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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

December 29, 2022

Not all Notre Dame fans are thinking about Sam Hartman this week. There are some who care about the Gator Bowl as well (I certainly do).

However, I can’t blame anyone for thinking about Hartman playing quarterback for the Irish. People have been thinking about their 2023 quarterback since Tyler Buchner was ruled out for the regular season. When someone as experienced and accomplished as Hartman is rumored to be available and then it happens, of course he’s going to dominate the conversation.

There’s already been a ton of opinions out there on what it would mean for Notre Dame if they add him. There’s some who are higher on him than others. (Put Rivals in the others category. They somehow have him ranked below the polarizing DJ Uiagalelei in their portal rankings)

I know many are waiting on a deep dive on Hartman and that I can promise will arrive after the Gator Bowl. For now, I can say that I’m in the category of people who are very high on Hartman after digging into his game and watching more of him. In terms of the quarterbacks available in the transfer portal, he’d be the top one on my list for Notre Dame.

There’s going to be an adjustment going from his offense at Wake Forest to any offense he plays in next season, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that he’ll be successful making that transition from the slow mesh RPO scheme Wake runs.

This wouldn’t be on the level of USC adding Caleb Williams. I think a more appropriate comparison would be Russell Wilson going from NC State to Wisconsin. They are obviously different players with different skill sets, but Wilson was a very successful quarterback at NC State and was one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC when he transferred to Wisconsin. Having a player with his resume available to transfer was pretty rare.

It’s maybe a little less rare now, but Hartman is the same kind of player who helped elevate Wake as a program while throwing for the most touchdowns in ACC history. None of the other quarterbacks in the portal this year have done what he has done at their previous schools.

If he ends up at Notre Dame, it’s pretty much a best case scenario in terms of going into the portal for a quarterback, especially because it would be one season and wouldn’t disrupt the quarterback room or recruiting as much as landing someone with multiple years of eligibility could.

What Hartman brings to the table is a certainty, much like what Jack Coan brought when he arrived at Notre Dame. Hartman is better than Coan, but just like Coan, Hartman has the chance to be a better version of the player he was because he’ll be surrounded by better players and a system that can help him grow.

If Notre Dame ends up landing Hartman, it could end up being as significant of a win for Marcus Freeman as any he’s had on the recruiting trail as a head coach. If he ends up in blue and gold, they will win more games because Hartman is their quarterback.

2. If you listened to Power Hour this week, you might have heard me mention Hartman’s success on 3rd down this season. He ended the regular season as the highest rated 3rd down passer in the country.

On 3rd and 6+, his NFL passer rating is 125.8. Over 100 is great. What Hartman did is elite.

The reason this matters more when assessing Hartman as a passer is that it’s not the slow mesh scheme opening things up for him on these obvious passing downs. It’s him having to drop back, read, make good decisions, and execute.

One of the main reasons why I could never get fully on board with Drew Pyne as the present and future quarterback for Notre Dame was his lack of success on 3rd down. Even when the numbers looked great on some days, the 3rd down numbers lingered over everything when evaluating him.

Pyne’s NFL passer rating on 3rd and 6+ was 78.7.

That’s a wide gap between those two players and one reason why Hartman would make Notre Dame’s offense better.

3. ISD’s Matt Freeman threw up a post on the member’s board with a link to the 2018 Notre Dame-Wake Forest game.

Like Matt, I gained a lot of respect for Hartman that day. He was just a skinny true freshman back then. Probably about a buck eighty soaking wet and not the guy who was supposed to be starting then, but it ended up that way.

Notre Dame fans will remember it as Ian Book’s first start that season, but I definitely remember it as a game where the Irish beat the snot out of Hartman. They hit him 21 times in that game (including runs) and I’m not sure how he got up from a few of them. He kept going until they had to take him out of the game because of the punishment he took that day.

It’s not like the Irish have lacked toughness at the quarterback position. I don’t think that was an area where Pyne was lacking at all. However, toughness is a prerequisite for the position and Hartman checks that box.

4. What a debut season for former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko at Duke. That’s definitely not a place that anyone would have predicted a big turnaround and there weren’t a lot of people claiming Elko was one of the best hires of the off-season.

