Optimism was high for cornerback TaRiq Bracy heading into the 2020 season, and early on the Irish junior was living up to those expectations. By the end of the season, however, Bracy was no longer a part of the cornerback rotation. Heading into 2021, getting Bracy back on track is a must for the Fighting Irish coaching staff.
Bracy played well in the opener against Duke, getting high grades for his cover skills as he broke up two of the three throws in which he was targeted. Bracy missed the South Florida game with an illness, but he bounced back and played relatively well in a win over Florida State.
The Milpitas, Calif. native was up and down the next couple of games, and he missed the Pitt game with yet another undisclosed illness. Bracy played well in his first game back in the lineup, which was a 31-13 win over Georgia Tech.
That is when the wheels fell off, and Bracy struggled the remainder of the season. He got burned for a 53-yard touchdown against Clemson and gave up two big plays early against North Carolina, including one for a touchdown. Always a good run defender, Bracy look lost and then fell down as Syracuse ran for an 80-yard touchdown late in the win over the Orange.
It was obvious that Bracy had lost his confidence. He wasn't finding the ball and a player that had looked so good in coverage the two previous seasons looked lost. Notre Dame's coaches recognized this and his playing time down the stretch was limiting. Bracy did not play against Clemson in the ACC title game or in the College Football Playoff game against Alabama.
WHAT A BOUNCE BACK MEANS
That is the bad news, and corners who lose their confidence don't always bounce back. We don't know if Bracy will bounce back, but doing so would have a major impact on the Notre Dame defense next season.
He has always been a bit of an up-and-down cover player, but when Bracy was right he was outstanding. According to Pro Football Focus, Bracy was Notre Dame's highest graded defensive back in 2019, both overall and in coverage. His seven pass break ups that season led the Irish defense.
Bracy bouncing back and establishing himself would go a very long way towards solidifying the Notre Dame secondary, which is now run by a coordinator who would prefer to use more man coverage. Bracy's return to form would make him a strong fit in that defense.
His emergence would likely result in Bracy earning the field cornerback position, which would then allow rising sophomore Clarence Lewis to move to the boundary. At the very least it would allow them to form a strong one-two punch at the field position. Bracy is the kind of cover player that would allow Marcus Freeman and position coach Mike Mickens to use him to matchup with faster wideouts.
If he rounds into top form, the form we've seen from Bracy when he's truly at his best, it would give Freeman the kind of weapon you can put on an island. That would allow the Irish coordinator to use him to matchup against some team's No. 1 receiver. In other cases he could lock down the No. 2 receiver, which would then allow Freeman to use his safeties and coverage schemes to double the No. 1 receiver.
Either way, a healthy, focused and locked in Bracy would have a major, major impact on the IRish defense in 2021.
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