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Notre Dame Football

Saturday Could Offer Glimpse of a Healthy Notre Dame WR Unit

October 6, 2020

It's been a minute since Notre Dame has been on the field, but the last seven quarters have been stellar football by the Fighting Irish. 

The Irish offense has been up and down, but the run game hasn't struggled. Notre Dame has rushed for 459 yards and 5.3 yards per carry, including being extremely successful in short-yardage situations.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly gives a ton of props to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and the plan to involve the rest of the offensive staff.

"Everything is about a collaboration," said Kelly. "Tom is a part of that, Lance (Taylor) certainly, you have (Jeff) Quinn and Coach (John) McNulty utilizing his experience and time as an offensive coordinator."

The teamwork has worked in 2020 and it's something that might not have been there a year ago. 2020 has been a wild ride, but having an offensive staff working as one couldn't be a better situation.

"There's great collaboration and cohesion," explained Kelly. "We're running the system that we felt was going to best take advantage of the players that we had. I think it's just coordinated very, very well. 

"Tom has done a great job of empowering those in the room to get the job done, as it relates to the running game. Again, when we're talking about staff, it's always about great communication and great collaboration and I think it's gone very well."

Wide receiver production is an area where the Irish offense can improve. Notre Dame's receiving corps has just 11 catches for 110 yards and one touchdown through two games while battling injuries and inexperience. 

The good news is Notre Dame will finally be healthy this weekend and the Irish should have its two-deep intact for quarterback Ian Book. 

"I think we'll look for some more production from that unit," Kelly stated. "But it has been one, quite frankly, that has not had great continuity yet. We've had some guys out and injured. I think what you'll see is one that provides a little bit more consistency and continuity for Ian in the passing game.

"I do see a unit that will produce at a higher rate, but it's still to be one that takes time. There's a lot of first-year players that are out there. But I do believe it has a high ceiling. This week for the first time, you know, Ben (Skowronek) was out with a hamstring, we'll get him back. (Braden) Lenzy was not at 100 percent. We think he's at 100. 

Kelly also feels the unit will benefit from consistent reps with Book in practice to develop more chemistry and that process will start this week. Saturday could be the first small glimpse into what a healthy and fully available unit can provide the Irish.

"I think it's really about let's keep playing, let's not take two weeks off and practicing and consistency," Kelly said. "A little bit more continuity and I think you're going to see in time an offensive passing game that's going to resemble the kind of talent that I think we have at that position."

And yes, Notre Dame expects to get its No. 1 receiver back this week as Kevin Austin Jr. plans to make his first appearance in over a year. 

"He's going to be modified this week," Kelly explained. "I would say we're hopeful that he's in that 15-20 play range. We'll see how he continues to progress. That won't be entirely my decision. That will be a medical decision that is made. He's on track for that, but we'll see how that goes through the rest of the week."

Notre Dame fans saw Austin in glimpses in 2018 as a freshman, but Kelly expects much more when he gets into the rotation full-time. 

"Based on what we've seen prior, explosive, rangy, outstanding ball skills and a guy that can open up the game," said Kelly. "He can take the top off of coverages. He can catch it and go the distance. He can win 1-on-1 matchups. 

"A guy that would be nice to get on the field for us." 

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