Kyle McCarthy didn't make Irish fans wait long to find an answer.
It took McCarthy less than a full football game to alert the football watching world that there'd be no drop-off in the quality of strong safety play at Notre Dame in 2008 despite the loss of a three-year starter at the position.
McCarthy (making his second career start), along with first-time starter Sergio Brown and team captain David Bruton, were instrumental players in the defense's opening season close shave against San Diego State.McCarthy finished the game vs. the Aztecs with 14 total tackles (10 solo) and teamed with Bruton to force a key fumble at the goal line, preserving a one-score margin early in the fourth quarter. He continued his torrid tackling pace through September with 10 tackles the following week in a win over Michigan then adding nine more in East Lansing vs. MSU. McCarthy matched his career-best tackle total in early October vs. Stanford, recording 14 stops (while also adding an interception) and bested that total in early November, recording 15 stops (including two for loss) in the three overtime defeat against Pittsburgh.
McCarthy led the team in tackles in his first season of extended action and he'd be the obvious second (at least) guess as the Irish player that saved the most opposing touchdowns or long runs over the course of the '08 season to boot.
McCarthy's Season Outlook:In 2009, his fifth season, McCarthy will no doubt assume a de facto (and well-deserved) leadership role in the Irish secondary. At worst, he'll be a sound defensive presence for a defensive backfield with a chance to rank among the nation's best. At best, McCarthy will take the next step from "sound and solid" to savvy game-changer – using his hitting ability and knowledge of his craft to anticipate rather than react to plays in front of him.
McCarthy is nowhere near the short list of players that must improve for the Irish to have a strong season. He'll be a top 20-level strong safety through the natural progression of a first-year to second-year starter. But if the senior leader can elevate his game in '09 by creating turnovers and implementing a few big hits and timely big plays, the secondary will serve as the team's chief difference makers rather than simply the defense's last line of defense.
McCarthy's Best Moments of 2008:
- Stanford: In addition to 14 tackles and an interception, McCarthy shot through to stop Cardinal RB Michael Thomas for a two-yard-loss (on 3rd and 3) at the Irish 23-yard line. Leading 21-7 at the time, McCarthy's tackle forced a (missed) Stanford field goal attempt and the Irish capitalized nine plays later on a touchdown pass from Clausen to Rudolph in the 28-21 victory.
- Pittsburgh: McCarthy made four separate third-down tackles short of the marker over the course of the contest. Additionally, the senior gave the Irish offense a chance to win the game in the final overtime with a 3rd and 1 stop of RB LeSean McCoy (forcing the Panthers to settle for a field goal).
- USC: McCarthy kept slim Irish hopes alive with an early third quarter interception of Trojans QB Mark Sanchez in the end zone.
McCarthy's Main Point of Emphasis for 2009:
- McCarthy rarely missed an open field tackle in '08 but he too often played conservatively in coverage (behind his man), allowing several tight ends to shield him from the ball. The result was several easy receptions (and first downs). A few more plays on the ball over the course of a 12-game season would likely cut short a handful of would-be scoring drives.