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Irish O-line looks to build on in-season improvements

There were a lot of things that didn’t go right in the first half of Notre Dame’s 2022 season. Few position groups performed further below expectations than Notre Dame’s offensive line. It was one thing to see the Irish struggle to run the ball against an Ohio State team that would eventually reach the College Football Playoff. But to see the Irish held to 3.5 yards per carry by Marshall the next week raised immediate red flags about the state of Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Eventually, the Irish answered those questions. By season’s end, an Irish program known for its O-line prowess was back to handling opposing front sevens. Few Irish fans will forget how the unit flexed its muscles, literally and figuratively, in Notre Dame’s 35-14 destruction of then-No. 4 Clemson. After Notre Dame rushed for just 130 yards as a team against the Thundering Herd, sophomore running back Logan Diggs nearly topped that figure alone. The Irish galloped for 263 yards on an average of 5.6 per carry while also protecting quarterback Drew Pyne well.

That the Irish finished with respectable rankings in stats most associated with offensive line play such as rushing yards (35th) and sacks allowed (39th) given their dismal play at the start of the year speaks to how much they turned things around. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame’s O-line resurgence was All-American graduate student Jarrett Patterson, who was notably absent for the opener at Ohio State due to a right foot sprain. Patterson finished his Irish career with all kinds of accolades. Perhaps most impressively, he did not allow a single sack in nearly 1,700 pass block snaps. The Irish will certainly miss his dominance at left guard.

For as good as Patterson was, the guy to his left might have been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, sophomore Joe Alt graded out as college football’s top tackle in 2022. It’s been a meteoric rise for Alt. He’s gone from three-star recruit (according to Rivals) to starter in 2021 to downright elite last season. Alt could be the latest in a long line of Irish offensive line greats.

They’ll need him to be every bit as good in 2023 with Patterson and Notre Dame’s other starting guard, graduate student Josh Lugg, set to depart. The Irish will have senior center Zeke Correll back and sophomore Blake Fisher will look to build on his breakout 2022 season at right tackle.

Notre Dame adds five new O-linemen to the program for 2023, all from their recruiting class. That quintet includes Notre Dame’s highest rated recruit (according to 247 Sports) in tackle Charles Jagusah. Jagusah is a four-star recruit, as are tackle Sullivan Absher, who comes to South Bend from South Point High School in Belmont, NC, and interior linemen Sam Pendleton (also from North Carolina) and Joe Otting. Three-star interior lineman Christopher Terek rounds out the class.

It’s possible that some of that group sees playing time in 2023, but it would be a major surprise if any of them take over Patterson or Lugg’s starting spots. After all, the Irish also brought in several four-star linemen in last year’s recruiting class, including tackles Aamil Wagner and Billy Schrauth. More experienced options like junior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Rocco Spindler could see increased roles as well. There will definitely be some things for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to sort out in the second year of his second stint in South Bend. But given the strong foundation bookended by Alt and Fisher at tackle, Notre Dame’s O-line should be rock-solid once again. Hopefully from day one this time around.

2023 Projected Depth Chart

LT: Joe Alt, Tosh Baker

LG: Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler

C: Zeke Correll, Pat Coogan

RG: Andrew Kristofic, Aamil Wagner

RT: Blake Fisher, Michael Carmody

Contact Andrew McGuinness at amcguinn@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame 2023 recruiting class instant analysis, grades

Notre Dame signed its recruiting class after an eventful early signing day. Most notably, the Irish entered the day with 26 commitments, but flips affected the class. Five-star safety Peyton Bowen flipped to Oregon and four-star running back Jayden Limar is projected to do the same. 

Here’s an instant analysis and grades given to each position group. 

Quarterback: A- 

Four-star quarterback Kenny Minchey would have probably been worth a B or B+ by himself. However, the recruitment’s timing plays a big role in elevating this grade. After losing out on the Dante Moore sweepstakes, the Irish were down and out on a quarterback in the 2023 cycle. Although projected to get highly-ranked C.J. Carr in 2024, the transfer of Drew Pyne left the Irish with questionable depth at the position. 

Minchey re-opened his recruitment late in the fall after previously committing to Pitt. The Irish coaching staff turned up the heat and landed a prolific passer who impressed at the Elite 11 camps. Not only did the coaching staff walk away from this class with a quarterback, but they walked away with one of the best signal-callers.

