Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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12 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME UNDER THE DOME LIAM EICHENBERG HAS HIS EYE ON THE PRIZE You'll have to take Liam Eichenberg at his word, no matter how inconceivable it might be. Notre Dame's left tackle said he could see out of his left eye, despite the golf ball-sized welt that appeared to cover it up. He suffered the injury when a Florida State player's hand got caught inside his helmet during the first half of the 42-26 Irish win over the Seminoles Oct. 10. "I really didn't realize how bad it was until I got in the locker room," Eichenberg said. "I could see out of it. I just didn't realize how swollen it was." Three days later, when Eichenberg spoke to reporters, the remnants were a black eye and a reddish hue surrounding his pupil. He left the game after spending a couple minutes down on the field, but returned for Notre Dame's first drive of the second half. While out and after returning, he had vision out of both eyes. "I could see a majority of the time, but to- ward the end of a drive it was pretty swollen," Eichenberg said. "I was just happy to be out there." His teammates sure noticed the sacrifice he made to come back into the game. He shed the ice pack he used to halt the swelling and went back in with his left eye not visible. "It solidified the kind of respect they have for him as a leader," head coach Brian Kelly said. "He had it from the guys who he goes against, the defensive linemen. When you see guys like cornerbacks and guys who he doesn't see a lot go up and talk to him, you can tell that had an effect on other players in our program." — Patrick Engel Notre Dame Wide Receiver Lineup 'A Tricky Situation' The definition of a "first-world problem" was first used in the Oxford Dictionary Online in November 2012. In a backhanded manner, it mocks the privileged who are stressed by trivial matters such as Wi-Fi going out for a few minutes, thus preventing social media engagement. For the top teams in college football, such "problems" can occur on how to best utilize stockpiled talent. Two examples among several at Notre Dame in mid-October included Buck linebacker and boundary receiver. The Buck linebacker competition has included former top-100 recruits in juniors Shayne Simon and Jack Lamb, rising sophomore Marist Liufau and classmate Jack Kiser, whose eight tackles against USF Sept. 19 earned him the game ball when Simon and Liufau were unavailable, purportedly because of the coronavirus. Another option could be to shift over the starting middle linebacker from 2019 and this year, senior Drew White. He could be in the mix if junior Bo Bauer (pages 16-17) earns more action as he did versus Florida State. Notre Dame's boundary receiver position, which has produced an NFL player each of the past three seasons with junior Equanimeous St. Brown (2018), third-round choice Miles Boykin (2019) and second- round selection Chase Claypool (2020), who will make a strong bid for NFL Rookie of the Year, is another example. The long awaited return of junior Kevin Austin Jr., sidelined last year with a suspension before undergoing foot surgery this Aug. 3, finally arrived the week of the Florida State game. Head coach Brian Kelly projected potentially "15 to 20 snaps" for Austin against the Seminoles. Instead, he had only three, with one deep ball target that fell incomplete. Part of that is because fifth-year senior Javon McKin- ley has put himself in a position where the coaching staff can't take him off the field. The primary reason was the 6-2, 215-pound wideout's exceptional block- ing on the edge and downfield, while Notre Dame has built its 2020 identity on offense around a physical ground attack. Yet against FSU, McKinley also snared a career-high five passes for 107 yards, highlighted by 36- and 38- yard grabs on deep balls, while competing against one of the nation's better cornerbacks in Asante Samuel Jr. "There's nobody, I don't think, in college football that can defend Javon," Kelly raved after the game. "… I've been telling him he's got a chance to do some special things." Through three games, McKinley's 154 snaps on of- fense, were exactly double any other Irish receiver (77 by junior Braden Lenzy), per Pro Football Focus. Because the Irish operate in a two- and even three-tight end align- ment most of the time to enhance their current identity, snap counts are in shorter supply for the receivers. Claypool himself indicated last spring that Aus- tin, the No. 88-ranked recruit by Rivals in 2018, was primed to become the next big-time NFL wideout from Notre Dame. However, it's so easy to forget that McKinley himself was the No. 59 overall recruit on Rivals' 2016 board, before injuries and other setbacks slowed his career track. Now, McKinley is just as eager and hungry for a future in the NFL. "We're trying to bring Kevin back at the same time we're trying to elevate Javon within our offensive structure," Kelly explained. "In one sense we want to get Kevin back in the mix. But we don't want to take away from the success of Javon — because we're trying to build his confidence. It's a tricky situ- ation for us right now." A potential solution is to move one or the other to the field side at receiver so both can still play together despite the multiple tight end looks. "Kevin is now at that mark where we feel like we can just put him in and not have to worry about his numbers or how much he's playing," Kelly said. "You're going to see him in the game at the same time as McKinley." Possibly, that could create the kind of problems for the opposition the staff can even better appreciate. — Lou Somogyi Fifth-year senior wide receiver Javon McKinley had a career-high five receptions for 107 yards against Florida State Oct. 10, highlighted by 36- and 38-yard grabs on deep balls. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER Eichenberg suffered a golf ball-sized welt under his left eye when a Florida State play- er's hand got caught inside his helmet during the first half of Notre Dame's 42-26 win over the Seminoles Oct. 10. PHOTO VIA TWITTER

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