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Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Offensive line notes; Irish ‘begging’ for No. 2 WR

Georgia v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 09: Richard LeCounte III #2 and J.R. Reed #20 of the Georgia Bulldogs tackle Chris Finke #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the fourth quarter of a game at Notre Dame Stadium on September 9, 2017 in South Bend, Indiana. Georgia won 20-19. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Mike McGlinchey may have put Notre Dame’s loss Saturday night entirely on his own shoulders for a missed block on the final Irish snap, but Brian Kelly disagrees with that sentiment.

The Notre Dame coach felt no need to specifically console his fifth-year left tackle after the 20-19 defeat to Georgia, largely because that late-game mistake was just one of many in a game of 60 minutes.

“I’ve never felt like there’s one play that determines a game,” Kelly said Sunday. “There were a number of things that — if we could have made a run on the third down on the series before, if we don’t have a late hit, if we make a play on that third down flip with [sophomore defensive end] Daelin Hayes, a better call here or there offensively. … I’ve never felt there’s one singular play.”

Bulldogs senior defensive end Davin Bellamy’s fumble-causing sack ended any Irish hopes of a comeback. How Bellamy did that is far from complicated: He simply beat McGlinchey with a pass rush.

“Their guy was better on that play,” Kelly said. “That’s why, when we get in that moment, our guys have to believe that their training has put them in a position to obviously make that block and be there for him.”

Kelly struggled to assess the Notre Dame offensive line as a whole, presumably not wanting to oversimplify an undoubtedly complex evaluation. He did acknowledge the pass protection difficulties, giving up three sacks of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

“What we have to do better is we have to sustain box and be more consistent in pass protection,” Kelly said before adding another piece to that element of the game. “… When we run our offense, a lot of the decisions post-snap are based on what the quarterback is seeing.

“Whether he’s giving it out, pulling it, checking it to the other side, sometimes those decisions ae left up to the post-snap reads. Brandon is learning those things. Going against Georgia, that’s a pretty good defense to learn a lot [from].”

In a departure from a week ago and all of last season, junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was not the Irish quarterback’s primary target. Certainly, Wimbush would have preferred to connect with his most dangerous receiver more often than twice for 16 yards, but the Bulldogs made preventing such a priority.

“They were really physical with him,” Kelly said. “When they were in any kind of two-deep coverage, they had somebody over the top and made it difficult to get him the ball.

“They were going to force us to throw it to somebody else. We needed to be better in the running game. Somebody else had to pick us up.”

In the fourth quarter, junior receiver Chris Finke finally emerged as that possible somebody else, especially considering the running game was entirely ineffective against the Georgia front seven. Finke caught three passes in the final frame for 36 yards, including a 17-yard snag the play before Bellamy’s star turn.

“We’re begging for somebody,” Kelly said. “We’ve been roaming guys out there waiting for guys to just show themselves and make some plays. … Chris showed himself as being a guy now that has made some plays.”

On Boykin, Claypool and Williams remaining non-factors
Throughout spring practice and the beginnings of the preseason sessions, junior receiver Miles Boykin and sophomore receiver Chase Claypool worked with St. Brown as a large-target trio on the first unit. Through two games now, Boykin has yet to catch a pass while Claypool has pulled in one for 16 yards. In their place, fifth-year receiver and Arizona State transfer Cam Smith has emerged as the closest thing to a No. 2 option for Wimbush with seven catches for 54 yards.

Kelly cited the intricacies of the receiver position as being the hurdle both Boykin and Claypool need to clear. From attention to detail to the assignments innate to the position, the duo have yet to regularly display what is needed in practice.

“They’re going to get there,” Kelly said. “It’s just going to take a little bit longer, but they’ll be there. It’s a long season.”

Junior running back Dexter Williams has shown similar potential, highlighted by gaining 124 rushing yards on six carries a week ago against Temple. Against the Bulldogs, Williams did not receive a single carry. Facing a dangerous front seven like Georgia’s, Kelly deferred to junior running back Josh Adams’ edge in pass protection.

“[Georgia does] a lot of confusing things with blitzes and stunts up front, so Josh is really good at that stuff,” Kelly said. “It goes week to week. We’ll see what happens next week.”

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