Minchey ranks 13th among quarterbacks by the On3 consensus rankings. Rivals ranks Minchey at No. 11 among pro-style quarterbacks. In an interview with The Observer, Rivals Notre Dame recruiting analyst Kyle Kelly compared Minchey to both C.J. Stroud and DeShone Kizer in his skillset and physical makeup. He also called it arguably the Irish’s biggest win on the recruiting trail, so it’s hard to drop this grade below an A-.

Running Back: A-

Don’t stress about the de-commitments in this group. Dylan Edwards and Jayden Limar both flipped to Pac-12 schools, but the Irish held onto their highest-ranked running back in Jerimiyah Love. Love is an explosive runner and playmaker ranked as the 5th overall running back by On3 Consensus. Plus, the Irish have a trio of lethal running backs from this season returning, as well as a high-ceiling freshman in Jadarian Price. The Irish did lose two intriguing names in this group. But it was from a deep-position group that was likely going to see some transfers anyways.

Tight End: B+

Cooper Flanagan is the only signee at this position for Notre Dame. However, much like running back, the Irish didn’t need a ton of depth here. Although they will lose Michael Mayer, the Irish have five tight ends currently rostered that will fight for playing time in 2023. Notre Dame also signed a pair of four-star tight ends last year in Holden Staes and Eli Raridon. As such, there was no real need to go after more than one tight end this cycle.

Flanagan, ranked the 14th-best tight end by On3 Consensus, is an intriguing prospect with big-time upside. The biggest impact here for the Irish is Flanagan’s run-blocking ability. He fine-tuned this skillset in a run-heavy high school offense, and that talent could get him on the field early. He’ll have to earn his snaps in a deep tight end room. But Flanagan’s physicality is a big win for the Irish who must get more reliable blocking at the position in 2023.

Wide Receiver: A 

Unlike at running back and tight end, the Irish needed depth here. They signed just one receiver — Tobias Merriweather — last season, and expect to enter next year with just five returning receivers who combined for under 1,000 yards in 2022. The Irish desperately needed depth, and, if possible, talent that could impact their depth chart immediately. 

Check and check. The Irish produced a haul of four receivers, including three from Texas. Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James may be the biggest names in the group. But Rico Flores Jr. out of California and three-star Kaleb Smith represent solid additions to the group as well. 

Greathouse played with Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik in high school and posted some gaudy stats. His experience playing with a high-level Power-5 quarterback could help him get on the field early. James gives the Irish a third big vertical threat, joining Deion Colzie and Merriweather as receivers that are at least 6-foot-4. Flores posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to end his high school career. And Smith flashed his athleticism while notching two special teams touchdowns to go with five receiving scores. This class is flush with impressive raw athletes that could get on the field early in their Irish careers.

Offensive Line: B-

A little undecided about the haul here. Notre Dame brings in five guys to compete in a loaded offensive line room. This grade is on the higher end of the B- spectrum, and it only falls from a B due to some of the bigger names that Notre Dame missed on. However, Charles Jagusah, the fifth-ranked tackle by On3 Consensus, is a great headliner to this class. Kelly called Sullivan Absher a “prototypical right tackle.” The Carolina native should fit in well as he tries to earn the right to be sophomore Blake Fisher’s eventual successor at the position.

Joe Otting, Chris Terek and Sam Pendleton will probably need more time before having a chance at cracking the starting lineup. They could eventually turn into starting guards or centers for the Irish. The Irish did miss on a few big five-star names, including Kadyn Proctor (Alabama signee) and Samson Okunlola (Miami) along with four-star Monroe Freeling (Georgia) that could have elevated this group.

Defensive Line: B

No major complaints about this group. Although it definitely would have crept up into A/A- territory had they held onto prolific edge rusher Keon Keeley. As it is, however, stealing a high-level pass rusher out of Ohio in Brenan Vernon, directly beating Ohio State for an in-state recruit, is a massive win for Notre Dame. Vernon could be an instant impact player in the edge rusher rotation. Notre Dame is losing Isaiah Foskey and potentially graduate student Justin Ademilola. If Ademilola does depart, senior Nana Osafa-Mensah is the only returning player with more than 80 snaps at the position.

Outside of Vernon, Boubacar Traore is an intriguing prospect. If he stays healthy, which is a prominent concern, he becomes a steal. Canadians Devan Houstan and Armel Mukam are unlikely to make immediate impacts. Time will tell how much the Keeley miss will hurt the Irish. 

