His Time

While Notre Dame fans anticipate the return of the program's most highly touted cornerback, they'd do well to notice the heavily-recruited sophomore that excelled in his stead.

It was one game, and it was one game against a team with a deficient passing attack. But Notre Dame sophomore Cole Luke in no way resembled a rookie starter last Saturday vs. Rice.

"I liked Cole’s presence. He didn’t seem to be affected by his first start," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. "I thought he played with a confidence. Really like just his demeanor. I think that’s really big at that position. That stood out to me."

What stood out on film was a diving pass breakup early, solid downfield coverage throughout, and just one pass reception allowed to his assigned target over the course of the contest.

Playing in a scheme that seems to enhance his young skill set, Luke nonetheless channeled the words of his former coordinator to describe his current situation.

"We have a (credo) 'The Indispensable Man': somebody steps out, somebody steps in, regardless of who it is or what position it is," said Luke in explanation of the team's oft-referenced *poem first introduced by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. "I just filled the role. We can't play with one corner. It was my time to step up my game and take it to the next level."

(*The Indispensable Man by Saxon White Kessinger.)

The role to which Luke refers was to be manned by suspended junior cornerback Keivarae Russell, a consensus pre-season All-America nominee. Luke will face tougher tests -- beginning this week to be sure -- than he did in Saturday's 48-17 dismantling of Rice, but his debut role as Notre Dame's starting right cornerback was a smash success.

"He did great. I expected that," said left cornerback Cody Riggs. "Cole did really well in camp and in the preparation for this game. It was exactly what I expected him to do -- no mental errors, he was on point."

Luke admitted a spring session spent with the first unit while the transfer Riggs finished his degree requirements at Florida, coupled with half of an August camp in Russell's stead helped prepare him for the starting job.

First unit status, while enticing, was nothing new.

"It helped a lot, getting reps with the ones and especially going against the No. 1 offense," said Luke. "I feel like we have great receivers that challenge and push me to the next level. I'd say getting more reps helps with stamina (too.)"

Luke declined to pinpoint a strength in his game at the outset of his career. His coach had no such issue.

"A very gifted athlete," said Kelly Luke. "I think what we were waiting for was I guess a sense of urgency and maybe that sense of urgency wasn't there in a back-up role. Once he became a starter you could see everything elevate…the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he went to meetings. There was that sense of urgency in everything that he did.  I think since that day we've seen a growth in elevation in everything he has done within practice.

"We felt like he played very solid at the corner back position on Saturday, so we hope that that continues to elevate itself."

Luke's chief challenge this week is in the form of six-foot-five, 235-pound target Devin Funchess, a former tight end that appears at home as a brick house disguised as a wide receiver for the Wolverines.

Riggs is 5'9" 185. Luke 5'11" 190. How can a cornerback negate the inherent physical advantage Funchess possesses?

"Win at the line of scrimmage. It's something we stress every day at practice," said Luke. "(Michigan has) great receivers, obviously a good quarterback, but we're trying to look at the as a whole. Defense against offense."

And as usual, no one man more important than the other.

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