Notre Dame has made a living the last decade plus of replacing one great receiver with another. From Golden Tate to Michael Floyd to TJ Jones to Will Fuller to Equanimeous St. Brown to Miles Boykin to Chase Claypool, the Irish were able to churn out standouts year after year.
Who that was going to be in 2020 was a major question mark heading into the season, and early in the campaign, as the pass game struggled, there was no clarity. As we have gotten deeper and deeper into the season that question has been answered in impressive fashion as fifth-year senior Javon McKinley has emerged as the top pass catcher.
McKinley leads the offense with 30 catches for 549 yards, and his 18.3 yards per catch also tops the offense.
The Corona, Calif. native caught just one pass for seven yards in the first two games, and had one catch for seven yards in game four. Through the first five games of the season, McKinley had just nine catches for 171 yards. In the last four games McKinley has exploded, hauling in 21 passes for 378 yards (18.0 yards per catch).
Just as important, McKinley has been at his best in the biggest moments. He had five catches for 107 yards in a night game against Florida State when he was matched up against All-ACC cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. for much of the game. He has 11 catches for 237 yards in Notre Dame’s wins over ranked opponents Clemson and North Carolina.
Beyond the stats, McKinley’s numbers have come at big moments. His big plays sparked the offense against Clemson, and it was his pass catching that got the offense rolling against North Carolina.
Numbers are good, but saving your best for the biggest moments is how you become a “go to receiver,” and McKinley has certainly become that player for Notre Dame. He’s done so with very little fanfare, as much of the focus and praise has been handed out to quarterback Ian Book, the offensive line, running back Kyren Williams and freshman tight end Michael Mayer.
Notre Dame’s offensive breakout coincides with McKinley taking over as the top pass catcher. During the first five games, before McKinley took over, the offense averaged 32.8 points per game, 439.4 yards per game and 6.2 yards per play. In the last four games, with McKinley breaking out, the offense has averaged 36.8 points per game, 494.8 yards per game and 6.7 yards per play.
Even more impressive is this has come against much better competition. Notre Dame’s first five opponents have a combined record of 13-33, while the last four opponents have a combined record of 23-13. Notre Dame has played just three opponents with a winning record, and that has been Notre Dame’s three most recent opponents. That is the stretch of opponents in which McKinley has been at his best.
Not only has McKinley become Notre Dame’s top receiver, he’s become a big-game standout for the Irish, which is the most important aspect of his season.
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