Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Can St. Brown lead with Hunter in doubt?

AUSTIN, Texas – Equanimeous St. Brown looked like Notre Dame’s new No. 2 receiver on Sunday night. The problem may be he’s now No. 1 with Torii Hunter Jr. in doubt.

AUSTIN, Texas – Equanimeous St. Brown knew the ball was coming to him before DeShone Kizer threw it. The sophomore receiver even knew it was coming before the ball was snapped.

Forget that St. Brown scored from 30 yards out late in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 50-47 double overtime loss at Texas. Forget the show of athleticism as St. Brown did a virtual cartwheel into the end zone for his second career touchdown in his first career start.

First, note St. Brown showed an upperclassman’s knowledge of scheme.

“I knew pre-snap that it was gonna come to me because that’s a play that we’ve been working on for practice,” St. Brown said. “It was just a matter of executing.”

St. Brown did with five catches for 75 yards and those two touchdowns. Remember, this is a sophomore who’s battled two shoulder injuries and a thumb sprain in training camp. Remember, that he entered the season with just one career catch for six yards. He did score last season, but that was on a blocked punt against USC.

It all meant Sunday night was a major step forward. And it needs to be with Torii Hunter Jr. potentially lost in the short term following that helmet-to-helmet hit with DeShon Elliott in the end zone. Torii Hunter Sr. tweeted that his son had suffered a concussion, which makes it hard to imagine him playing next Saturday against Nevada.

“I think we’ll overcome it,” St. Brown said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good young receivers that will step up.

“I think the receiving corps as a group, we’re underrated, looked down upon. I think we did a pretty good job today.”

Hunter finished with four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown before that Elliott hit ended his night. C.J. Sanders added three catches for 55 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in overtime on a screen.

No other receiver made a reception, although Corey Holmes, Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson all played snaps on offense. Neither Chris Finke nor Javon McKinley got into the game.

Suddenly, Notre Dame’s most experienced receiver may be St. Brown.

“He’s a stud,” Kizer said. “We expected that out of him. We treated him like he was a veteran because quite frankly with all the reps that he got last year, as well as the things that he did this year, he is a veteran.

“We’re gonna rely on him to make big plays just like he did today.”

It’s not clear how or if Notre Dame can actually offset Hunter if he’s out long term.

Without Hunter for the fourth quarter and overtime, Notre Dame’s wide receivers were targeted six times and caught two passes. Sanders snared both for 31 yards. Stepherson was targeted twice during that time, St. Brown once and Holmes once.

“To lose (Hunter) right there in a tough time, at the same time we still played good ball,” Kizer said. “C.J. with that screen was a great play. KJ ran out and ran good routes and I didn’t put the ball on him the way I should.”
 
At a minimum, Kizer seems to have a serious threat in St. Brown regardless of what is or what isn’t around him at the position. There’s no doubt St. Brown feels that way about himself coming home from Texas, even if he admitted some nerves going into the night.

“It means a lot showing what I could do,” St. Brown said. “It gives me a lot of confidence.”


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