“Beast Mentality”: McKinley steps to forefront of receiving corps against FSU
Jimmy Ward | Monday, October 12, 2020
After choking up a quick turnover on their second play from scrimmage, the Irish were able redeem themselves on the offensive side of the ball and find the endzone on six of their next eight drives Saturday night against Florida State.
Save that one fumble and Florida State’s goal line stand in the final two minutes of the game, the Irish offense was able to answer any questions anyone may have had about how they have maintained their fitness away from the field for the past three weeks.
The Irish were able to establish a strong run game with their No. 1 PFF rated offensive line paving a superhighway for sophomore Kyren Williams and freshman Chris Tyree at running back. They rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns and 103 yards and one touchdown, respectively. But the icing on the cake was that Ian Book finally seemed to establish a good connection between himself and his receivers, especially graduate student Javon McKinley.
It is a connection that seemingly surprised McKinley, but plenty of others, including his head coach Brian Kelly, could have told you it was just a matter of time until McKinley stepped up and really started playing a role in this offense at some point in the season. Kelly said that the only setback McKinley has is not thinking of himself highly enough.
“He’s coming on. I mean he’s— it’s just one of those things where sometimes it just takes longer,” Kelly said as he looked at McKinley from across the media room. “He is a beast and he just needs to think that way more often. I think he’s starting to think that way. I mean I think he is, isn’t he? Aren’t you?”
McKinley could be heard in the background of the postgame Zoom conference responding, “Yeah, yeah.”
The conversation of the chemistry between Ian Book and his receiving corp has been a hot storyline this season. McKinley was able to apply what he and Book have been working on in practice and showed that he is a force to be reckoned with. McKinley tallied up 107 receiving yards on his five targets, more than half of Ian Book’s 201 pass yards and the most yards recorded in a single game by any receiver this season.
“[McKinley]’s starting to think that way. He can’t be defended. There is nobody, I don’t think, in college football that can defend that kid,” Kelly said. “I mean, [junior Asante] Samuel [Jr.] is one of the best corners in the country and he didn’t have much of a chance defending him. If he just continues to work the way he’s been working — he’s been one of our better practice players. He is a great leader with those wide receivers. I’ve been telling him he’s got a chance to do some special things.”
McKinley was also at the receiving end of Ian Book’s longest completed pass through the air this season with a 36-yarder. Additionally, his 107 receiving yards just barely tops his season high last year when he hauled down five passes for 104 yards against Bowling Green.
McKinley is no stranger to adversity either, though. In his freshman season he played in six games and his team finished 4-8 on the year. Near the end of his freshman season he broke his leg, which would subsequently force him to sit out his entire sophomore year.
Through all his ups and downs, it seems that McKinley has found his role on this Irish depth chart and it is coming at a very opportune time for Ian Book, who is dealing with turnover within the receiving corp. McKinley has the hot hand in that room for the time being and there is plenty of opportunity for this group if McKinley can lead by example and set a fire beneath them.
One way to that? Play like a beast. McKinley said that being a beast requires a certain kind of mentality.
“It’s a mindset, it’s natural,” he said. “It comes natural to me in the terms of the way you want to play on the field, in being in a dominant mindset and beating the opponent across from you every single play that comes with that beast mentality. And I think I put that on a little bit today.”