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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Tennessee State

August 30, 2023
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It is a truly historical match up. Notre Dame has never played an HBCU program before or an FCS (previously I-AA) program.

It will definitely be a unique experience for Tennessee State to play in Notre Dame Stadium. It probably won’t be a game to remember, though, at least not with what we see on the field.

Head coach Eddie George, the former star running back and Heisman trophy winner from Ohio State, doesn’t have one of the top HBCU programs at the moment and he’s trying to build them into a winner after a 4-7 record last season. In two seasons his record at TSU is 9-13 and they’ve had five straight losing seasons as a program.

Playing Deion Sanders’ Jackson State program last season, they lost 16-3. When they faced an FBS program in Middle Tennessee State, they got blown out by a score of 49-6.

It’s tough to say how much they’ll be improved this year and even if they are, they still won’t come close to matching the talent that Notre Dame has on the roster. ESPN’s Bill Connelly put out his SP+ combined projections for FBS and FCS programs for 2023 and they were 213th. The next lowest Notre Dame opponent is Central Michigan at 133.

They are projected to be 80th in FCS, 110th on offense and 42nd on defense.

This isn’t an elite FCS team and they don’t appear to be in a position to compete at that level yet.

Offense

Offensive coordinator Theron Aych is in his second season at TSU. He was the OC at D-II Angelo State previously and they led the nation in total offense in 2015 and averaged 39.4 points per game in 2014.

It hasn’t gone that smoothly at TSU where they only scored 18.3 points per game last season.

They run a spread offense that will occasionally use multiple tight ends, but is primarily in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end). They were 49.5% run, so it’s a pretty even run-pass split.

Notre Dame is probably going to be in nickel for a good portion of the game. They can expect to see some RPOs and the quarterback run game, but their starting quarterback mostly stays in the pocket and wasn’t a big scrambler last season.

Expected Strengths

So, Big Gulps, huh guys?

Well, see you later.

Potential Weaknesses

This offense was not good and it’s unclear if they’ll be much better in 2023. They have one starter returning up front and the offensive line was very bad last season. The running game averaged 3.5 yards per carry and they gave up 38 sacks in 11 games.

The passing game struggled a lot because of the protection and considering that they also lost four receivers who had significant roles last season, it might not be much better this year. They didn’t add any obvious impact players in that area from the transfer portal.

QB Draylen Ellis had very poor numbers when blitzed. He averaged 4.9 yards per attempt and only completed 47.9% of his passes.

They finished 110th in red zone offense and 99th in 3rd down defense.

Personnel notes

QB Draylen Ellis

- 6-1 175

- transfer from Austin Peay

- 2022 starter

- Under 50% completions on non-screens in 2022

- Only 4.7 YPA vs FBS Middle Tennessee St last season

- Dual-threat with a long rush of 50-yards

RB Jalen Rouse

- 5-11 195

- 4.8 YPC, two 100-yard games last season

- Tough runner, not a home run hitter.

WR Karate Benson

- 6-2 215

- Led the team in receiving

- Transfer from Ball State

- 25 for 329 in 2022

- Preseason 2nd team all-conference

- Only caught 52.1% of targets and was 3 of 11 on contested targets

WR Da’Shon Davis

- 5-11 195

- second on the team with 19 receptions, but had 11 missed forced tackles

- slot receiver who had most of his production in the final six games

OT Romello Tarver

-6-5 275

- Transfer from Mcneese State and Central Michigan

- three starts last season

- Gave up 10 pressures on only 128 pass block reps

- A yuck 0.0 pass block grade from PFF in true pass sets

OL Chazan Page

- 6-1 295

- Started all 11 games, played multiple positions

- Gave up three pressures or more in four of them

OG Aarion Harvey

- 6-5 300

- Transfer from Central Michigan and Austin Peay

- Only 9 snaps at C Mich and was a backup at Austin Peay, projected to start

C/G Kennedy Wilbert

- 6-1 295

- 3 starts last season at center

- Lost his starting job

C/G Romello Watson

- 6-4 300

- transfer from Grambling State and JUCO

- Played three games for G State, struggled in pass pro against Arkansas State

Key for Notre Dame

Unleash the pass rush

Notre Dame can obviously bring the blitz and get pressure, but they’ll want to get their defensive line going after playing a Navy offense to open the season. If they get after it like they did in fall camp, expect really good results.

Defense

Defense coordinator Brandon Fisher has run their defense the past two seasons. Prior to this he ran the defense at Southern Utah, another FCS program.

