Open Season for Young Irish Receiving Corps

Sophomores Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders both took the next step in their respective development Sunday night in Austin. Who’s on deck?

Notre Dame fans saw the best of Equanimeous St. Brown Sunday night in Austin.

He extended for passes over the middle at full speed. He secured a block to spring teammate Tarean Folston for a 54-yard jaunt. He leapt over a six-foot-two cornerback in man coverage to register his first career score.

He even famously executed a one-armed handspring near the goal line to ensure another.

But head coach Brian Kelly saw something far more important in St. Brown’s development.

Trust.

“I think he's established himself in a position that I would like continuity and consistency there,” said Kelly of St. Brown’s emergence at the W wide receiver spot. “It's a position that I think more than anything else requires somebody to really build a relationship and a rapport with the quarterback, and if you start to move him around now, it begins to erode some of the things that we have built on over the last few weeks.”

St. Brown’s hypothetical move was broached only because starting X receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., is unlikely to play this weekend against Nevada, the result of a vicious hit leveled by Texas safety DeShon Elliott. Hunter has spent much of the last two days in Notre Dame’s concussion protocol.

Someone has to step into Hunter’s role aligned to the wide (field) side of the pre-snap formation.

“We'll look at options (such as) Corey Holmes who has been working at the Z (slot) but has been cross-trained at the X. Obviously K.J. (Stepherson) and Javon McKinley, those would be the places to look right now at the X,” said Kelly.

Texas Tally: A breakdown of targets and total snaps for Irish receivers Sunday night against the Longhorns:

-- St. Brown (W): 9 targets, 59 snaps
-- Torii Hunter, Jr (X). 6 targets, 52 snaps
-- Sanders (Z) 4 targets, 42 snaps
-- Kevin Stepherson (X) 2 targets, 23 snaps
-- Corey Holmes (X, Z) 1 target, 21 snaps
-- Miles Boykin (W) 1 target, 16 snaps
-- Chase Claypool (W) no targets, 3 snaps
-- Javon McKinley (X) no snaps
-- Chris Finke (Z) no snaps

STEPPING IN, STEPPING UP
St. Brown wasn’t the only sophomore pass catcher to emerge Sunday night in Austin. In addition to Brown’s two touchdowns, five receptions and 75 yards were a clutch 55 yards produced by classmate C.J. Sanders, the last 25 of which occurred in overtime on a tunnel screen touchdown.

“He told me, ‘I’ll get you the ball in space, and I know you’ll make a play,’” said Sanders of newly minted starter DeShone Kizer’s message.

Kizer will continue to find a way to get the ball to Sanders, his big-play-in-waiting. “It’s like he’s on a punt return every time because he’s going to find a way to maneuver through the defense and get the yards we need,” Kizer said.

Moreover, Notre Dame’s newly minted starter behind center believes more members of the Irish receiving corps are ready to step to the fore.

“I told them it’s no different than the summer (workouts),” said Kizer. “When they’re out there, they’re expecting to make the same plays and do what they do and do that well. You don’t have to go out there and be someone else. We have a really good coaching staff that puts you in position to make big plays. All we have to do is execute what they say.”

“With young guys, they typically don’t understand is it’s not too much different from what you’re doing in practice,” Kizer continued. “There’s a lot of eyes on you, a lot of noise, that can create some adrenaline, but other than that, we’re playing the same game we played all summer.”

Only with much higher stakes.


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