Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans are entering completely unknown territory for the first time in the program’s long and storied history. They Irish are set to face off in the College Football Playoff against the Clemson Tigers under the Bright Screen of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Notre Dame fans know who the difference makers SHOULD be on both offense and defense, but I want to focus on a couple of guys who NEED to step up in order for Irish to prevail. I am not saying it will take superhuman efforts by all or even most of these guys, but a few players who haven’t been superstars will need to be difference makers. We all know who the guys have been all year - Ian Book, Dexter Williams, Miles Boykin, Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, Sam Mustipher, Julian Love, Jerry Tillery, Julian Okwara (and some others as well). These guys have played incredible football and will need to do so again this weekend. Outside of them, I want to highlight a few who could be impact players in some of the secondary matchups. Please share your thoughts on who you think could be one of the players who steps up!
Coleman has had a relatively quiet season after losing the Nickel Spot to start the season to freshman Houston Griffith. Griffith showed flashes and has a bright future, but the speed of the game was a bit too much for him. Coleman has come on strong in the back half of the season, highlighted by an early interception again the Florida State Seminoles. He will look to step up big time and will be on the field during critical downs against the Tigers. He needs to be solid, but also will need to make a key play, whether a big PBU or interception to get the defense off the field on a third down. His confidence has been building in the back half of the season, and getting all of the first team reps throughout bowl preparations should pay off.
Kareem burst onto the scene with a dominating performance against the Michigan Wolverines. He looked to have a complete breakout season, but was quickly slowed by an ankle sprain. He has been very effective all year, but clearly lost some of the burst shown early on. The benefit of him being healthy cannot be said enough. At full strength he was arguably the best defensive lineman on the team, and his presence needs to be felt by Trevor Lawrence. His ability to get to the quarterback early in the game can have major implications.....People forget this Trevor Lawrence is still in his first season....and is in fact, fallible.
Former Farmington Hills Harrison DE Khalid Kareem was selected as the Defensive Player of the Game in Notre Dame's win over Michigan from over the weekend.pic.twitter.com/CbeAaaGcjn— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) September 3, 2018
Chris Finke has accounted for two of the biggest (if not THE biggest) plays for the Irish all season. His touchdown catches vs. Michigan and USC gave the team incredible momentum and he has been great all year. With the attention being placed most likely on Boykin and Chase Claypool on the outside, Finke will have some matchup opportunities in the slot against good, but not great linebackers and safeties. He will need to be very crisp in his route running and be the go to outlet for Ian Book. I am expecting him to rise to the occasion in a big big way, accounting for 10+ catches and easily have over 100 all purpose yards. Another area where he could be an impact player is in the punt return game. Having 10-20 yard returns makes a hell of a difference, and he has consistently done that all year. I also hope he has a slight chip on his shoulder after losing the walk on award to Hunter Renfrow (though Renfrow is incredible deserving).
Cole Kmet is my early pick for All American next year. Watching him run and catch the ball is a thing of beauty. He has all the traits of the great Notre Dame tight ends, and has had a good, but not breakout year by any means. He, like some others, has been hampered by a nagging ankle injury. Reports are saying he is 100% and I expect him to come up big as he can be a matchup the Irish can exploit. Both Kmet and Finke will have opportunities and favorable matchups against linebackers and safeties, particularly in the red zone. Also, Kmet will have a a few chance in 2 tight end sets, as the key will be on Alize Mack.
What did I miss?
I know there are many others who could be put in this category as well. I limited to 2 on offense and 2 on defense, so please share who you think will step up and as always, Go Irish!