Irish role players have big opportunity in Gator Bowl after opt-outs, transfers
Liam Coolican | Wednesday, December 28, 2022
As Notre Dame prepares for the Gator Bowl against South Carolina Friday afternoon in Jacksonville, they will be without several key players.
Most notably, junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey have opted out of the contest in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne transferred to Arizona State, ending his Notre Dame career as well. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will also miss the game due to a shoulder injury.
Here are some key players who will have increased workloads, and with strong performances, could make a case for an elevated role next season.
Tight end Mitchell Evans
Well-known for his signature tight end sneak in short-yardage situations, Evans will have the opportunity to showcase a much wider range of abilities against the Gamecocks. Not even listed on Notre Dame’s first two-deep depth chart of the year, Evans earned a spot in the rotation thanks to his reliable play. Mayer’s departure leaves him as the top tight end heading into the bowl game.
While Mayer will undoubtedly be difficult to replace, Notre Dame will have no shortage of options heading into next season. Junior Kevin Bauman, who was Mayer’s primary backup to begin the season, missed most of the year with a knee injury but is expected to return. Freshman Eli Raridon will return from injury as well, and the Irish also add highly-touted recruit, Cooper Flanagan, to the mix.
Yet Mayer has commanded the lion’s share of targets over the past three years, which means that the position of his successor is effectively wide open. Notre Dame is well-known for its tight-end-heavy offense, meaning Evans will have a massive opportunity to show that he can be the top option heading into 2023.
Defensive ends Nana Osafo-Mensah and Alexander Ehrensberger
In the wake of Foskey’s departure, some new pass rushers will have the chance to make a name for themselves. Graduate student Justin Ademilola will take Foskey’s role as the primary Vyper, while junior Rylie Mills was listed as the top defensive end on the roster. Both of these players already have had substantial roles this season, so two lesser-utilized defensive ends will certainly rotate in and see plenty of snaps Friday.
Osafo-Mensah tallied 11 total tackles and a forced fumble this year, while Ehrensberger has appeared in just three games this year, notching two tackles against Boston College. The defensive line position appears to be wide open next year. In addition to Foskey, at least one of the Ademilola twins will be graduating, although Justin has another year of eligibility if he chooses to stay at Notre Dame. Graduate transfer Chris Smith will also be departing.
This leaves several spots open. Mills and junior Jordan Botelho will both likely see expanded roles next year, but the defensive line is a position that requires a great deal of depth. With strong performances against South Carolina, Osafo-Mensah and Ehrensberger can take a step towards an increased role next year.
Quarterback Steve Angeli
Interestingly, the depth chart listed both sophomore Tyler Buchner and freshman Steve Angeli as the QB1 for the bowl game. Head coach Marcus Freeman has since specified that Buchner, as expected after Pyne’s transfer announcement, would be the starter. However, the “or” designation signifies that Angeli may be in line to get his first meaningful action of the season Friday.
As rumors continue to swirl about potential transfer quarterbacks, Notre Dame could be in an interesting situation next year. While the coaching staff continues to insist that Buchner is fully healthy, injuries have plagued his short tenure with the Irish and he is 0-2 as a starter. While it is clear that Buchner has the talent to lead a team, his availability will remain a question mark.
If Notre Dame doesn’t add a transfer signal caller, depth could be extremely thin at the position, with Buchner, Angeli and incoming freshman Kenny Minchey leading the group. This bowl game is extremely important for Buchner to prove himself, but it is also vital for Notre Dame to see what they have in Angeli.
Cornerback Jaden Mickey
Hart’s continued injury gives Mickey another opportunity to prove himself. It has been an up-and-down season for the freshman corner, but he wasn’t expected to play as much as he has prior to the season. The comparisons to fellow freshman Benjamin Morrison and rising superstar are inevitable, but Mickey has generally played well in his role this year.
However, with Hart set to return for the Irish and Morrison seemingly locked into the other starting role, Mickey needs to have a big game this weekend to show that he can be a continued factor in what is shaping up to be one of the nation’s better secondaries. Graduate student Tariq Bracy is set to graduate and Clarence Lewis continues to be an up-and-down performer. The opportunity is certainly there for Mickey if he can seize it.