With the Irish being 4-6 and being out of the playoff picture since week three, many of us around here have been so negative for much of the year. I don’t blame you either, it’s hard not to be. But there comes a time when we need to take a step back and look at some of the positives. Yes, there actually have been a few occurrences of positivity during Notre Dame’s 2016 disaster of a season. We’re here to put a little joy back into your Notre Dame fandom and give you a little hope for the future.
One of the positive byproducts of being 4-6 is that it has given Brian Kelly the opportunity to play many youngsters. We’ve got to seem some promising freshmen play in 2016.
Kevin Stepherson has come in and made an immediate impact on the offensive side of the ball. As a consensus three-star recruit, many probably didn’t expect this from Stepherson. He has 21 receptions for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s stepped up as Notre Dame’s deep threat, a role that was left void by Will Fuller. Stepherson looks like he’ll be an impact player for the next three years.
Julian Love was part of Notre Dame’s haul of defensive backs in the 2016 class. Because there was such a cluster of young DBs, it was hard to decide which players would emerge. Love has been one of those players. He’s shown great football instincts, and he seems to consistently find himself around the ball. With Love, along with Jalen Elliot, Donte’ Vaughn, and Troy Pride Jr, the Irish have strong core of players to build around in the Irish secondary.
Aside from the players mentioned above, we’ve also seen some promising things from Daelin Hayes on the defensive line. Julian Okwara and Jamir Jones have seen some valuable playing time as well.
The experience these freshmen have gained this season should give Irish fans a lot to hope for in 2017.
No Major Injuries
One of the major storylines from the 2015 season was the catastrophic injuries that plagued the Irish. You’d think with Notre Dame’s 4-6 record, you’d probably assume that was a similar situation this season. Fortunately that hasn’t been the case, thus far. Most of Notre Dame’s injuries this season have been just the expected bumps and bruises that come along with playing football.
Hopefully this stays the case over the last two games. (Maybe three if there is some how a bowl game.) It would be great to go into an offseason without guys recovering from any sort of major injury.
Development of the Receiving Corps
In August one of the questions marks that surrounded this Notre Dame team was the receiving corps. They were losing so much in Fuller, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle. They also lost Alize Jones in fall camp for academic reasons. The only experience they brought back was Torii Hunter Jr., and even he only caught 28 passes in 2015.
Everyone knew there was talent there with the likes of Stepherson, Hunter, C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown, but they were so young and inexperienced no one really knew what to expect.
This young group of players has answered the bell this season. St. Brown looks like a star. He’s so big and so fast that he can be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. We’ve already talked about Stepherson and he’s been great for most of the season. When healthy, Hunter has been the reliable veteran this group needed. Sanders, especially early in the season, showed he can be a spark plug in the short passing game. We’ve also seen flashes from Miles Boykin and Corey Holmes.
This group should be an exciting one as Irish as the head into 2017.
The Irish have lost 6 games by a combined 29 points. Some were to inferior opponents like Duke and Navy. This is also a young team, and many of these players haven’t experienced struggles like this before. For these reasons alone, the team’s soul could have been crushed, but not Notre Dame’s.
For as much flack as we have given Brian Kelly this season, one piece of credit you have to give him is that his players haven’t given up. We have yet to see one ounce of quit out of this team and that is something positive about.
Defense Trending in the Right Direction
The defense was the biggest question mark coming into the season. ND Nation was calling for Brian VanGorder’s head after last season after underperforming with the likes of Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, and KeiVarae Russell. As we know, Kelly decided to give him one more shot. His decision backfired and on the heels of some really atrocious defense the Irish got off to a 1-3 start. The Irish were giving up 500+ yards and 33+ points per game. Kelly finally felt the heat and fired BVG after the embarrassing loss to Duke.
Since then, the Irish defense have righted the ship and now have the 39th best defense in the country. When BVG was fired the Irish were 109th in total defense. Talk about a turnaround. Interim DC Greg Hudson and LB coach Mike Elston have cleaned some things up and simplified the scheme. The defense has played exponentially better than it did September.
The Irish are slated to bring back seven starters in 2017. With the way the Irish have played on defense since BVG’s firing, whoever is the next DC will have a lot to build on.
So there ya have it. Not everything is terrible in ND Nation. There is a few things from this season to be positive about and build on. And if this didn’t do it for ya, just remember that basketball season is starting to heat up. Go Irish!