Linebacker: A

Just another phenomenal linebacker class from Marcus Freeman and the Irish. Butkus award winner Drayk Bowen has been all-Irish all the time since he verbally committed. He could be an instant contributor on special teams while waiting to crack the rotation in a deep linebacker corps. Jaiden Ausberry is higher-ranked than Bowen by some services. And the Irish stole him out of the heart of LSU territory, winning a key recruitment battle for an elite-level linebacker.

Preston Zinter is a three-star recruit with an intriguing upside. The Irish have maximized recent three-star linebackers, such as team captains Drew White and J.D. Bertrand or 2022 starters Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser. Zinter will be a name to watch. A great group with elite talent and a high upside follow a 2022 class that was high on both quantity and quality.

Defensive Back: B+ 

The Bowen de-commitment hurts. Losing a five-star always will. The Irish lost a pair of them in this cycle, albeit one before the season started in Keon Keeley. That being said, the Irish have buckets of talent here. Christian Gray is the highest-ranked Irish recruit at cornerback since Shaun Crawford in 2015. Micah Bell brings “a rare sort of speed,” with several sub-10.5 100m dash times.

At safety, four-star Ben Minich has run a 10.47 100m and brings elite speed to the position. Adon Shuler was a two-way star this past season and featured dynamic athleticism while accumulating over 100 tackles and 662 all-purpose yards from scrimmage. Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens got four-star cornerback Benjamin Morrison ready to play in a hurry this fall. And he’s got a whole bunch of young talent to work with here.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame National Signing Day updates, analysis

Notre Dame continued to build their official signing class on Wednesday, inking 24 new recruits in the morning hours. Four-star running back Jayden Limar flipped to Oregon, and five-star Peyton Bowen announced the same move at 11 a.m central time. Here’s a look at every recruit that has signed with Notre Dame on National Signing Day, plus overall analysis of the class.

Instant Analysis, Grades of the 2023 recruiting class

Two-way Athlete Brandyn Hillman

Offense

QB, Kenny Minchey

RB, Jeremiyah Love

TE, Cooper Flanagan

Wide Receivers

Jaden Greathouse

Braylon James

Kaleb Smith

Rico Flores Jr.

Offensive Line

Charles Jagusah

Sam Pendleton

Sullivan Absher

Joe Otting

Chris Terek

Defense

Linebackers

Drayk Bowen

Preston Zinter

Jaiden Ausberry

Defensive Backs

S Ben Minich

S Adon Shuler

CB Micah Bell

CB Christian Gray

Defensive Line

DE Armel Mukam

DE Brenan Vernon

DE Boubacar Traore

DT Devan Houstan

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Joe Otting signs on with Hiestand and the Irish

On Wednesday morning, Topeka, Kansas product Joe Otting made his June commitment to Notre Dame official, signing a National Letter of Intent. Otting verbally committed earlier this summer, choosing the Irish over heavy interest from Kansas State and Iowa, among others. Per Rivals, Otting ranks as the 17th-best prospect in Notre Dame’s fourth-ranked 2023 recruiting class. 

Otting receives a 5.8 recruiting rating on Rivals, on the lower end of the “All-American Candidate” section on the Rivals recruiting grade scale. That grade goes to potential day two NFL Draft selections, according to Rivals. Otting also ranks as the 20th-highest offensive guard by the service.

Though Otting doesn’t possess the prototypical domineering frame of a lineman, he still has plenty of size. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 270 pounds. Recruited as a guard, it’s possible Otting ends up at center for the Irish thanks to his quickness and ability to climb up the field when making blocks. Rivals Notre Dame recruiting analyst Kyle Kelly noted that Otting was among a crew of guards and other interior linemen that could make an impact in South Bend after working with strength coach Matt Balis. “Sam Pendleton, Chris Terek and Joe Otting are going to turn into really solid interior offensive linemen. There’s a lot to look forward to with those guys.”

Notre Dame’s line play this season has been excellent under offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Hiestand’s pedigree was undoubtedly a factor that helped lock in Otting’s commitment to the Irish. Hiestand previously oversaw first-round selections Quentin Nelson and Mike McGlinchey in his first stint with Notre Dame. Despite some initial shakiness in 2022, the Irish offensive line stabilized into one of the best in the country. Perhaps providing the mold for Otting’s potential role for Notre Dame down the line was Zeke Correll. The Irish recruited Correll as a guard before switching him to center with great success in 2022. 

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu