We’re over halfway through Notre Dame’s regular season, so these aren’t literally “mid-season” grades. But it’s close enough.
So, without further ado, here are two sentences and a grade on each of Notre Dame’s positions and position coaches. No more, no less. Here goes nothing.
Marcus Freeman: D+
This is giving the greatest possible benefit of the doubt to a first-time head coach. His preparation/evaluation of his personnel is borderline atrocious, and that’s really the heart of the issue.
Drew Pyne is what he is and Tyler Buchner never showed enough to get a solid read on what he could be. Buchner’s season-ending injury grants some grace to a position where failings in recruitment and development have come home to roost.
Tommy Rees: D+
Mark my words: one day Tommy Rees will make a quality NFL position coach and/or offensive coordinator. He can’t prepare college players worth a damn, but his ingenious playcalling might actually work if he has NFL talent with which to run it.
Running Back: A-
Audric Estime’s three fumbles notwithstanding, the Irish have a reliable three-headed monster coming out of the backfield. No more than two backs have played well in the same game against a competent defense, but Logan Diggs has quickly become a revelation.
Deland McCullogh: A
He’s made do and then some with a position that dealt with injuries all offseason and has developed two true sophomores into quality backs. Figure out Estime’s butterfingers and we’re in A+ territory.
Wide Receiver: D
The only reason this isn’t an “F” is because Braden Lenzy keeps getting open but is overthrown by all the quarterbacks. Lorenzo Styles’ drops, Deion Colzie’s lack of growth and Tobias Merriweather’s lack of a prominent role more than negate Jayden Thomas’ emergence.
Chansi Stuckey: C-
Stuckey’s No. 1 priority must be overhauling the recruiting operation at his position, and things seem on the right track there. But development, especially of young players, is still at an unacceptable level.
Tight End: A++
Last two seasons - FBS TE stat rankings for @MMayer1001— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) October 25, 2022
Receptions - 1st - 115
Yards - 1st - 1366
Yds/Game - 1st - 71.9
TDs - 3rd - 13
The last ➡️10 years⬅️ - FBS TE stat rankings for @MMayer1001— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) October 25, 2022
Yards/Game - 1st - 58.6
Receptions - 7th - 157
Total Yards - 14th - 1816
Since 2012, only 7 FBS TEs have posted over 150 catches – all six, other than Mayer, have played in 40 or more games. Mayer has 31 GP.
Gerod Parker: A+
He has Michael Mayer, which is basically like having the answers to the exam ahead of time. But he gets bonus points for Kevin Bauman’s pre-injury emergence and Mitchell Evans’ direct-snap prowess.
Offensive Line: B
A group that needed to start faster than it did this season has nevertheless been a strength. But the position’s score is knocked by disappointing performances in the first two games plus unreliability on third-down/red zone runs.
Harry Hiestand: B+
If only he could’ve gotten his group clicking earlier in the year. There are still issues (like short-yardage situations), but Zeke Correll is finally delivering on his recruiting promise and the tackles continue to produce.
Defensive Line: B-
Not great against the run and susceptible to any quarterback whose legs work. Better statistical numbers of late don’t make up for no-shows at the most important time against Ohio State and Marshall.
Al Washington: C+
His group started the year as the second- or third-most heralded position and pretty much fell on its face. Attrition has hurt, but Isaiah Foskey has played nothing like an All-American/future first-round NFL Draft pick and pressure keeps failing to get home.
All the cerebral skills in the world can’t make up for the kryptonite of playing outside the hash marks. The position needs to compensate for its weaknesses by forcing turnovers but has generated none through seven games.
Al Golden: C-
He needs to stop blitzing the safeties, get stout in the red zone and figure out a way to force more turnovers. Despite perplexing lapses in the defense’s play, they still rank 35th nationally in scoring defense, which is fine, but it should be better.
Holding stout against Ohio State — one safety blitz notwithstanding — earns a lot of good will, as does having two freshmen breakout stories. But the nickel shouldn’t be far and away the best player at the position, nor should he have the group’s lone interception through seven contests.
Mike Mickens: B-
In a perfect world, true freshmen Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey shouldn’t BOTH be beating out sophomores Ryan Barnes, Philip Riley and Chance Tucker. And there need to be a LOT more havoc plays on the back end of the defense.
Stop blitzing them. Like quarterback, recruiting and development have come home to a roost, and a headline transfer hasn’t lived up to the billing.
Chris O’Leary: C
Keep Peyton Bowen and Adon Shuler in the 2023 recruiting class and you’re fine. Get Brandon Joseph to start playing like an All-American again and you’re in business.
Special Teams: A-
Kick return remains an enigma, but the kicking, punting and punt block units are things of beauty. It’s sad that this is the only unit that doesn’t instill crippling fear in the fan base.
Brian Mason: A+
He’s responsible for all of the above, but even the kick return struggles are more on execution than flaws in design. It’s still on Mason to make sure they execute, but how much should Notre Dame really be demanding out of its special teams coach?
Matt Balis: C+
Notre Dame’s defense got gassed at the worst possible times in the first two game of the season, and two captains’ knees have been destroyed in practice. You can debate how much is attributable to Freeman’s practice’s being too physical, but it’s Balis’ job to bulletproof the players.