Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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26 AUGUST 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T alk is cheap at Notre Dame these days after coming off the throes of a 4-8 season. Perhaps that is why in some cases this spring many of the pro- jected starters on the 2017 Fighting Irish team were either limited in their conversations with the media or not made available at all to the Fourth Estate. In the latter case, the two most conspicuous absences were junior tight end Alizé Mack and junior nose tackle Jerry Tillery. There has been extensive hulla- baloo about their immense football potential and promising projections each of their first two seasons, but minimal returns. In year three, these two X factors epitomize the Merriam-Webster defi- nition of "a circumstance, quality or person that has a strong but unpre- dictable influence." On the surface, the two prime X factors in 2017 are junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush on offense and sophomore drop end Daelin Hayes on defense. Both are ranked among the top five recruits on the current roster and possess elite potential at game-changing positions, but also have virtually no sample size in re- cent years upon which to build. Right next to them is the com- bination of Mack and Tillery, who have done just enough to whet the coaching staff's and Fighting Irish fandom's appetite, but not nearly enough to feel fulfilled. In 2017, that must change for Notre Dame to re-emerge on the college football scene. MACK THE HYBRID As Alizé Jones in 2015 — he le- gally changed his name to Mack this spring for family reasons — the fresh- man tight end made game-changing plays in fourth-quarter comeback wins against USC and Temple with clutch 35- and 45-yard receptions to set up the winning touchdowns. Irish junior All-America wideout and fu- ture first-round pick Will Fuller even declared that it was Mack who pos- sessed the best hands on the team. By the ensuing spring, Mack be- came labeled as a Tyler Eifert-like hybrid, a tight end who can detach as a receiver to overwhelm smaller cornerbacks, or one who can be at- tached to the line and outrun line- backers across the middle, much like the 2012 John Mackey Award winner and first-round pick Eifert did. Alas, last August Mack was de- clared academically ineligible for the season, although he was allowed to given practice with the team. He re- mained energetic and engaged on the sidelines with an upbeat approach, but the letdown on offense was felt. This spring, the hoopla was revis- ited, with Mack even on the Mackey Award — no pun intended — watch list despite not playing a down last season. "You can't cover him — he just has that kind of talent," said head coach Brian Kelly. "There's not a safety or a linebacker [that can]. If you start spreading him out, maybe a corner can get a hand in there and deflect Double X Factors Juniors Alizé Mack and Jerry Tillery will be counted on heavily to fulfill their potential Mack sat out the 2016 season for academic reasons, yet still made this summer's watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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