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Football

McGinley: The receiving corps has thinned out

| Wednesday, November 10, 2021

There’s no good time for a football team to lose one of their most reliable and often hit receivers. 

The Irish started with an unbelievable depth at wide receiver that has dwindled in numbers since the start of the season. 

Last spring, The Observer acknowledged the wide receiver losses to the NFL in Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek. But that was nothing to really fear in those losses as the depth was there. The receiving corps consisted of 11 men: three newcomers and eight returners. 

Then, the program got further into spring training and summer camp. To start 2021, if you asked me to predict Notre Dame’s top five wide receivers, I would’ve said senior Kevin Austin Jr., graduate student Avery Davis, senior Braden Lenzy, senior Lawrence Keys III and junior Joe Wilkins Jr. would lead the season. 

Now, 3 of those names will not take the field for the Irish for the rest of the season: 

Lawrence Keys III opted out of the season and into the transfer portal to find a larger role on another team after the 2020 season. He dropped a punt return against Florida State and couldn’t really find a rhythm with quarterback Ian Book.

Joe Wilkins Jr. has been injured since the season began. He’s on the mend but the close of this season will still pass without him on the line.

And now, Avery Davis, who has come up with 386 yards on 27 receptions with 4 touchdowns this season, will not see the field for the last two games. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s home match-up against Navy in a non-contact situation.

So, where do the Irish go from here? 

This leaves Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy from that original top five. They will lead the Irish passing game against UVA in what everyone expects to be another shootout. Unless that is, the Irish defense can contain the UVA offense. They’ve proven themselves against the run, but with Kyle Hamilton out the last two weeks and a less experienced secondary as it is, the Irish offense will need to be able to come up with some points. Austin and Lenzy will need to play a major part in that.

The two are mostly reliable. Austin almost always comes up with the ball in some really difficult plays but drops the occasional easy passes, waiting for a hit that never comes. One of those occurred against Cincinnati and ultimately cost the Irish the drive. As made evident by his touchdown during the Navy game though, they seemed to have worked through that stressor.

Lenzy’s role is meant to mirror Austin’s, but he’s not had the receptions this year that everyone expected. His longest reception went for 32 yards during the Cincinnati game. Ultimately, that made up half his yards on the game for 61. That game was his most receiving yards on the season. His routes seem less clean than they could be from the stands, so over the next couple of weeks he’ll have to make those adjustments and Coan will have to look for him more often without the others on the field.

Looking to the future for help:

Luckily for the Irish, freshmen Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie have seen the field, and done so successfully, in the last few weeks. Without a little depth reassurance like that, Austin Jr. and Lenzy would be almost the sole focus of a weak UVA pass defense this coming weekend and the Irish would get nowhere. 

Colzie and Styles can make a difference though and have proven that in the last two weeks. Against Navy, they each had one reception for 31 and 13 yards respectively. While this is not the biggest impact and comes against a somewhat weaker team, they proved they’re another viable option on the field and that will ultimately make a difference.

It’s also not the only role Styles has played so far this season. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has taken advantage of Styles’ speed in five contests, two of which he had stellar performances in with three receivers in front of him at the time. One was the USC game where he gained 57 yards. In the UNC game, he earned a collegiate career-high of 74 yards.

The Irish are going to have a tight receiving corps this weekend. They’ll bolster it with sophomore tight end Michael Mayer. And the run game shouldn’t be going anywhere, so the offense will have options. But there’s no reason to lose hope for the receivers. The mentality is the same as it has always been for the Irish: Next man up.

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is a junior American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and is Sports Department Editor at The Observer.

Contact Mannion