Five Players to Watch: Notre Dame

Quarterback Everett Golson has been the focal point of national attention for the 6-1 Irish. We asked Tim O'Malley from Irisheyes.com to highlight five other players, four of them sophomores, who are crucial to Notre Dame's quest Saturday vs. the Midshipmen.

RB #25 Tarean Folston

The sophomore enjoyed his breakout game last November against Navy as a true freshman, rushing for a still-career-best 140 yards and a touchdown. He's since evolved into the team's No. 1 runner though look for the Irish to likewise use team captain Cam McDaniel and promising redshirt-freshman Greg Bryant Saturday night.

Folston's jump-cut style is reminiscent of former Florida State star and San Francisco 49ers second-round pick, Amp Lee. As Keith Jackson once mused, "He just aint got no handles on him."

Folston's last two outings have produced 289 yards from scrimmage (71 receiving) with three touchdowns on 44 touches.

WLB #9 Jaylon Smith

Already revered in South Bend as a true sophomore, Smith ranks as not only the fastest linebacker in program history, but among its most dedicated. In a world of "can't miss" prospects, he's atop the list -- and one of the few that actually fits the moniker thanks to his other-wordly athleticism, grounded demeanor, and dedication to his craft.

Saturday, Smith will have to rely on his oft-stressed technique more so than remarkable playmaking skills. As with most outside 'backers that transition inside at an early age, Smith remains eminently block-able between the tackles -- but he's a holy terror on the edge.

If a Navy runner beats Smith to the sidelines for a long carry, he should keep the football for posterity.

WR #7 Will Fuller

The true sophomore has emerged as Golson's go-to target this season, notching eight touchdowns on 43 receptions, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Fuller has yet to encounter a defender that can run with him on the football field, and that includes Florida State track star and future NFL corner Ronald Darby.

Inexplicably left off the mid-season Biletnikoff Award's 80-player list, Fuller stresses a defense with left-to-right slant routes, bubble screens (three of which he's turned into scores), and the deep ball. He's not only recorded scores from 75 and 72 yards out, but drawn end zone interference calls on three occasions among his team-leading six pass interference penalties drawn through seven games.

Look for Fuller to catch at least eight passes Saturday night if the Academy defense plays the Irish targets straight up (without devoted help to Fuller's side).

DT #91 Sheldon Day

Notre Dame's most consistent football player this season, Day has dominated scrimmage since the season's outset, peaking in an Oct. 18 loss at Florida State where he teamed with classmate Jarron Jones to dominate the Seminoles talented offensive front. With eight official QB hurries to his credit and 5.5 tackles for loss, Day's at his best penetrating double-team block attempts, thereby realigning scrimmage to his side and allowing linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith to attack gaps and make plays.

Day's 2014 performance far outweighs that of highly touted former teammates Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt last season. He was named a captain as a true junior this August and will likely next fall become just the 19th player in program history to earn the honor in multiple seasons.

Notre Dame has a host of young defensive linemen that could struggle with Navy's scheme, and Jones could because of his frame (6'5" 315). Day will not.

S #10 Max Redfield

Expected the true sophomore to be Notre Dame's single high safety in its base defense Saturday night, and the athletic Redfield has the range and size/speed measurables to handle the daunting task.

Said the former USC pledge of Navy's attack, "It's not very complicated. It's pretty simple. Not anything they're trying to hide. There's only a few things that they can do, but they do it very effectively. They block and execute well. We understand that. It's just staying on your toes, knowing that (a downfield pass) is going to happen at some point, but that it's primarily run and you have to show up vs. the run at all costs."

Redfield was not a scrimmage regular vs. Navy as a true freshman last fall. He'll likely perform a telling role, one way or the other, defending the Midshipmen's occasional shots downfield.


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