It seems like such a long time ago that Elko left Notre Dame for a big pay day at Texas A&M. The irony of him leaving is that he very likely would have set himself up to be a head coach sooner if he stayed in South Bend. The defense was going to be good no matter who the coordinator was the next season as they went undefeated on their way to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2018.

Elko probably would have been a hot name as a head coaching candidate after that. Instead he spent four years at A&M and despite his defense not being the reason why they lost 14 games, his name didn’t come up often for open Power 5 coaching jobs.

I’m sure he’s happy with how it’s turned out now and who knows, if he keeps overachieving at Duke then he’s probably on his way to a better job somewhere else. If he would have stayed at Notre Dame, he might have been on his way to that better job already.

Over his dozen years at Notre Dame, several Brian Kelly assistants went on to become head coaches. There haven’t been many who have worked for Jimbo Fisher who have become head coaches. I doubt Elko was thinking about that when they flashed 2 million a year in his face to leave Notre Dame and I get why an assistant coach would look for the most money now over the promise of what might come later, but it would be interesting to see how things would have been different for him if Elko didn’t go for the big pay day.

5. Apparently a lot of people missed the fact that South Carolina is expected to miss 11 starters for the Gator Bowl due to opt-outs, transfers, and injuries. For those who aren’t math majors, that’s half of the starters on the team.

So, that’s a lot. This is basically more like game one of next season for them than the end of this season.

Notre Dame won’t have Isaiah Foskey, Cam Hart, Michael Mayer, and Drew Pyne. Now on top of those players who are out, imagine that Justin Ademilola, Howard Cross, Benjamin Morrison, Audric Estime, Jayden Thomas, Mitchell Evans, and Blake Fisher were also out. That’s pretty much what South Carolina’s dealing with this week.

The “Man, how is Notre Dame going to win this game?” can hopefully end now.

South Carolina could still win, but the odds are definitely not going to be in their favor. They are missing many more players than the Irish.

Replacement right tackle Tyshawn Wanamaker has only seen significant action in three games and he struggled in pass protection against Georgia and South Carolina State. Replacement running back Juju McDowell averaged 3.41 yards per carry in 2022. He’s been more of a receiver than runner.

Replacement tight end Nate Adkins has spent over 70% of his snaps this season as a blocker. Ahmarean Brown and Dakeran Joyner are going to play a lot more in this game. They combined for 23 targets this past season.

Freshman safety DQ Smith has to move from safety to the nickel. Cornerback O’Donnell Fortune is first on the depth chart and has one pass defended in his career. Freshman defensive end played zero snaps against Clemson and has no career sacks. Now he’s starting in the Gator Bowl. Defensive tackle MJ Webb played a lot for South Carolina this season, but he’s about to play even more. He had zero pressures in 2022.

Some of these guys could have breakout games, but it’s asking a lot for all of these new starters to have to step up.

Notre Dame has a lot to deal with with them missing two elite players and playing a quarterback who hasn’t played since week two. It’s not close to what South Carolina has to deal with, though.

6. I know the focus of most Notre Dame fans and college football fans in general is that most bowl games have become a transition into next season, but this game means more than that to some. I always think of the ones who won’t get to wear a Notre Dame uniform again.

I’m thinking of players like Josh Lugg and Jarrett Patterson. You think it won’t mean a lot to them if Notre Dame dominates up front and wins this game? That memory will stick with them for a long time if it happens and it’s how I’m sure they’ll want to remember their final game in blue and gold.

This game has to be even more special for Jayson and Justin Ademilola.

Jayson could have sat this one out. Maybe he still might be forced to if he’s not healthy enough to go. More than just the chance to play his final game for Notre Dame or to improve his draft stock, he has to want to play because it might be the last time he ever suits up with his brother.

Whether a long NFL career is in the cards for either Jayson or Justin, I don’t know. Even if they do both end up playing professionally for many years, the odds of them ever playing on the same team again are slim. This is most likely the final game where they will get to line up side by side on the field together.

Jayson doesn’t have any more eligibility left after this season. Justin can come back for one more season if he wants to. This is their last ride together as teammates, which is why I really hope Jayson is able to suit up on Friday.

It’s a special thing that two brothers get to play college football together and it’s especially rare that they get multiple years playing on the same defensive line. I hope they go out on top with a win and can always have this memory of it for the rest of their lives.

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