We’re officially 53 days away from the season opener for Notre Dame Fighting Irish football, and thus as we wait patiently for that most wonderful time of the year, I figured it could be fun to speculate wildly about the upcoming season.
Specifically, I think it’d be fun to make some predictions in terms of who on the Irish squad this year will lead the team in all the major statistical categories we typically concern ourselves with. Some will be pretty straightforward and we can all probably agree on those, like passing yards and passing touchdowns, but others could invite a lot of differing opinions and debate. So, I’m going to go ahead and dive right in, and please make sure you sound off in the comments with your own choices for each.
Passing Yards and Passing Touchdowns and Passing Attempts: Tyler Buchner
Barring some sort of catastrophe (knocking on all the wood in my apartment right now), I think we’re all pretty comfortable and confident with Tyler Buchner being the starting QB for the Irish in 2022 and taking the vast majority of the snaps.
Thus, there’s no one else I think that could possibly be the prediction here for all the major passing stats. TB12 is our guy.
Carries: Audric Estime
These running-game stats are going to be interesting, considering the running back depth chart the Irish have heading into the season.
Logan Diggs, who would have otherwise been my easy choice for the workhorse, team-lead-in-carries back based on his freshman season, tore his labrum in the Blue Gold Game and will miss at least the early moments of the year, if not more. Meanwhile, Jadarian Price, the early-enrollee true freshman who looked fantastic in the spring game and in practice clips/reports, recently tore his Achilles, removing him from the rotation for the entire upcoming season.
So, heading into the season opener in Columbus, the healthy scholarship running backs will be junior starter Chris Tyree, sophomore bruiser Audric Estime, and true freshman Gi’Bran Payne, who was an Indiana Hoosier until this spring.
Tyree could be some folks’ choice here just due to him being the older back the coaches trust most, and others could maybe come up with an answer like Tyler Buchner here considering his propensity for running the football, but I would imagine it’s neither of those guys. Tyree has a tendency to get banged up just from limited carries, and the coaching staff will want to keep him fresh for his big-play potential and what he can add in the passing game. Buchner, meanwhile, won’t be given nearly as many designed runs as the full-time starter compared to when he was the freshman who largely entered games just to run the football in 2021.
So, I’m going to go with Audric Estime. I think in his limited action last year — specifically against Georgia Tech — he showed he can be a workhorse back who can help drive the team down the field with his legs, instead of just a big, short-yardage back.
Caveat: if Diggs is back by Game 2 or even Game 3, I could still see him ending the season with the most carries amongst the running backs, assuming he stays healthy. But for now, that doesn’t seem super likely.
Rushing Yards: Chris Tyree
Despite not getting the most carries, I think Tyree will lead the team in rushing yards. Buchner and Estime and maybe Diggs could all rack up some decent totals, but Tyree managed nearly 500 yards on just 73 carries in 2020, when he actually had a decent offensive line to run behind and was healthy.
I think the o-line will be much-improved in 2022 compared to the shitshow of 2021, and Tyree will once again find the lanes he needs to get loose on at least a few home run touchdown runs of 40+ yards. Adding all those up, plus potentially just being healthier and being able to take on a little more of the play-to-play workload, will lead to him leading the team in total rushing.
Yards per Carry: Chris Tyree
I mostly answered this already, but no one has bigger big-play potential on the ground than Chris Tyree. Thanks to the offensive line being improved enough to enable his outlier long runs that will help yank his average up, I’ve got a pretty good feeling Chris Tyree will be pushing a yards-per-carry mark of somewhere between 5 and 7 yards per carry in 2022.
Rushing Touchdowns: Tyler Buchner
Estime would be a fine guess here, and I definitely believe Tyree will house a few this season, but I think someone like Buchner will score enough TDs via QB sneaks and plenty of Ian Book-esque red zone scrambles to finish the season as the team leader in rushing TDs.
Receptions: Michael Mayer
I went back and forth here between Mayer and Lorenzo Styles for a while, because I can’t shake the fact that defenses will key so hard on Mayer that it might by default just create tons of opportunities for the de facto #1 wideout in Styles.
But Mayer is too good and too much of a security blanket — especially on third down and in the red zone — for me to think Buchner won’t find a way to toss the ball to him more than anyone else on the team.
Receiving Yards: Lorenzo Styles
Mayer will rack up the catches and probably the 1st down conversions, but Styles is going to reel in a large number of passes himself, and has the speed and shiftiness for bigger plays and plenty of yards after the catch to push him to the team lead in receiving yards.
Mayer will be close, and someone like Braden Lenzy may crush it in the yards-per-catch department, but I think in terms of just raw total receiving yardage, Styles is an excellent bet due to his usage and speed.
Receiving Touchdowns: Lorenzo Styles
This is me kind of just zigging when it makes so much sense to zag, but I’m going with Styles here instead of the obvious choice of Michael Mayer. I think the ND offense will lean more toward running the ball at all times — especially in the red zone — and thus the receiving touchdown opportunities will be limited.
Mayer has never been the sole leader of receiving touchdowns for the Irish in a season, having been beaten by Ben Skowronek in 2020 and tying Kevin Austin in 2021. Thus, I think it’s quite possible someone like Styles will be able to catch 5-7 touchdowns and that actually beats out Mayer, despite how much more of a mismatch Mayer will be in scoring situations.
