Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Status Reports: Irish Special Teams

Our final of eight installment in a series of mid-season evaluations examining Notre Dame’s roster with a look at each individual’s status entering the bye week. Is he ascending? Has he stagnated? Or did he take a step back since the conclusion of training camp.

FIELD GOAL

The battery: LS Scott Daly, H Montgomery VanGorder, PK Justin Yoon.
-- Most recent alignment of blockers (left-to-right): Jacob Matuska, Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Trevor Ruhland, (Daly), Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars, Durham Smythe, and Tyler Luatua (edge).

A slow starter in both of his two seasons behind placement, Yoon has missed three of nine field goal attempts including one blocked at Texas in a three-point defeat and what proved to be a crucial 42-yard push right vs. Duke.

His best kick – by a large margin – was a 40-yard money shot in a hurricane at North Carolina State. Yoon has nailed four of his last five following the aforementioned shank against the Blue Devils.

His lone PAT miss among 27 chances proved innocuous against Nevada.

Status: A step back, but frankly it was forecasted by Irish Illustrated (got one right!)

PUNT RETURN

The most recent unit was comprised of Nick Coleman, Jalen Elliott, Jamir Jones, Josh Barajas, Miles Boykin, Donte Vaughn, Nicco Fertitta, Troy Pride, Dexter Williams, Chase Claypool, and return man C.J. Sanders

Sanders started strong with returns of 11 and 40 yards vs. Texas and for 24 yards vs. Nevada but the unit floundered against Michigan State (a lost fumble off the leg of Miles Boykin and just nine yards on two returns by Sanders), and against Stanford (just one of four punts was returned for five yards).

Status: A step back. Take away a 12-yard return against Duke and Notre Dame’s best effort since Nevada is a measly 7 yards vs. Michigan State. The group is in need of a James Onwualu type (or actually, just James Onwualu) to spring Sanders in the clutch.

KICKOFF RETURN

By level:

-- Nicco Fertitta, Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara, Jalen Elliott
-- Asmar Bilal, Greer Martini
-- Nic Weishar, Durham Smythe, Jacob Matuska
-- Chris Finke, and C.J. Sanders

Highlights include one return for a 93-yard touchdown vs. Syracuse and one memorable, perhaps crippling penalty – a Jalen Elliott hold/tackle that negated a 100-yard touchdown by Sanders vs. Michigan State – to mark its season efforts to date.

The unit ranks 42nd nationally with a 22.48 average per return with Sanders coming in at 24.7 per, good for 39th overall. It’s a quality group that likely has one more touchdown forthcoming. (Key for the Irish fan: that trip to pay dirt occurs against someone other than Army.)

Status: Stagnant…but keep the faith.

PUNT COVERAGE

The most recent unit showed Chase Claypool, Troy Pride, Greer Martini, James Onwualu, Avery Sebastian, and Julian Love covering, with Scott Daly snapping and punter Tyler Newsome protected by Tyler Luatua, Trevor Ruhland, and Mark Harrell. Both Nic Weishar and Hunter Bivin were recently involved among Newsome’s trio of protectors as well.

The positives outweigh the negatives…with one notable exception:

  • Newsome has a 43.7-yard net average despite one offering famously blocked for the game-winning touchdown at N.C. State. He also suffered an ill-timed shank (fourth quarter) at Texas.
  • He unleashed six punts for more than a 50-yard average including a clutch 71-yarder that flipped field position against Michigan State.
  • Three Duke punts exceeded 50 yards with a fourth pinning the Blue Devils at their own 14-yard line.
  • A punt vs. Syracuse expertly downed at the Orange 1-yard line.
  • Syracuse returned a Newsome punt 74 yards to put the game back within reach near the close of the first half.
  • A 69-yard punt in Raleigh
  • A 58-yard punt to flip field position in the fourth quarter against Stanford

Status: A step back. The punt team contributed greatly to the loss of a football game – the rest is thus window dressing…but this is, in general, a quality unit and optimism is deserved entering the final five contests.

KICKOFF COVERAGE

The most recent grouping: K Justin Yoon, Asmar Bilal, Greer Martini, Chase Claypool, Drue Tranquill and James Onwualu (started against Stanford, were replaced by Avery Sebastian and Julian Okwara), Javon McKinley, Dexter Williams, Jalen Elliott, Julian Love, and Chris Finke.

One return. One. Crippling. Return.

Thanks to two missed tackles including one dead-to-rights by Nick Coleman, Duke scored on a momentum-altering touchdown en route to a 38-35 win over the Irish in South Bend.

Other than that, the longest return against Notre Dame this season is just 28 yards. Three foes have been held to long returns of 20 yards or less.

Status: Ascending. This is the most complete specialty unit in the program…but man did its lone mistake hurt. But unlike the loss in Raleigh, Duke’s touchdown that cut Notre Dame’s lead to 14-7 in the first quarter should have easily been overcome.


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