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Prepare for (potential) greatness, Notre Dame

| Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Did anyone else see Logan Diggs absolutely vault over that UVA defender?

The play immediately brought me back to the infamous Najee Harris hurdle over former Irish defender Nick McCloud in the 2021 Rose Bowl; only this time, it was one of Notre Dame’s guys that did the leaping. What a nice change of pace that was.

Having any Irish player comparable to the No. 24 pick of the NFL draft means good things for Notre Dame, but even more so when they are a freshman. Upon reflection, the match against UVA can be viewed as a glimpse into what could be for the team over the next few years with this group of young players making their way up the depth charts. Though not limited to these names, Tyler Buchner, Logan Diggs, Lorenzo Styles and Xavier Watts are four freshmen (at least in terms of eligibility) that have already made their mark on the program.

With standouts on both sides of the ball, fans can — tentatively — begin to get excited about the future of Notre Dame football.

Tyler Buchner

The quarterback from San Diego came to South Bend highly anticipated by the student body. Many likened Buchner to the “Chosen One,” the one who would usher in a new era after Ian Book’s departure. With a similar emphasis on the run game between the two players, Buchner seemed like the perfect means of transition between the three years under the then-graduate student and the next offense. With a little time, Buchner could possibly fulfill these prophecies.

Buchner has seen the field a considerable amount, given graduate student Jack Coan’s position at the helm. He stands as the second-leading rusher for the team at 213 yards, trailing only captain Kyren Williams. Maybe it’s the number 12 on his jersey, but Buchner is certainly shaping up to be a similar player to his predecessor.

However, his minutes have been sporadic, making it hard for the freshman to get fully integrated into the Irish offense. He may be a good runner, but he needs to be a good play facilitator in more ways than rushing the ball. At UVA, he began to integrate both skills; he demonstrated his impressive arm with a launched pass that just overshot its receiver. Despite the missed catch, Buchner demonstrated that he will be a strong QB1 for the Irish at some point in his career.

Logan Diggs

Clocking in at the third leading rusher at Notre Dame, Diggs had himself an early career day at Charlottesville. Though his hurdle may have stolen the show, his “regular” contributions are the true indicator of his talent. 

He is a constant presence in the game when he plays, proving himself to be a reliable option for his quarterback. There are even times on the field where one can mistake Diggs for Williams or sophomore running back Chris Tyree. The freshman is able to take the inch and go the mile like his upperclassmen counterparts, cutting through the slightest hole in the opposing defense. In doing so at UVA, he marked a career-high 64 yards. His knack for taking advantage of every opportunity will make him invaluable for the Irish going forward.

Diggs will simply have to continue acclimating to the college football atmosphere. Now that Tyree is back in action, Diggs’ playing time may be decreased slightly. He must watch that his muscle memory from the minutes he did spend on the field does not falter; despite older, talented backs ahead of him, he needs to keep the fervor that he would have if he were starting while he waits for that moment to come.

Lorenzo Styles

Styles’ “next play mindset” has made him a force to be reckoned with. With Avery Davis out for the season with a torn ACL, the freshman’s role becomes all the more integral to the Irish offense. He has posted 164 receiving yards on the season so far, clocking in behind senior Braden Lenzy in the rankings. At UVA, Styles ran for a 37-yard gain, putting the Irish in position to score a touchdown two plays later. He is valuable in both aspects of offensive play, and this versatility is key going forward.

One thing to watch with Styles is consistency. He has made the occasional big drop in pivotal games, like the one against UNC, and these slip-ups can cost Notre Dame the game. However, with enough practice and on-field experience, Lenzy will continue to make his presence felt in the program.

Xavier Watts

Xavier Watts may not be a true freshman, but that does not diminish his potential for the next few years. The linebacker from Omaha did not originally start on defense; having switched from wide receiver two weeks ago, Watts has gained experience on both sides of the ball, a knowledge that will serve him well no matter where he definitively winds up. He posted a strong performance in Charlottesville with five tackles to his name, making important stops in the Cavaliers’ drive.

For Watts, it will be landing on his feet in a position and planting roots. While playing both sides of the ball gave him good experience, channeling his energy into perfecting one position will allow his athleticism and knowledge to best serve the Irish

With so many freshmen seeing the field in their first year, gaining that invaluable experience that will translate into their later seasons, Notre Dame is laying the groundwork for a formidable group that has the capacity to get that higher CFP berth Brian Kelly has been craving. If turning over the roster has any advantage, it is in preparing the future generations of Irish football. However, all that depends on how these individual talents are organized. As we have seen this season, talented members mean little when the entire system of players is out of sync. As Kelly said in his postgame presser, the young players are maturing; it is what is done with that maturity that will be the difference between CFP and ‘C’-ya-later.

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