Notre Dame Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

Mike Monaco@@MikeMonaco_Contributor ISeptember 1, 2014

Notre Dame Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

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    SOUTH BEND, Indiana — A young and inexperienced Notre Dame football team debuted 15 new starters Saturday in its 48-17 trouncing of Rice at Notre Dame Stadium.

    The Irish had their share of breakdowns and miscues, but, all things considered, Notre Dame put together a complete performance against the Owls.

    Let’s go through each of Notre Dame’s new starters and analyze their performances. We’ll define new starters as those who weren’t at the top of the depth chart last year—even if they may have made a few starts or earned consistent reps.

Everett Golson

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    Week 1 Stats: 14-of-22, 295 PASS YDS, 2 TD; 12 ATT, 41 RUSH YDS, 3 TD


    Breaking Down His Performance

    Everett Golson was downright dominant in his return Saturday. The second-year starter showed an easy command of the game—both in and out of the pocket—and seemed to make all the right decisions.

    He ran. He passed. He threw balls away. Golson made very few bad decisions or poor throws.

    “Obviously the story, Everett Golson was electric,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

    Kelly said Notre Dame didn’t want to over-coach Golson. The coaches just wanted him to feel natural and go out and play.

    “I thought he did that today extraordinarily,” Kelly said. “He came back today and I think really showed the kind of player that he can be.”

    Golson accounted for five touchdowns and 336 yards of total offense. And to think he could have had another 55-yard touchdown strike had C.J. Prosise not dropped the beautifully thrown ball.

    Grade: A

Ben Koyack

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    Week 1 Stats: 3 REC, 51 REC YDS


    Breaking Down His Performance

    Koyack hauled in receptions of 14, nine and 28 yards, two of which went for first downs. Koyack had a drop as well, but he was mostly solid.

    Notre Dame spread the wealth Saturday, with seven different players tallying a reception and four players reaching 50 yards receiving. Koyack’s three receptions were the second-most on the squad behind Will Fuller’s four.

    It wasn’t anything particularly sexy from Koyack, but he turned in a strong day of work. With a well-balanced attack, there probably won’t be too many massive stat lines for Koyack. But as long as he chips in his part and handles his blocking duties, too, Irish coaches don’t need to worry much about Koyack.

    Grade: B

Chris Brown

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    Week 1 Stats: 2 REC, 20 REC YDS


    Breaking Down His Performance

    Junior wide receiver Chris Brown was surprisingly quiet Saturday. Brown drew plenty of praise during the spring and fall camp, as well, for his recent development.

    But the wiry receiver only made two grabs—both good for first downs. That’s not a big concern when Notre Dame is able to find a variety of options offensively, but Kelly and the offensive coaching staff still likely expect more from the de facto No. 1 receiver with DaVaris Daniels being held out of practice and competition.

    Kelly mentioned during his Sunday teleconference that one of the areas of improvement for Brown is running into and out of his breaks.

    Grade: C

Will Fuller

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    Week 1 Stats: 4 REC, 85 REC YDS, 1 TD


    Breaking Down His Performance

    Obviously the bulk of Fuller’s stat line came on one play—the 75-yard touchdown heave from Golson in the first quarter—but his performance was impressive nonetheless.

    Fuller was targeted on a couple of screen plays that went for minimal yardage. He also snagged an eight-yard reception from Golson in the third quarter.

    The big thing with Fuller is his “elite speed,” as Kelly classified it. Fuller consistently has the ability to get behind secondaries, and Golson can get the ball to him when he does. If Fuller continues to polish the rest of his game, he could grow into a more complete weapon for Notre Dame.

    Grade: B

Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer

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    Week 1 Stats: 281 RUSH YDS, 1 SACK


    Breaking Down Their Performances

    Notre Dame has shifted around the offensive line since the end of last season, and Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer are the two starters who were not full-time starters in 2013.

    Asked about the play of the interior offensive linemen on Saturday, Kelly said it was “OK” but inconsistent. There weren’t loads of breakdowns, and the Irish did average a whopping 6.7 yards per carry. But Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand expected a little bit more from the group, in general.

    On the perimeter, Kelly said “we have to protect our quarterback a little bit better at the tackle position.” Various Rice pass-rushers worked around Elmer at right tackle on a couple of occasions, but there weren’t any major issues.