Their base is a 4-2-5 it suits their personnel. They have high expectations for the defense this season and they dominated the offense in fall camp.

TSU did have an unexpected loss when it was announced that former Ohio State LB K’Vaughn Pope, a 4-star prospect out of high school, was no longer on the team. He was good for them last season and was expected to be a key piece this fall.

Expected Strengths

The secondary is the strongest unit on the defense. They only gave up 6.4 YPA and they have solid depth across the board.

It’s not a big defensive line, but it’s very active with a couple of big havc producers.A couple of key additions in the transfer portal has made the front seven better and I’d expect these guys to compete very hard against Notre Dame.

They finished 23rd in 3rd down defense and second in red zone defense in 2022.

Potential Weaknesses

The run defense wasn’t great and they could get bullied by Notre Dame’s size up front. They allowed 4.54 yards per carry.

They matched up with MTSU and gave up 223 yards that day. MTSU was not a very good offense at running the football last season either (101st in EPA per rush in the FBS).

They had some tackling issues in 2022 and it’s not going to get any easier against Notre Dame’s skill players. They averaged 12.8 missed tackles per game.

Personnel notes

Edge Terrell Allen

- 6-0 285

- Preseason 1st team all-conference, FCS All-American candidate

- Transfer from Austin Peay

- 23 TFLs in last two seasons

- 27.1% pass rush win rate vs true pass sets

DT Jalen Bell

- 6-1 280

- Transfer from Mississippi Valley State, was the best DL there

- Preseason 2nd team all-conference

- 22.3% pass rush win rate vs true pass sets, six sacks overall

- Disruptive and productive with TFLs

DT Cameron Stewart

- 6-3 380(!)

- Played about 15-20 snaps a game the last two seasons

- 1.5 TFLs and blocked a field goal

Edge Chris Walker

- 6-4 225

- Rotation player the last two years

- Flashed as a pass rusher with 26.5% pass rush win rate vs true pass sets

LB James Green

- 6-1 220

- 2022 OVC preseason defensive player of the year, but missed 2022 with a shoulder injury

- Preseason 2nd team all-conference

- Led the team in tackles in 2021, finished with 10 Havoc plays in 11 games

LB Monroe Beard

- 6-1 220

- Transfer from Arkansas Pine-Bluff, was 2nd team All-SWAC in 2021

- Had a dominant spring

- 30.5 career Havoc plays and a blocked punt

- Only saw action in two games in 2022

S Kenyon Garlington

- 5-9 185

- Did not play in 2022, 10 game starter in 2021

- Played a lot of slot corner, got beat against Mississippi State for three touchdowns

S Darius Harper

- 6-0 185

- Frequently utilized as a slot defender

- Started eight games in 2022

- 3 INTs the last two seasons

CB Jashon Watkins

- 6-4 215

- transfer from Memphis

- Six havoc plays in only seven games for T State last season

S Tyler Jones

- 6-0 200

- transfer from Missouri who didn’t see much action there

- had 12 Power 5 offers out of high school

CB Boogie Trotter

- 5-9 180

- Played nickel last season, all but 6 snaps as a slot defender

- Improved during the season after giving up 213 yards in his first two games

S Josh Green

- 5-11 190

- Aeneas Williams Award Watch list (top FCS DB)

- Preseason 2nd team all-conference

- Finished with three interceptions, seven total Havoc plays

- Blocked a kicked against Jackson St

- Played over 2,500 snaps in his career

CB Bryce Phillips

- 6-1 195

- Aeneas Williams Award Watch List

- Preseason 1st team all-conference

- Their best cover guy

- Longest pass play against him was 23-yards

CB Fondren Hollis -

5-11 180

- Six pass breakups

- Only allowed one touchdown on 20 targets

Key for Notre Dame

Create explosive plays

Notre Dame had plenty of 20+ yard plays against Navy to help move the ball, but it would be great to have more of these plays end up in the end zone. The ball is going to be spread out a lot again this week and whether it’s twos or threes producing them or the starters, this game could be a big confidence booster for the offense in that respect.

Special Teams

They are breaking in a new kicker and punter this season. The only player on the roster with experience is James Lowery, a transfer from Northern Illinois, who has been their kickoff specialist the last two seasons.

He has two career punts that averaged 32 yards and has made his two field goals and all four of his extra point attempts.

Jackson Foster is a transfer from Western Michigan who also could end up punting for TSU.

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