There is no stat from the Cotton Bowl that sticks in my head more than the one about the defensive decline without Julian Love on the field. Love made a statement about who was really the best defensive back in college football — and he did it from the sideline.
With Love out with a reported “head injury,” Clemson’s sensational freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence went 15-18 for 247 yards and 3 TD in 5 series. The other 6 series saw Lawrence throw 12-19 for 80 yards and 0 TD.
Of course, fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish already knew Julian Love was a great one, but most of us thought we were going to get another year — one that would elevate Love to an even more legendary position, but we aren’t getting that in 2019. Julian Love decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and declared for the 2019 NFL Draft
So what will the Irish have to work with in 2019? How big of a loss is Julian Love?
We will be highlighting each position group this week as we try to look towards spring ball, and obviously we will get to the cornerbacks, but let’s just take a minute and see what the Irish have moving forward:
- SR (5th) Shaun Crawford
- SR Troy Pride Jr.
- SR Donte Vaughn
- SO TaRiq Bracy
- SO D.J. Brown
- SO Noah Boykin
- FR K.J. Wallace
- FR Isaiah Rutherford
At first glance, the Irish look well prepared for this loss from a numbers standpoint. Notre Dame should enter spring football with 6 scholarship cornerbacks. I’m not certain if Shaun Crawford will be avaialable to play this spring due to his injury — but even with 5, the Irish are well stocked. They will add the two freshmen this summer for a projected 8 corners on next years team.
Pride had a good year in 2018, but he could be ready to take another leap forward in his final year at Notre Dame. Crawford’s health is a huge priority because he is (as he was) Notre Dame’s best option at the Nickel (which was the weakest position for Notre Dame last year).
Vaughn is such an enigma because with his size and speed, he should be much better as he enters his senior year. Instead, he has real issues with technique and he has battled injuries for almost his entire time in South Bend.
Bracy started to see more and more action last season, but then he disappeared for one reason (TRAITS!) or another. While his coverage skills were fairly sound, his diminutive size will always leave him a bit suspect in the running game. Brown, Boykin, and the freshmen are unknown quantities at this point but most signs point to continued development within the system.
While many people want to instantly throw Houston Griffith into this mix, they’re only producing a fantasy. Yes, Griffith played some nickel this past season as a freshman, but his continued role for the Irish will be at safety as well as at the nickel. Competing for time at the boundary or the field isn’t likely in the cards for him.
But let’s get real here... the loss of Julian Love is HUGE. He was a consensus All-American, and a Thorpe Award finalist that had better stats than the rest of the candidates — he should have won the damn thing. You just aren’t able to plug another player of that caliber into the depth chart as we saw against Clemson. It also hurts that Notre Dame didn’t sign any corners in the 2017 recruiting class.
The hurt that no one seems to be talking about enough is the leadership that the Irish lose with Love’s entry into the NFL Draft. Had Love stayed, he would be all but guaranteed a captain position on the team. With all 4 of Notre Dame’s captains departing, his voice and leadership would have been a great help this spring, summer, and fall.
Without being critical of Love, we can honestly say this sucks for Notre Dame football. They will have to push their players developmentally, and they can become quite good — but this hurts. Love is on the same level as a Shane Walton, Bobby Taylor, and Todd Lyght, and it isn’t an easy task to replace as we have seen throughout Notre Dame’s history.