    Grades: Hanratty – B, Elmer – B-

Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara

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    Week 1 Stats:

    Jones: 3 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 quarterback hurry

    Rochell: 1 tackle

    Okwara: 2 tackles, 1 sack


    Breaking Down Their Performances

    The Irish started three new defensive linemen, and a fourth (Andrew Trumbetti) saw plenty of time as well, working in with Romeo Okwara. None of the stats are overly impressive, but Kelly said he was pleased with the physical play of the front four.

    In particular, Kelly highlighted Isaac Rochell and said the sophomore “did some really good things” while also showing areas for growth.

    As for the pass rush, the Irish only notched two sacks, and Jarron Jones had the lone quarterback hurry. Kelly, however, said that was by design.

    Most of our calls were to take away the quarterback runs,” Kelly said. “We wanted [Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson] to be a quarterback. … If they were going to have any success, we were going to make them throw the football. So it really wasn't pin your ears back and speed rush up the field and let this guy kind of run.”

    For a first day on the job, the new defensive linemen held their own.

    Grades: Jones – B-, Rochell – B, Okwara B-

Joe Schmidt

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    Week 1 Stats: 8 tackles (4 solo)


    Breaking Down His Performance

    From day one of spring practice, senior linebacker Joe Schmidt has manned the “Mike” linebacker spot for the Irish. So it’s somewhat easy to forget that Schmidt was actually making his first career start Saturday.

    From the center of the Irish defense, Schmidt aligned his teammates and also produced himself, posting the eight tackles. Kelly praised Schmidt’s communication after the game Saturday, calling the former walk-on “an extension of Coach VanGorder” referring to Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

    After watching the film, Kelly loaded more praise on Schmidt.

    “He probably was our best player defensively,” Kelly said Sunday. “He's got some things that he's got to get better at. But I thought as a true first‑time start, he was the best player for us.”

    Grade: A-

James Onwualu

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    Week 1 Stats: 3 tackles


    Breaking Down His Performance

    Starting “Sam” linebacker James Onwualu didn’t wow in his first career start, but he didn’t make any glaring blunders, either. It’s also worth noting the Irish utilized a good deal of sub-packages, limiting Onwualu’s snaps.

    Matthias Farley, Drue Tranquill and Devin Butler, to name a few, would often enter in certain situations, and Onwualu would be replaced, leaving Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith on the field.

    Kelly has lauded the pride Onwualu takes in mastering his craft, so expect to see solid development from the sophomore over the next few weeks.

    Grade: C+

Cole Luke and Cody Riggs

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    Week 1 Stats:

    Luke: 2 tackles, 1 pass breakup

    Riggs: 1 tackle


    Breaking Down Their Performances

    The Owls passed for 226 yards but averaged just 8.7 yards per attempt Saturday. Rice broke out passing plays of 53, 26, 26, 30 and 16 yards.

    But Notre Dame’s issues in the secondary weren’t really a byproduct of poor cornerback play. Cody Riggs and Cole Luke held up well.

    “I liked Cole's presence,” Kelly said Sunday. “He didn't seem to be affected by his first start. I thought he played with confidence. Really liked just his demeanor. I think that's really big at that position. That stood out to me.”

    On the other side, Riggs wasn’t tested too much. His biggest influence came as a punt returner. By the halfway point of the first quarter, Riggs had already reeled off returns of 24 and 25 yards.

    Grade: Luke – B, Riggs – B+

Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate

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    Week 1 Stats:

    Redfield: 3 tackles

    Shumate: 3 tackles, 1 pass breakup


    Breaking Down Their Performances

    In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game, Kelly was mostly pleased with Notre Dame’s performance. The primary problem, according to Kelly, came down to some breakdowns in the secondary.

    “Our communication in the back end of our defense was at times a problem which resulted in some big plays,” Kelly said.

    Sophomore Max Redfield made his second career start, and junior Elijah Shumate was shoved into a spot-starting role after graduate student Austin Collinsworth suffered an MCL injury Thursday.

    “I think Austin had been obviously a great communicator back there,” Kelly said Sunday. “Then with Elijah and Max back there, we needed somebody to pick it up. Neither one of those guys picked up the slack. Need to be better.”

    As Kelly and the Irish coaches define it, Notre Dame surrendered five “explosive” plays—four passes. Kelly said three of those were “directly related to poor communication.”

    It’s difficult to replace what Collinsworth brings to the secondary. And though Shumate and Redfield blew some coverages Saturday, things figure to improve moving forward. After all, Shumate had less than 48 hours to fully prepare to start alongside Redfield.

    Grades: Shumate – C-, Redfield – C-


    All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.