Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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Page 15 of 55

16 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n 2019, Notre Dame linebacker Matthew "Bo" Bauer had the ideal temperament to excel on special teams. His seek-and-destroy ferocity and production — his 13 tackles on the kicking teams paced Notre Dame — earned him the Special Teams Player of the Year Award at Irish Echoes in December. In 2020, Bauer now has developed the disposition to further thrive as the middle linebacker (Mike) on defense. While the overall performance on defense was "not the kind of defense we want to put out there," per head coach Brian Kelly, in the 42-26 win over Florida State on Oct. 10, the con- spicuous and added presence of the junior Bauer helped the Irish limit the Seminoles to nine points over the fi- nal three quarters. In August pre- s e a s o n c a m p , Kelly even hinted then that senior incumbent Drew White, whose 80 tackles tied for the team lead last year with rover Jeremiah Owusu- Koramoah, could be challenged by the improved Bauer for snaps. "Bo Bauer has had his best camp, bar none," Kelly said the week lead- ing up to the season opener versus Duke Sept. 12. "You're going to see him on the field, and we feel very comfortable putting him there. "There were times last year when we felt like there were some holes in Bo's game. I think he's tightened up to the point where we feel like Bo has to go out there and play the whole game … He's a very, very good foot- ball player." There was no such challenge last year when White recorded 621 snaps on defense compared to Bauer's 91. Although White is still the desig- nated starter, against Florida State Bauer was recorded with 40 snaps — including in the nickel and dime packages — while White had 34. Bauer's production, especially in the second half also was evident with four solo tackles, two for lost yardage and a quarterback sack. It would seem counterproductive to harness a linebacker's aggressive personality on the field, yet that is what was required for Bauer to actu- alize the skills that made him a four- star prospect and the nation's No. 142 overall prospect while helping lead Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep to 28 consec- utive wins and two straight Pennsyl- vania 4A state titles in 2016 and 2017. "Bo's evolution has been much more about his ability to control and handle his emotional space," Kelly explained. "In other words, getting into his emotional zone where he can play the game and play it at the level nec- essary for him to be the best football player." The physical attributes were there to shine, like they did in 2019 on spe- cial teams. Lacking were the techni- cal and disciplinary aspects required at this level. "He was a bit out of control, he may miss a fit here or he might not be lined up in the right position. He's really done an incredible job of find- ing that emotional zone that allows him to be locked in and be assign- ment-correct," Kelly said. "You bring that with his physical tools and his knack for finding the football, and you see a guy that has ascended in our defensive structure. … He's starting to influence the way our defense looks when he's out there." Bauer used to b e w h a t h e t h o u g h t w a s a "perfect 10" on the inten- sity scale before realizing he had to dial back in order to move forward. "I took my energy level from about a 10 to a four, and was able to focus while doing that," he said shortly after the win over Florida State. "I was really able to spend extra time understanding what my pur- pose was and where I'm supposed to go. I just slowed everything down. "Through that process, I wasn't expecting more playing time at all, but the opportunity was presented. I continued to try to capitalize on that every day, every practice, every rep." Now and then, that vigor in the heat of battle will still manifest it- self, as it did when he was assessed a 15-yard personal foul on Florida State's third quarter kickoff after the Seminoles cut the score to 35-26. That forced the Irish to start from their 14- yard line. Fortunately, Notre Dame answered with a touchdown march for the game's final score. "I wasn't able to hold the standard there," Bauer lamented. "I got a little too aggressive on that play. Coach Kelly would agree. "It's just being able to tamper down that energy level and hold our standard throughout the game and every moment, from ST [special teams] to defense." It wasn't Notre Dame's crispest performance from a tackling stand- TRENDING UP BY TONING DOWN Junior Bo Bauer is making a case for more action at competitive linebacker position "You can see a guy that has ascended in our defensive structure. … He's starting to influence the way our defense looks when he's out there." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON BAUER

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