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Notre Dame Football

Three Who Need to Rise for Notre Dame

July 26, 2022
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Notre Dame will enter the 2022 season looking for its sixth consecutive season with 10 or more wins in Marcus Freeman’s first year as head coach. 

The program has talent across the board at key positions, but Freeman’s team will need a few players to expedite their development to hit its ceiling. 

It starts and ends with sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. 

The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder got extremely important reps last year as a true freshman behind Jack Coan and flashed his high potential in 10 appearances. Buchner’s running ability was highlighted the most as he ran for 336 rushing yards and three touchdowns. 

Dual-threat quarterbacks have been the x-factor for many programs in college football in recent memory and Buchner has the chance to be as good as any of them. Buchner has the ability to make defenses pay when things break down in the passing game or an edge defender peeking half a second too long at the running back is enough time for him to get loose. 

Buchner was also able to show off his ability to throw the ball in 2021. The role he played didn’t always call for him to spread the ball around, but when he got extended playing time at Virginia Tech, Buchner was able to push the ball downfield and make plays. Now, there were some throws he certainly wants back, but that’s a freshman learning and there will be more of those moments this year.

Where does Buchner need to shine? Buchner needs to keep the game simple and make the easy throws. Complete the bubble screens to Lorenzo Styles and Braden Lenzy. Hit Chris Tyree in the flat. Lead Michael Mayer on crossing routes.

Buchner doesn’t need to come in and throw for 3,000 yards. He’ll need to do all of the above and Tommy Rees can make that even easier if the Irish can get a run game going. Buchner’s dual-threat ability and a strong run game could lead to big plays when it comes to playaction. Hitting on playaction plays and (or) the RPO game will be huge for Buchner and the Notre Dame offense as teams will stack the box early to make him beat them through the air. 

The natural playmaking talent is there. Remember the off the platform throw against Toledo to Tyree? Buchner just needs to go play because he’ll make plays. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gozQ3O9W9JA

Linebacker Marist Liufau was set to become a star in 2021, but then a broken ankle ended his season in fall camp. 

The 6-foot-2, 229-pounder was missed a year ago as Notre Dame needed a little more athleticism and speed at the second level, especially after Shayne Simon went down with an injury in game one. JD Bertrand filled in well as the lead the Irish in tackles while playing hurt, but Liufau is a chess piece every defensive coordinator wants at linebacker. 

The Hawaii native is able to play inside, but also move to the edge in situational football. Al Golden bringing Liufau and Isaiah Foskey off the edge is exciting - and perhaps even more exciting if it’s the same edge. 

That said, Liufau doesn't have a ton of experience as he came on late during the 2020 season. He’ll need to show he’s a veteran by being disciplined and making the correct read. Liufau will have the benefit of being able to make a play right when he makes the wrong read because he’s that good of an athlete, but he’ll need to continue to grow on the fly. 

If Liufau can become the player Notre Dame feels it has, he can take a very good defense to an elite defense. 

And I’ll leave you with this to think about: 

Cornerback Clarence Lewis has taken a beating from the fanbase over the last seven months for his performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Was it good? No, it wasn’t, but Lewis has also put together a solid body of work over his first two seasons. Remember, he wasn’t a cornerback in high school, so Lewis has had to learn on the fly combined with moving from field to the boundary. 

For comparison’s sake, Lewis finished 2021 with a PFF grade of 67.2 in 832 plays. Ohio State’s top returning cornerback Denzel Burke recorded a PFF grade of 68.8 on 734 snaps. 

And for the record, here are the grades from the cornerbacks selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Sauce Gardner: 87.1
Derek Stingley: 66.6 (3 games)
Trent McDuffie: 86.8 
Kaiir Elam: 61.8

There is no doubt Lewis has room to grow and it starts with gaining his confidence back. Mike Mickens and Marcus Freeman did a phenomenal job of building TaRiq Bracy’s confident up in eight months and there isn’t any reason to think they can’t do the same with Lewis. 

Notre Dame doesn’t have proven depth at cornerback, but they are starting to finally get some bodies who can play at a high level. If Mickens can get a rotation going, Lewis will become more effective as those 832 plays will come down, which lead to a fresher player. 

If Lewis can take a few step forward, Notre Dame will have a very competitive and seasoned secondary and that’s dangerous. 

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