Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

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

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Page 16 of 47 DECEMBER 2018 17 strong that senior Trevor Ruhland will slide back inside and take over at center. Ruhland played well in five starts at guard this season, but center is where his game projects best. The opportunity to replace Mustipher with a player who started five games and has as much experience as Ruh- land is huge. Ruhland has battled injuries throughout his career, and there is an outside chance he could graduate and move on from football. The latest information, though, indicates that he plans to return for his final season. One of the pleasant surprises on defense this season has been the emergence of senior rover Asmar Bilal, who ranked sixth on the team with 42 tackles heading into the USC matchup. While not a playmaker, Bilal has been a steady perimeter run de- fender. He covers ground well and is a solid tackler. He has also spent some time cross-training inside at Buck linebacker. With Coney and Tranquill gone and Notre Dame returning an ex- tremely inexperienced group of line- backers, the odds are strong that Bilal will be given the opportunity to re- turn next season. The only question at this point is does he return as the rover, or does he move inside in hopes of replac- ing either Tranquill or Coney, open- ing up the rover position for either current freshman Shayne Simon or sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Kora- moah, who missed most of the 2018 season with an injury. Cornerback Shaun Crawford's once promising career has been de- railed by multiple injuries. He missed all of the 2015 and 2018 seasons with knee injuries, and he missed all but two games in 2016 after tearing his Achilles tendon. Crawford and head coach Brian Kelly have already stated that he plans to return in 2019. UNCERTAIN TO RETURN Coming into the season, the odds of senior wide receiver Miles Boykin returning were strong, and at this point in the season it still seems likely that he plays his fifth and final season in South Bend. Boykin, though, is having the kind of season that will force him to con- sider entering the 2019 NFL Draft. Heading into the final contest against USC, Boykin led the Irish in all three major receiving categories with 51 receptions, 730 receiving yards and eight touchdown grabs. Boykin also led all receivers with at least 10 catches with an average of 14.3 yards per catch. Project his production with Book as the quarterback out over a 12- game regular season plus one post- season game and Boykin would have 72 catches for 1,001 yards and 13 touchdowns. During a five-game stretch that be- gan with a 38-17 win over Stanford Sept. 29 and ended with a 31-21 vic- tory at Northwestern Nov. 3, Boykin hauled in 31 passes for 457 yards and seven touchdowns. His ability to win one-on-one bat- tles, to stretch the field and to pro- duce in the red zone has been out- standing. Entering December, Boykin is expected to return for his fifth and final season. UNLIKELY TO RETURN Senior tight end Alizé Mack has a year of eligibility remaining, but is likely headed to the NFL following this season. Heading into the final matchup against USC, Mack had al- ready set career bests with 33 catches, 334 receiving yards and three touch- down grabs. It would be incredibly surprising if senior quarterback Brandon Wim- bush returned for a fifth-season after he lost his job in September. Wim- bush is one of the most respected players on the team, and he was named a captain for Notre Dame's matchup against Syracuse. However, when numbers are tight, it seems unlikely that a scholarship will be used on a backup quarter- back, even when he is talented and has a 13-3 record as a starter. Senior defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway has been a solid re- serve this season, and he emerged early when sophomore Myron Tago- vailoa-Amosa was lost for the regular season because of a foot injury that required surgery. He competed in his limited reps this season, which helped defensive line coach Mike Elston prevent over- use for star defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. With Tillery and fifth-year senior Jonathan Bonner gone after this season, there are reasons to bring Dew-Treadway back. However, with sophomores Kurt Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa, freshmen Jayson Ademilola and Ja'Mion Franklin, and the expected arrival of 2019 commits Jacob Lacey and Hunter Spears, the numbers do not favor Dew-Tread- way's return. Injuries, though, could play a fac- tor. Tagovailoa-Amosa is still recov- ering from a foot injury that cost him all but the first half of the season opener against Michigan. Franklin went down with a devastating leg injury at Wake Forest that could cost him the spring and makes his return to full health next fall a concern. Spears suffered a second knee in- jury near the end of his senior sea- son, which makes his health for 2019 uncertain. If Elston and the rest of the Irish staff are concerned about having enough healthy bodies next season, they could decide that Dew-Tread- way is an insurance policy from a depth standpoint. ✦ Senior rover Asmar Bilal has been a pleasant sur- prise for the defense, and his return in 2019 could solidify what will be a young group of linebackers. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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