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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Love Lost

January 4, 2019

The list of players who are voted as a consensus All-American that stay in school the next year is small. Only one junior came back to school who was a 2017 consensus All-American. It was the same number for 2015 and 2016.

It was pretty obvious the odds of Julian Love electing to stay in school for his senior season were slimmed based on that alone. And looking at it objectively, he’s shown he is a refined product at corner so there is only so much more he could do at the collegiate level.

In case anyone needed extra evidence to indicate how valuable Love was for this year’s Notre Dame defense, they got it in the second quarter against Clemson when Trevor Lawrence’s numbers ballooned by over 11 yards per attempt higher without Love in the lineup.

Let’s be real, no one who has watched the Irish over the last couple of seasons didn’t realize his value after seeing him racking up 36 pass breakups, four interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns over the last two campaigns. He’s been the definition of a difference-maker in the Notre Dame secondary.

For the defense as a whole, this was the most important decision out of any of the potential declarations to stay or go. While they still return three starters from a back four that helped Notre Dame finish tied for second in yards per attempt this season (5.6), he was the best player out of the group and frankly the best player overall on the defense.

Without him there is no obvious choice to replace him on the boundary. There will be competition at that spot with Donte Vaughn trying to regain his confidence after a tough season. Current freshmen DJ Brown and Noah Boykin will also be in the mix with incoming players Isaiah Rutherford and KJ Wallace. Unfortunately Todd Lyght won’t have extra time to groom the next man and will likely have to throw an inexperienced player to the wolves this fall.

Boykin showed more of an ability as a press corner in the limited times we saw him in camp. Brown was the physically stronger corner who could help as a tackler at that spot. Rutherford is someone I see better suited to play as a field corner, but we’ll see what happens when he gets on campus. I see Wallace playing the boundary in the long term and he showed great skill as a tackler as a prospect, but will he be ready to tackle well at the next level? We don’t know the answer yet and neither freshman corner will be on campus until the summer.

Love likely would have been a captain as well. Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott both seem like candidates for that without Love in the secondary, but we’ll see how that progresses over the coming months.

The Irish had an elite defense in 2018 for the first time in six years. The chances of them maintaining that level of plays in 2019 just took a hit with their best player deciding to not return for his final college season. It doesn’t mean they can’t be elite without him, but replacing an All-American is never easy. 

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