Tate's Among Greats

Golden Tate's Notre Dame career is barely halfway over, but the 5-11, 195-pounder has already left a big impression with Irish fans. Tate's first two seasons compare favorably with past Notre Dame standouts, but could Tate have an even better college career?

Wide receiver Golden Tate's freshman season in 2007 was not all that different from the starts of former Notre Dame greats at the position and his sophomore campaign in 2008 has him on pace to match or surpass their production.

Tate had just six catches for 131 yards but showed a glimpse of his playmaking potential with three catches for 104 of those yards and a touchdown in the 2007 game against Purdue.

By comparison, Rocket Ismail had 12 receptions as a rookie, but he did make an impact on special teams, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns.

In his freshman year in 1992, Derrick Mayes had only 10 receptions, although his first three grabs did go for scores. Jeff Samardzija started his record-setting career at Notre Dame with just seven catches for 53 yards as a freshman in 2003.

Notre Dame's last Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown, was slightly more productive as a freshman, catching 28 passes for 340 yards with a touchdown in 1984. Brown's reception numbers went down as a sophomore in 1985 to 25, but he had 397 yards and finished the season with five total touchdowns.

The other three former standouts showed more progress in their second yards. Ismail had 27 catches for 535 yards and scored five times, although only one came as a receiver. Mayes made 24 grabs as a sophomore for 511 yards and had five career touchdowns by the end of the season. Samardzija was still buried on Tyrone Willingham's depth chart, but managed to haul in 17 passes for 274 yards.

Still, none of the past performers had a second season like Tate's. The Tennessee native entered the season as a breakout-year candidate, but no one could have foreseen the numbers that he put up. After admittedly understanding just one route, the go, as a freshman, Tate earned the praise of Charlie Weis and Jimmy Clausen for the progress he made toward becoming a complete receiver in the offseason.

By season's end, Tate had become Notre Dame's most lethal weapon and one who deserved extra attention from opposing defenses. Tate had added more routes to his repertoire, but he never forgot how to run the go. It seemed as if any time that the 5-11 receiver was left one-on-one with a defender Clausen would check out of the original play to give Tate a chance to run vertical with astonishing success.

Tate wasted no time making an impact, grabbing six catches for 93 yards and the winning score in the opener against San Diego State. He followed that up with a four-catch, 127-yard performance against Michigan that included another touchdown grab. The score against Michigan was an example of Tate's maturity as he was able to sell a block before bursting downfield.

Against Michigan State, Tate had five catches for 83 yards, including an amazing 22-yard reception to convert a key third down. Tate hauled in his third touchdown of the season and had another five grabs for 64 yards against Purdue.

He had just three receptions for 30 yards in a win over Stanford, but made five catches for 121 yards and another touchdown at North Carolina. The win over Washington was another relatively slow day, three grabs for 47 yards, but he cemented his status as a true playmaker a week later against Pittsburgh.

Tate hauled in six passes for 111 yards and a touchdown and although he made plenty of remarkable grabs, maybe none was more impressive than a 47-yard reception that he made on a deep Clausen pass was bobbled by two Pitt defenders before landing in Tate's hands.

He had six catches for 66 yards in the loss at Boston College, but was shut out in the win over Navy. The Irish went to a run-first game plan in the second half against the Midshipmen, but Tate's lack of production was also due to the fact that freshman receiver Michael Floyd went down on the first series with a knee injury.

With Floyd proving to be a threat opposite Tate, teams were prevented from showing either wideout too much attention, but without Floyd, defenses were able to key on Tate.

Still, Tate had a career day the following week against Syracuse, making seven catches for 146 yards and a pair of scores against the Orange. Both touchdowns came on audibles from Clausen that sent Tate deep on two of the few times Syracuse chose to play him straight up.

Tate had virtually no impact against USC, catching a pair of balls for 15 yards, but still managed to finish the regular season with 52 receptions for 903 yards and seven touchdowns.

As much as the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl was a coming-out party in a sense for Clausen, it was affirmation for Tate as one of the nation's most dynamic receivers. His six-catch, 177-yard performance included a trio of touchdown receptions, but his most impressive play was not even recorded in the box score.

With the game already out of reach in the fourth quarter, Tate had a fourth touchdown called back for a penalty after an amazing 50-yard punt return for a score.

It is unlikely that Tate will become the same type of special teams player that Ismail was, but the run against Hawai'i along with a big return against Boston College provide more evidence of that than his receiving stats as a freshman did of his 2008 season.

Whatever happens, those extra touches will give Tate the chance to add more plays to his already-lengthy highlight reels.

Junior year has been the traditional breakout one for past Notre Dame receivers.

Ismail was the runner-up in the Heisman voting before going pro after his junior year. Brown actually had his best season as a junior in 1986, catching 45 passes for 910 yards and nine total touchdowns. Mayes set the school-record with 11 touchdown receptions as a junior before Samardzija broke it with 15 TD grabs as Weis arrived when he was a junior.

So what will Tate accomplish as a junior? No one knows, but with two more seasons in Weis' offense along with Clausen and Floyd, the marks that Samardzija set in two years as a starter could have a limited stay in the Notre Dame record books.

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