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Notre Dame Football

The Tough Task of Replacing Mayer and Foskey

December 13, 2022

Notre Dame has two players who project to be high picks in this spring’s NFL Draft. It wasn’t a surprise that both of them elected to opt out of the Gator Bowl and not risk injury, but it doesn’t make losing them any less difficult.

No one can simply say “next man in” when it’s Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey.

Mayer had 34.8% of Notre Dame’s receptions this season. He had 40.9% of their receiving touchdowns. He had 33.7% of their receiving yards. To say his absence fundamentally changes the offense isn’t an exaggeration.

Foskey had 31.4% of Notre Dame’s sack production this season. Not having him available, especially on 3rd down, changes how Notre Dame’s going to play defense.

Not having Cam Hart due to injury and not having Drew Pyne after he entered the transfer portal is different. It’s not to say that those two players weren’t valuable this year, but it’s not the same level as losing two elite players like Mayer and Foskey. It’s more than the overall production. It’s that when Notre Dame needed a big play, Mayer and Foskey were usually the ones who stepped up to make them.

It’s not as simple and plug and play for their replacements.

For Mayer, it will be by committee. Mitchell Evans had one target this season. Holden Staes had two. It’s going to be a completely different story for them against South Carolina.

Evans was seen as more of a receiving option when he signed with Notre Dame and he flashed some big play ability in the Blue-Gold game in 2021 (3 catches for 59 yards), but he’s been used primarily as an in-line blocker this season. It’s doubtful he is going to be a go-to receiver on 3rd downs like Mayer was (at least not in this game).

Staes and Davis Sherwood are going to play a lot. Sherwood is the one who is likely going to take over Mayer’s role as a blocker in the run game, specifically as an H-back. The most likely scenario in replacing Mayer’s production is that the receivers and backs see more targets.

Someone like Deion Colzie could see more targets than he’s seen all season and this might be a game where Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree end up getting targeted a lot more than just a couple of times. Tommy Rees may elect to play a lot more 11 (one back, one tight end) or 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) than he has for most of this season.

With Foskey, Justin Ademilola was already playing a lot of snaps and that will continue, but he’s been flipping end spots at times and now may focus solely on Vyper. There could be times when Jordan Botelho and him see the field together and 3rd down is the most likely time that happens. Junior Tuihalamaka is also working at Vyper and we’ll see how much he plays there, but he was only in for a handful of snaps there in his one game playing the position this season at Syracuse.

Ademilola and Botelho have shown they can rush the passer pretty well off the edge. Ademilola actually has a slightly higher pass rush win percentage (14.9 to 14.5) than Foskey and Botelho (24.3%) was getting after it in his limited opportunities. If Notre Dame feels confident in those two, maybe we won’t see as much of a drastic change from Al Golden’s approach.

There’s always the possibility that Notre Dame could decide to tweak things, though.

Could we see more three down linemen on 3rd down? They have done some of that this season with Marist Liufau as an edge rusher, but he’s had more pressure as a blitzer than when lined up on the ball. If it’s not him getting that opportunity, then maybe they look at Tuihalamaka, Jaylen Sneed, or they start going back to that Dime look on 3rd downs where Ramon Henderson was activated as a blitzer early in the season.

This game is about short term solutions rather than long term answers to replace Mayer and Foskey, but it does present a glimpse into what we may see next season. It’s an opportunity for Evans and Botelho especially to get a head start on 2023.

Elite players come and go. It’s the nature of college football. Replacing them is difficult and the coaching staff has a tough assignment when it comes to the game planning knowing that Mayer and Foskey won’t be out there for the Gator Bowl.

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