What I’m most confident about going into the second half of the season for Notre Dame.
1. That Kyle Hamilton will intercept at least one more pass and make a big play that essentially leads to a Notre Dame victory. Hamilton, a 6-4, 220-pound safety, is a generational player for the Irish. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Hamilton slated to get picked second in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Sometimes, when greatness is projected for a player like Hamilton, which it was this preseason, it’s hard to live up to the standards. He has exceeded expectations. Kayvon Thibodeaux, a defensive end from Oregon, is projected to go first. The last safety to get selected second in the NFL draft was Eric Turner by the Cleveland Browns back in 1991. Hamilton has three interceptions, four pass breakups, and two tackles for losses. There are countless ways that Hamilton has influenced the opponent’s offensive game plan because they avoid him.
2, That the offensive line will improve. The glass has to be half full on this one because the line was so bad during the first half of the season. It was amazing how the running game seemed to improve on Saturday when Tyler Buchner was in the game. The Irish rushed for a season-high 180 yards against Virginia Tech. Most of it came with Buchner running the offense. They gave up 24 sacks, and if that pace continues it’ll be a 48-sack season for the line. Notre Dame should get some confidence. The best defenses on their schedule appear to be Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, and possibly Purdue. Virginia could fall into the Hokies’ category for quality. It should be easier to push some of those defensive lines off the ball.
3. That tight end Michael Mayer will find a way to be great despite the strained abductor injury that he is playing through now. Mayer didn’t play against the Hokies (not his choice) but he did limp through the end of the Cincinnati game. A hobbling Mayer is still better than most of the tight ends in the country. Mayer has 32 receptions for 360 yards with three touchdown catches. He’s ornery and doesn’t do small talk well. He was trotted out to the media after the Cincinnati loss and his responses were short and tense. It’s hard to play with the level of intensity that Mayer brings but it’s why he’s great in college and why he’ll be very good in the NFL.
4. That Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly won’t use the us-against world motivational ploy that he rolled out the week of the Virginia Tech again. It’s like a trick play, you can only use it once. Notre Dame trotted out four walk-ons for interviews last week without informing the media. They had scheduled for interviews Chris Tyree, Avery Davis, Cam Hart and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Only Tyree was available.
After the Irish miraculously scored 11-points in the final 3:55 to beat Virginia Tech 32-29, Kelly talked post-game on the radio about the team rallying around itself because few fans made the trip. He said the media would find something “negative” to write about the win. And he predictably and deservedly gushed on about Jack Coan. Glad to be his battering ram for the week. It is always good to take one for the “team.” My experience has been that trick plays aren’t good for long-term, structural success for a team. Also, the Irish were fortunate to win the game.
5. That Coan will be the starter for the USC game. Buchner is hurt and Drew Pyne hasn’t earned Kelly’s respect. Having Coan start is great if the coaching staff can figure out how to make him play as he did on the first drive against Florida State and in the third quarter, on the final drive against Toledo, and the last drive against Virginia Tech. There were a few other good drives in there but those stick out the most. They also have to figure out how to get the running game going with Coan.
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