Monday, January 7, 2019

The 2018 Notre Dame football report card

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox- Getty Images

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

Despite the setback in the College Football Playoff semifinal round at the Cotton Bowl, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a lot to look forward to going into the 2019 season off a 12-1 mark. Here are your grades by position for the 2018 team.

Quarterbacks- Grade: A

Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book carried Notre Dame to a 12-0 mark before the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson. While Wimbush struggled some in the early goings, he still led the Irish to a victory over Michigan in the season opener. When Book replaced Wimbush, the Notre Dame offense exploded and rolled to several consecutive easy victories.

Running Backs- Grade: B

While Dexter Williams missed the first four games with a suspension, Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. managed to step up and play well. Armstrong, a wide receiver turned running back, found the end zone twice against Michigan. Armstrong and Jones Jr. both accumulated more than 375 yards in addition to Williams’ 789.

Tight Ends- Grade: B-

In Notre Dame’s system, the tight ends do not get targeted as frequently as they could. Alize Mack and Cole Kmet combined for 43 receptions, 413 yards, and three touchdowns. While Mack acquired the majority of the receptions, yards, and all of the touchdowns, it will be interesting to see what Kmet can do on his own next year with Mack heading for the NFL Draft.

Wide Receivers- Grade: B+

Miles Boykin consistently made big plays and led the team in touchdowns (eight) and receiving yards (654). Chase Claypool took somewhat of a step back from where he was last year, but was still an extremely viable second option to Boykin. Chris Finke made timely receptions and took advantage of being covered by a team’s third or fourth best secondary. Finke also impressed as a kick and punt returner this season.

Offensive Line- Grade: B

The loss of Alex Bars midway through the season caused some panic surrounding the offensive line, but Tommy Kraemer stepped up and played well at right guard. Notre Dame was faced with the challenge of replacing two top-ten NFL Draft picks in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.  The Irish will lose Bars and center Sam Mustipher next season, but will return Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, Kraemer, and Robert Hainsey.

Defensive Line- Grade: A-

Julina Okwara, Jerry Tillery, and Khalid Kareem impacted several games throughout the season for the Notre Dame defense. Okwara and Kareem both have announced that they will return to Notre Dame in the fall for their senior seasons. Tillery led Notre Dame with seven sacks on the season. Seniors Tillery and Jonathan Bonner will need to be replaced before next season, but Notre Dame has solid depth on the offensive line.

Linebackers- Grade: A

Notre Dame will be missing their senior leaders Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney when next season rolls around. Coney and Tranquill led the Irish in tackles with 87 and 59, respectively. The tandem also combined to provide 4.5 sacks.

Cornerbacks- Grade: B+

Julian Love was arguably the best cornerback in the nation throughout this season as a junior. In three seasons, Love has already broken the Notre Dame record for career pass breakups. Notre Dame’s secondary will suffer a huge loss as love declared for the NFL Draft earlier this week. Troy Pride Jr. provided solid coverage opposite of Love and intercepted a pair of passes throughout the season. Love’s backup Donte Vaughn got torched throughout the first half of the Cotton Bowl and causes great concern going into next season at cornerback.

Safeties- Grade: B

Alohi Gilman had a breakout season for Notre Dame after transferring from Navy. Gilman recorded 58 tackles in the regular season and broke the College Football Playoff record with 16 tackles in the Cotton Bowl against Clemson. Jalen Elliot and Nick Coleman played well at the strong safety position throughout the season. Elliot recorded three interceptions to lead the Notre Dame defense.

Special Teams- Grade: B+

Notre Dame will face a challenge on special teams next year after losing kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome. Yoon leaves Notre Dame as the all-time scoring leader and has been an extremely efficient kicker over the past four seasons. Newsome consistently pinned opponents deep in their own territory and effectively created great field position for Notre Dame after forcing a three and out.