Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 23, 2017

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

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10 OCT. 23, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME With the graduation of wings V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, the Fighting Irish will need their upperclassmen to develop and fill the void in 2017-18. Among those players is junior guard Rex Pflueger. During the first two-thirds of the 2016-17 sea- son, Pflueger played the sixth man role for head coach Mike Brey — but he found himself in the starting lineup in 11 of the team's final 12 games. For the season, he averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per contest. Pflueger spent time overseas this summer with the East Coast All-Stars, which is a United States travel team comprised of college players. During the trip to Madrid, Spain, the team matched up against the national squads for multiple coun- tries, including Venezuela, Mexico and Japan. Fifth-year big man Austin Torres was also part of the squad. BGI: How was your overseas trip and what did you take away from it? Pflueger: "It was an awesome experience to go over there and play against some professionals. It was my first time playing outside the country, so it was awesome to get that under my belt. "Just playing underneath legendary coaches in Larry Brown … that in itself is an amazing opportunity." BGI: What was the big take- away from that experience in regards to being able to grow your game to help the Irish as a junior? Pflueger: "I learned that I have the ability to do every- thing that I believe I can. I believe I can score at a major level, I believe I can defend at a major level, and I know I can play at a high level. "Playing there really built my confidence. … My confidence is up and I'm ready to show it." BGI: What was the biggest difference you no- ticed playing against professionals? Pflueger: "They're really smart, especially the European players. They play really well together. … It's all about maturity. "When you're playing against those players … you're going to learn a little bit every single game." BGI: What was the feeling representing your country over- seas in that environment? Pflueger: "It 's always an honor to wear the USA, es- pecially for my first time. Just wearing it there and promoting our country and acting like civi- lized individuals. "People have some dark light on Americans right now, but I believe going over there and wearing that USA hopefully made our country proud." BGI: You hit a game-winning shot while in Spain — what was the feeling like seeing that shot go in? Pflueger: "It was awesome because of how close we became as a team so fast. All of our teammates were from different colleges and dif- ferent parts of the U.S., and when I hit that shot I didn't expect them to run up and jump on me. "The feeling of them showing their excitement for me was probably the best part of that shot." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … MEN'S BASKETBALL JUNIOR GUARD REX PFLUEGER USC Remains The Measuring Stick By Lou Somogyi In most any year, this question would be viewed as a joke. How can one even bring up the football traditions/history/legacies of USC and North Carolina State in the same sentence? There is no comparison. Yet I understand why this is an intriguing inquiry. USC has been teetering on the brink this year, eventu- ally losing at Washington State, and injuries have piled up, especially along both lines. Furthermore, whereas the Fighting Irish have a bye Oct. 14 to decompress, USC has to play 12 straight games with no bye. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack already has won at Flor- ida State, has the best defensive line the Irish will face this year, has a bye the week before the Notre Dame game and can catch Brian Kelly's team in a letdown the week after facing the archrival. But take it from someone who has seen nearly 50 years worth of this rivalry: USC is still plenty loaded with talent, more so than NC State ever will be. They overcame a rough 1-3 start last year to finish No. 3 in the country, and the 42-24 win this year against Stanford saw them rack up 623 yards of total offense. Notre Dame hasn't defeated a ranked USC team since 1995, and the Trojans will be gunning for their first back-to-back wins versus the Irish since 2008-09. NC State will be an imposing challenge from a different perspective, but USC remains the alpha fig- ure and eternal standard/nemesis on Notre Dame's schedule. NC State Will Tell Us More About Irish By Bryan Driskell There are always bragging rights on the line when Notre Dame and USC square off. If we are having a big picture debate, I would say that beating the Trojans is better for recruiting, national perception with recruits and — most likely, due to the national rankings — for Notre Dame's College Football Playoff résumé. So why am I going with North Carolina State? It's simple: the Wolfpack is going to tell us a lot more about what kind of team Notre Dame is in 2017. USC is athletic, but its lines weren't that good before inju- ries ravaged its big men. NC State, on the other hand, has the best combina- tion of offensive and defensive linemen left on Notre Dame's schedule. The Irish have been doing some mighty impressive things on the football field this season, rushing for more than 300 yards in three of their first five games and playing much improved defense. But the loss to Georgia still stings, in particular because Notre Dame was not the more physical team that day. What kind of growth can Notre Dame show in re- gards to going toe-to-toe and even beating a team built on physicality? Can the Irish blockers be better against NC State standout end Bradley Chubb and the Wolfpack defenders than they were against the Georgia big men? If they can, it means the Irish are playing Notre Dame football, and doing it in impressive fashion. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH HOME GAME THIS MONTH IS THE GREATER CHALLENGE, USC OR NC STATE? Defensive end Bradley Chubb (above) and NC State may not have the name appeal of quarterback Sam Darnold and USC, but they may provide the Irish with a tougher game. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN Pflueger averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game last season. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS

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