Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

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

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8 DECEMBER 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Safety Jalen Elliott Became A Consistent Force By Lou Somogyi On offense, there are at least a half-dozen candidates. Junior quarterback Ian Book and senior wideout Miles Boykin both gave a sneak preview of their potential prowess in the Citrus Bowl last January, while junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg and sophomore left guard Aaron Banks have elevated their games as the season has pro- gressed. Senior running back Dexter Williams came in like a cyclone, beginning in game five, and junior wide- out Chase Claypool has detonated in the last month. On defense, junior ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara developed into pass-rushing terrors. However, the safety position has been the difference between Notre Dame becoming a "solid" defense in 2017 and a dominant one in 2018. The line with senior Jerry Tillery, linebackers with seniors Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney, and cornerback with junior Julian Love had established college all-star presence, but safety play was the missing link. Junior Alohi Gilman's arrival after sitting out last season provided a signifi- cant jolt of energy, but we can't compare him to Gilman in 2017. What we can contrast is how a tentative, unsure 2017 sophomore Jalen Elliott became a dynamic, playmaking, confident force who can't be taken off the field in 2018. After 11 games, his 776 snaps were the most on defense, and he was the leader in interceptions (four), third in passes broken up (six) and fourth in tack- les (59). The combination of Gilman's fire and Elliott's ice-cool demeanor pro- vided the defense the final boost it needed to become championship timber. Dexter Williams Went Way Beyond Expectations By Bryan Driskell No one doubted that Dexter Williams was a talented running back, but there was a reason he kept getting passed up on the depth chart during his career. Williams failed to show the maturity on and off the field needed to finally tap into his vast potential, and that is the most difficult weakness for young football players to conquer. Overcoming a lack of maturity, however, is exactly why Williams has had a breakout season for Notre Dame. It isn't just off the field that he has started to make better decisions, his on-field game has improved as well. Williams has proven to be a more physical and decisive runner this season. He has continued to be the home run threat he's always been, which is why he would rank 16th nationally in yards per attempt if he qualified in the national rankings. Williams missed the first four games of the season, but over the next seven contests he racked up 844 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 6.7 yards per attempt. His current average of 120.6 yards per game would rank fourth in Notre Dame history, and if he scores one more touchdown this season he'll tie for ninth on the school's single-season list. Williams also struggled to stay healthy in 2017 despite not carrying the ball more than eight times in a single game. The fact he's been able to average 18 carries per outing might be the biggest surprise of the season. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHO WAS THE MOST IMPROVED PLAYER FOR NOTRE DAME IN 2018? ELLIOTT WILLIAMS Adam Friedman has been the Mid-Atlantic re- cruiting analyst for Rivals since 2012, covering prospects from North Carolina to New England. Notre Dame has commitments from seven 2019 prospects in Friedman's territory — safety Litch- field Ajavon, quarterback Brendon Clark, defen- sive end Howard Cross, linebacker Osita Ekwonu, wide receiver Cam Hart, and offensive linemen Andrew Kristofic and John Olmstead — as well as two in 2020 (tight end Kevin Bauman and quar- terback Drew Pyne). BGI: You've seen all but Ekwonu, Bauman and Pyne live this fall during their seasons … what were your impressions of each? Friedman: "Clark is a strong-armed, savvy quarterback who is a smart runner. Ajavon is a ball of energy, with a lot of physicality and playmaking abilities. He's refined technically and a team leader. Kristofic has come a long way. I like the way his frame has filled out to go with his athleticism. "Cross' best football is two or three years down the road because he has to develop physically. I love his strength, technique and quickness off the line of scrimmage. Olmstead is a big body and will need to develop physically and be a little bit quicker. His ceiling is as high as anyone's in the class. "Cam Hart is a long, outside presence as a wide receiver. I still think that his ceiling is higher on the defensive side of the ball, possibly as a safety, because of his length and the way he sees the field." BGI: Who is the top prospect among those guys in your mind? Friedman: "Litchfield Ajavon. I love the way he plays. He's so physical and comes down hill so well. "He's vocal, intelligent and such a team leader type that can make a lot of big plays in the secondary. … I like how he is going to fit in there at Notre Dame." BGI: Who is the sleeper of the group? Friedman: "He's not going to be ranked higher than Olmstead, but I think Kristofic deserves a little more recognition than he has gotten from us in the past. "With the way he has worked and progressed, it's admirable in the way he's gone about his business." BGI: What are your thoughts on both Pyne and Bauman? Friedman: "Pyne is 6-foot and almost touching 6-foot-1. He's somebody who plays really well within a system. He gets the ball out of his hand so well and sees the field really well. Everything between the ears I think he is beyond anything we've seen from my region at quarterback in quite a while. His mechan- ics are on point and he's a lot like Ian Book in terms of the ball coming out so quick. "Bauman is a guy that could play inside or outside. He has good hands and can find the soft spot in the zones. He's not going to run away from anyone. Notre Dame is going to continue their tight end tradition with him." BGI: Who has the bigger up- side at quarterback between Clark and Pyne? Friedman: "You may say Clark has the higher ceiling because of the measurables and a strong arm. If he can tighten up his delivery and grow in the football IQ department, he may have the higher ceiling. "But Pyne is much further along with his me- chanics, delivery and accuracy. The quarterback room is going to be pretty crowded once Clark gets there, and depending on who stays and goes by the time Pyne gets there." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … RIVALS MID-ATLANTIC RECRUITING ANALYST ADAM FRIEDMAN Friedman has been covering the Mid-Atlantic region for Rivals since 2012. PHOTO COURTESY ADAM FRIEDMAN

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