Maybe I’m getting cute here, but that’s my prediction for receiving TDs — deal with it.
Yards per Catch: Braden Lenzy
I could see Styles actually bringing this title home too, but for that to happen I think Lenzy would need to have a career year where he makes enough normal catches to bring down his average that will, hopefully, more so reflect his 2019 season where he flashed some major big-play potential.
All the reports in practice have been that Lenzy looks the best he ever has, so I’m banking on him being the go-to big-play receiver to take the top off the defense, and Buchner hitting on enough of the throws to give Lenzy a season where he catches 20-30 balls and half of them go for 30+ yards.
Tackles: JD Bertrand
This one seemed easier than it really was, on the surface. The Irish will probably cycle through a number of linebackers in 2022, including Marist Liufau, Jack Kiser, Bo Bauer, Bertrand, and potentially a couple more like Prince Kollie, Jordan Botelho, and Jaylen Sneed. Liufau is easily the guy most/all of us are highest on, but he’s coming off a season in which he couldn’t play, and I’m not sure his style of play lends itself to being the kind of linebacker who leads the team in tackles.
I don’t think Bauer will be on the field quite enough to do it either, and Kiser’s role as Rover will involve too much pass coverage — he only had 45 tackles last year despite starting in the role all season.
So, I’m going to go with the same tackling machine who nearly doubled up all of his teammates in 2021 and say that JD Bertrand will lead the team in tackles again in 2022, although it will be much closer this time around. Liufau, Bauer, and maybe even someone like Kollie or Niuafe Tuihalamaka (if he can continue impressing as a true frosh) should contend for the title, but I think Bertrand will be a reliable veteran presence in stopping the run and thus will still be used heavily in early downs and non-passing third and fourth downs.
Tackles For Loss: Marist Liufau
This is a bit of a stretch just because we know the defensive ends — particularly Isaiah Foskey — will rack up some sacks this season and thus get plenty of tackles on the QB in the backfield.
But Liufau has the speed and aggression to not only get to the QB when he blitzes, but also to blow up screens, shoot gaps to nab running backs in the backfield, etc. I think He’ll just edge out someone like Foskey in this stat by combining very good sack numbers for a linebacker with some great tackles in the backfield that blow up opponent plays on a regular basis.
Sacks: Isaiah Foskey
I briefly considered playing devil’s advocate here too, and picking someone like Justin Ademilola or Rylie Mills here. But similar to Michael Mayer and the receptions stat, I just don’t see anyone besides Foskey bringing home the sack title in 2022.
He’s too good and is out to prove he’s a first round pick this year — I think he manages to mostly live up to the hype that’s built up around him and be an absolute menace in the backfield.
QB Hurries: Rylie Mills
I truly think Rylie Mills is primed for a breakout season. Opposing lines will need to key on Foskey and Justin Ademilola after seeing what they did last season, and Mills should have lots of one-on-one battles where he’s able to physically dominate his man into the backfield and flush the QB out of the pocket.
I think he could have a season similar to Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s last year, when he racked up 11 QB hurries once he finally moved from DT to DE. Mills is making a similar move and should really do some damage this season.
Interceptions: Brandon Joseph
I went back and forth between Joseph and Cam Hart for a while here, and even considered Ramon Henderson as an option, but Joseph is a ball hawk at safety and I think despite everyone knowing he’s good, Irish fans aren’t ready for how good Joseph will be at putting himself in position to jump routes and reel in interceptions at a high clip.
I think he brings in 5-6 INTs this season and has a helluva season manning the back of the ND defense.
Passes Defended: Tariq Bracy
Cam Hart is probably the safest bet here, and let me be clear that I love Hart and think he’s going to have a dynamite season as CB1. But I have this weird feeling that Tariq Bracy has finally figured it all out after a weird career where he looked great as an underclassman, seemingly regressed/lost his plying time to other guys, and then worked his way back to being the starting nickelback.
Jaden Mickey emerging as a freshman phenom could throw a wrench into this, but for now I think Bracy will be on the field a lot, in passing situations, and will show the same ability to make plays on the ball that he displayed in his sophomore season when he led the team with 7 passes broken up — more than Troy Pride Jr., Kyle Hamilton, Shaun Crawford, etc.
Forced Fumbles: Isaiah Foskey
He forced 6 last year. The next closest on the team was 2.
I interrupt my baseball coverage to remind you it’s rather wild that Isaiah Foskey forced 6 fumbles last year. Proceed.— Ashton Pollard (@ashtonpollard7) May 17, 2022
Fumbles Recovered: Howard Cross
This one could go a ton of different ways, but I think someone like Cross will be on the field a lot, collapsing the pocket from the inside, and thus nearby when guys like Foskey knock the QB’s socks off and the ball goes squirts out.
I like Cross to snag himself 3-4 recovered fumbles and lead the team in this stat. Why the hell not?
Well folks, that’s everything I’ve got.
Disagree with any of my predictions? Think I missed any key stats that aren’t obvious as to who will lead the team in them?
LET ME HEAR IT!!!