His first impression coincided and was commensurate with Notre Dame’s team-wide face plant last November.
His second, Thanksgiving Saturday 2015 in Palo Alto, offered a mixed bag, but for those that took the time to examine Devin Butler’s efforts against the Cardinal, it was clear any proverbial glass should have been considered at least “half-full.”
(Whereas last November it wasn’t “half empty” as much as bone dry.)
Butler, Notre Dame’s junior left cornerback, plays one of the toughest positions in football and it’s certainly among the most thankless. Rarely does the benefit of doubt accompany a cornerback, kicker, or punter.
And considering Butler’s skill set is part safety, part cornerback, and all special teams – and that he’s continually been asked to serve as an injury replacement for Notre Dame’s best at the position – perhaps a bit of perspective should be applied.
“I think Devin is playing really well,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly when asked if there’d be “a rotation” at the left cornerback spot – KeiVarae Russell’s former role prior to the latter’s broken tibia that ended his season on November 21 in Boston.
“We like Devin and what he did in the Stanford game,” Kelly offered previously. “It wasn't a very good pass interference call made against him. The league admitted that they should not have made that call, so we thought that he competed very well in that game.
“He did suffer a head injury, and (sophomore) Nick Watkins came in. We thought he competed well. We like (freshman) Nick Coleman and what his upside brings. We want to continue to work the three of those guys, but Devin has shown -- other than the one time where he didn't come up and force the ball and didn't have the tackle, he missed the tackle in the red zone, we thought he played well in a big game, which bodes very well for us.”
SMALL PART OF A UNIQUE WHOLE
Butler is expected to start opposite Luke in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1 though the aforementioned Watkins has made a late-season push.
“I think Cole Luke is being challenged,” said Kelly, adding his veteran starter to Butler’s oft-inquired name. “Those three (Luke, Butler, Watkins) are doing a really good job of challenging each other. We’ve put all three of them in a competitive situation. We’ll continue to keep the heat on them to keep competing because I think it brings out the best in them.”
Butler, who broke up a pass and made three tackles against Stanford, was unfazed by his emergent starting assignment in what was a de facto playoff game for the Irish.
“Honestly, the coaches stress to us every day – Coach (Todd) Lyght, (Brian) Coach VanGorder – that you have to prepare like a starter because you’re one play away from getting in,” said Butler. “You always have to be prepared for the opportunity. I’m grateful to have this opportunity and I’m ready to go out there and dominate.”
“My coaches told me all week (prior to Stanford) to play with confidence. ‘You’re not the same player you were last year.’ I believed in it and it was just going out there and playing the way I know how to play.”
At his best, Butler’s coaches believe he can compete with Ohio State and the Buckeyes plethora of skill position talent. Butler has no doubts.
“They’re unique: great talent out there. But we have great talent here too. It’s about who executes. It’s the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life,” he added. “I’ll get out there, soak it all in, then buckle that chin strap and play ball.”
It’s the defending national champions vs. Butler and his one-of-a-kind, resilient collection of teammates.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he said of Notre Dame’s singular focus and camaraderie. “It’s going to be hard to top it (next year).
“Hopefully we’ll go out with a win and send Team 127 out the way we should.”