91 receiving yards per game and 8 touchdowns over the last five contests and winning virtually every jump ball thrown his way is definitely the way to finish your career. Fly and be free “Maple Bandit.”

Meeting expectations

I know it’s a low bar to set, but let’s be thankful. This team was projected to win 10 games by most, with virtually everyone expecting a loss to Georgia (a likely result) and another to either Michigan (grr) or Stanford. However, while this was expected, the manner in which we got here was a surprise, due to a disappointing offense and …

Clark Lea’s defense

Cue the angelic choir and doves flying around. This was a huge question mark coming into the season, especially a linebacker group without Te’Von Coney or Drue Tranquil. It didn’t matter. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea had one dud this season against Michigan (ugh), but other than that the defense has followed the same formula virtually every game: bide your time, limit the opposing offense and make all the necessary adjustments at halftime to shut them down.

The only times the defense faltered were when the offense wasn’t able to keep them off the field for a breather, and when the offense needed a spark, the defense obliged more often than they should have had to (see eight sacks, three forced fumbles and a touchdown against Virginia, plus others).

Miscellaneous shout outs

Thank you to senior defensive end Khalid Kareem, and congrats on getting his first career touchdown on the garbage play of all garbage plays against Stanford. The pass rush was disappointing this season, but Kareem never disappointed and refused to let injury slow him down. Also, a big shout out to graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal for taking a humongous leap and being an irreplaceable piece of the linebackers.

Thank you to graduate student slot receiver Chris Finke for your weird bird dance. Thank you to oft-injured graduate students Shaun Crawford and Trevor Ruhland for being the toughest sons of guns we could ever ask for. And thank you to Ian Book, because even though you left a lot to be desired, you powered us to 10 wins and gave us an unforgettable finish against Virginia Tech.

My first season covering football for the Observer was a memorable one, and while it had its ups and downs, I’m thankful for it. God bless us, everyone (except Brian VanGorder).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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