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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

August 6, 2020

At this point it’s up in the air if Notre Dame or any program is going to be playing college football in 2020. That’s not great considering it’s August, but we can only work with the assumption that they will at least start the season.

Also in the not great category is Kevin Austin breaking his foot. As ISD’s Matt Freeman pointed out, it’s the same injury that Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa had that forced him to miss close to three months of game action. Reserve offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons also missed significant time recovering from that same injury.

The update that Notre Dame’s PR team sent out says that Austin is expected back this fall, but the odds of him playing before late in October seem unlikely.

When a team loses a talent like Chase Claypool, there is almost always going to be a drop off. Austin was going to soften that blow as the boundary receiver and he may have even matched Claypool’s production. That’s the type of talent Austin is and he can do everything that is required by a number one receiver.

He has the potential to be the guy who can make a difference against a Clemson type of opponent. If he was available last year, he may have been a guy who could have made that one or two extra plays needed against Georgia last season.

That’s why Austin being out for a significant amount of time could have a real impact on the win-loss record. There are a couple of silver linings in all of this, though.

The first is that graduate transfer Ben Skowronek is someone who can step in and start on the boundary. While he doesn’t have the after the catch ability that Austin has, Skowronek can win contested situations and be a quality option. He’s a big body who can get deep as well.

Javon McKinley will get a chance to expand on the potential he showed last season. Most of his production came in games against weaker competition, but he at least showed signs of the player he was projected to be as a high school junior. This gives him an opening to prove he can live up to that.

This could also be an opportunity for freshman Jordan Johnson to make a mark. While not as physically imposing as Austin or the two fifth-year receivers, Johnson is an elite jump ball receiver with tremendous big play potential. Now he may get some chances to showcase that even if he’s not likely to be an immediate star.

The player who may benefit the most from Austin’s absence isn’t even someone who plays the boundary. After creating a splash with numerous explosive plays in 2019 (18.9 yards per touch), Braden Lenzy is going to touch the ball even more than he would have already. Notre Dame needs as many of those plays as they can get. Without Austin as someone complimenting Lenzy, the obvious reaction is to shift more focus to Lenzy. They could sure use some additional help from others like Lawrence Keys or Joe Wilkins Jr. as well.

It’s unfortunate for Austin because he was finally going to be able to prove to outside observers that the hype is justified. That’s going to have to wait until he gets healthy. In the meantime, Notre Dame is going to have to replace what Austin was going to bring to the table. It probably won’t come from one individual, but the production might be matched by a committee of players who are also eager to prove themselves.

2. There has been some talk about moving the Clemson game to earlier in the season, which makes sense for multiple reasons.

For one, the ACC is going to want to get that game in either before the season is postponed or cancelled. They can miss a Wake Forest match up and not have it affect the conference race. Clemson-Notre Dame is going to have far bigger implications and far more people watching it.

And two, they probably want to get Clemson out of traveling to South Bend in November as a reward for taking away what was supposed to be a bye week before the previously scheduled game. Let’s be honest, the ACC will want Notre Dame to do well, but not too well. Not at the expense of the one team who is their best shot at winning a national championship.

For Notre Dame’s sake, let’s hope this game ends up being as late in the calendar as possible. Not only to have the weather in their favor, but also to have Austin in a game where they will need every playmaker they have to win it.

3. I don’t remember another time that Notre Dame had this many Power 5 opponents who were projected to be bad on at least one side of the ball.

Pitt is going to have a very good, if not great, defense. SP+ has them projected to be 103rd on offense, though. That makes it very difficult for me to think they can beat Notre Dame.

Georgia Tech is projected to be 104th on offense. Duke is 116th. Wake is 99th. Pro tip for everyone out there, but you have to score points to win football games. It’s fair to assume that these teams are going to struggle to score points on Notre Dame’s defense.

Louisville isn’t going to have problems putting up points this season. Their offense is going to be very good again in 2020. The defense? They are 84th in preseason SP+. Boston College is 92nd. Phil Jurkovec can’t play defensive tackle for them. Syracuse is 91st and also 85th on offense. Good luck to Dino Babers this year playing 10 conference games.

That’s seven teams who are expected to be well below average on at least one side of the ball. It’s a little much to call it a three game season for them with Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State as the three best teams they’ll face according to SP+, but I do think the schedule sets up pretty well for Notre Dame.

4. One thing we know about Covid-19 is that people are not all affected the same by it. That goes for young football players tool, as LSU edge rusher Travez Moore described in this tweet.

A 27 pound weight loss for an athlete is certainly not a joke. The odds are that there will be others like this who go through it during the season, which would practically take a player out for the year.

All-Pro linebacker Von Miller certainly felt the impact of the virus and it took him a while to recover. Who knows if there are more stories like this that we haven’t heard yet from other college players who tested positive. Teams aren’t exactly open with discussing this and if Moore hadn’t tweeted it, we wouldn’t know about him.

This is a massive worry for me from a human perspective and not wanting to see someone have their health suffer like this. From a football perspective, it’s definitely worth noting that not everyone is going to be back in a couple of weeks at full strength after having it even though these are young men who are all in good physical shape.

5. I’m happy that Phil Jurkovec is eligible to play this year because it would have been another joke of a decision if he wasn’t. Not because he deserves to play based on the rule (he doesn’t). But because the NCAA pretty much grants every quarterback who transfers immediate eligibility and it would be ridiculous if JT Daniels was playing and Jurkovec wasn’t.

You know else is probably happy right now? Kyle Hamilton.

Out of the 387 interceptions Hamilton had in fall camp last year, 380 of them were thrown by Jurkovec. He throws a gorgeous deep ball, but Hamilton sure can track it well and will probably be licking his chops to get his hands on the football versus BC.

6. Notre Dame doesn’t have a daunting road schedule this year and even if fans were allowed, there really isn’t a hostile environment they were going to walk into. It actually might be more of a disadvantage for the irish on the road this year because all of the fans who would have travelled to Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Chestnut Hill, or Charlotte for Wake Forest won’t be there to give Notre Dame a road crowd advantage.

The one thing I can’t stop thinking about this year is how much harder it will be for each road team to focus. They won’t have to deal with the noise level during the games, but before the games there could be a lot of stress.

I can only speak for me, but getting on an airplane, riding a bus, or checking into a hotel would cause me a lot of anxiety right now. Some players and coaches won’t be affected by that, but some surely will be.

We see a bubble appear to be working right now for basketball and hockey. It has not worked very well for baseball, which isn’t in a bubble. College football won’t be either and that’s where the anxiety comes out with travel in addition to students back on campus.

I hope college football can pull it off, but I can absolutely understand the anxiety a player might have even if things appear to be going well.

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