Friday Five: In 2022 QB Recruiting, Notre Dame Had To Give In To The Times
Four-star quarterback Steve Angeli’s recruitment is a signal of Notre Dame’s coaching staff’s understanding it had to give in to the times.
As much as they would have loved to wait for the in-person evaluation that’s so critical in judging quarterbacks and a chance to meet face-to-face, it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, because, well … (gestures at everything).
So the Irish turned up their pursuit of Angeli, a product of Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic High School, and added him to their 2022 class on Thursday. In the end, they landed the first quarterback they offered this cycle. The Irish extended the offer to Angeli in August, and it’s possible they were the last Power Five team to do so to a 2022 quarterback.
You can understand why there’d be hesitancy to take a 2022 quarterback right now and to send out the first batch of offers to them last summer.
Notre Dame’s staff has never met Angeli or watched him throw live. He never came to a camp, because there wasn’t one last summer. Notre Dame never saw him play, because its staff can’t travel to recruit.
Most of all, he’s a one-year starter who has thrown 151 career passes and didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 (59.5 percent completion rate, 8.15 yards per pass, six touchdowns in six games). Notre Dame and more than 10 other staffs offered before he had started a full season. The Irish did the same with 2021 quarterback commit Tyler Buchner, but they had seen him at camp and were comfortable with what they learned there.
It’s not the most ideal situation. But that goes for all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Notre Dame couldn’t get stuck in a position where it’s scrambling to find a backup plan at a premium position. In turn, the Irish pushed for the player they knew they could land and trusted the work they put into vetting him from afar.
We’ll see what Angeli becomes as a college player. BlueandGold.com recruiting insider Mike Singer went to see him in the fall and likes his upside. There are impressive traits on his tape. He’s not an eye-catching commitment that gets fans everywhere buzzing, but he shouldn’t be out of place at Notre Dame.
As for what’s next, don’t expect Notre Dame to wait around before diving into film and dishing out offers to 2023 quarterbacks. With Angeli committed, the focus in the Gug has already turned there.
2. A Quick History Lesson
Angeli is the 18th quarterback to commit to Notre Dame under Brian Kelly, including those in the 2010 class who verbaled when Charlie Weis was in charge but signed after Kelly was hired. He’s the 11th four- or five-star quarterback commit of the Kelly era. Eight of them were Rivals250 players, and two others were unranked four-stars like himself. He’s tied for the ninth-highest ranking of the 18 commits.
A look at them all, from Angeli to the three 2010 signees:
• 2022: Angeli, four-star
• 2021: Buchner, four-star and No. 114 in Rivals250
• 2021: Ron Powlus III, three-star
• 2020: Drew Pyne, four-star and No. 118
• 2019: Brendon Clark, three-star
• 2019: Cade McNamara, four-star (later decommitted)
• 2018: Phil Jurkovec, four-star and No. 87
• 2017: Avery Davis, three-star
• 2016: Ian Book, three-star
• 2015: Brandon Wimbush, four-star and No. 60
• 2015: Blake Barnett, four-star and No. 41 (later decommitted)
• 2014: DeShone Kizer, four-star
• 2013: Malik Zaire, four-star and No. 122
• 2012: Gunner Kiel, five-star and No. 20
• 2011: Everett Golson, three-star
• 2010: Andrew Hendrix, four-star and No. 235
• 2010: Tommy Rees, three-star
• 2010: Luke Massa, three-star
3. Bill Connelly On Jack Coan
By including a section on Jack Coan in a story examining quarterbacks who could be the Mac Jones of 2021, ESPN college football writer Bill Connelly isn’t actually suggesting the Wisconsin graduate transfer will match Jones’ 2020 output if he starts for Notre Dame this fall, which he’s the favorite to do.
That’s a huge ask for anyone. As Alabama’s quarterback, Jones led one of the most dominant offenses in college football history, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and turned himself into a probable first-round pick.
It was, though, still interesting to see Connelly include Coan when breaking down the question. He listed Coan in a category titled “New starters who could thrive.”
“Coan was ninth in Total QBR over the final weeks of 2019 while playing for Wisconsin,” Connelly wrote. “In his final two games of the regular season, easy wins over Purdue and 10th-ranked Minnesota, Coan completed 30 of 41 passes for 483 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.
“The efficiency trailed off a bit against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but the Buckeyes and Ducks ranked second and eighth, respectively, in defensive SP+ that season.”
I get why Connelly would make the association. Coan’s and Jones’ games are built on similar platforms: efficiency and comfort in the pocket. Here’s a snapshot.
• Jones was one of seven qualified Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) quarterbacks in 2020 to complete at least 69 percent of his passes and average 8.0 yards per attempt. Coan was one of seven to do it in 2019.
• Coan completed 53.1 precent of his throws and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt when pressured in 2019, one of 17 FBS quarterbacks to clear 50 percent and 7.0 (minimum 75 pressure dropbacks). Jones was at 56.7 and 9.9, one of 10 FBS quarterbacks in 2020 to eclipse the 50 percent/7.0 threshold on the same minimum number of attempts.
• Jones was one of eight FBS quarterbacks to complete at least 50 percent of his attempts on throws 20 or more yards downfield (minimum 25 attempts) in 2020. Coan was one of nine to do so in 2019 (minimum 30 attempts).
With Coan at the helm, Wisconsin’s offense was sixth in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) and 12th in SP+ in 2019. The Badgers were 29th in yards per play, at 6.3.
Now, for the obvious part. Notre Dame’s turnover up front and unproven bunch of pass catchers make its offensive ceiling and potential for explosiveness lower than Alabama’s. And even though the tricky part of evaluating Jones is trying to separate him from the structure he played in, his anticipation and accuracy still stand out and place him in the first-round discussion. Those are not common skills.
No one is going to confuse the Irish’s 2021 offense with Alabama’s 2020 unit, but like the Crimson Tide, Notre Dame has a quarterback on the roster who can foster high efficiency levels. That’s a good place to start.
4. Mike Brey
Anyone at Purcell Pavilion who says they didn’t hear it is trying to be nice.
It came from only a couple displeased students, but in a crowd of 497, a chant of any decibel level reverberates through a cavernous gym.
“Fire Brey” was the chorus as the buzzer sounded on Wednesday’s 80-59 loss to North Carolina State, the Irish’s fourth straight defeat. They’re 9-14 and headed nowhere fast. That’s not lost on Brey.
“I’m committed here, and I’m certainly committed to this group, how it finishes for us this year,” he said postgame. “We have a good group coming back and a good big guy [Yale graduate transfer Paul Atkinson] coming in. I’ve thought about that a lot.
“I’m also realistic about the big picture things, too. You want to continue to be effective here. I don’t need to be told if I’m not being effective. I’m a pretty good judge of that. That was well-warranted by our students. That was a poor performance, and they should’ve been on me.”
Put that way, it feels like dueling options for Brey to consider. Brey delivered his response, though, with the sound of someone who knows the end-game questions are louder than they’ve ever been and could be too powerful to ward off for another year.
Coaches at this level of college athletics and in the pros are self-aware. Brey is no exception. He sees this year’s struggles closer than anyone. The soundtrack to which the team exited the court Wednesday illustrates the general fan mindset: listless and barreling toward apathetic. We’ll see how much the fomenting fan frustration might sway the pendulum in one direction for Brey and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick’s.
No one is “firing” anyone. But some candid conversations are needed, if they’re not already in motion.
5. Lacking Defense
No matter who’s coaching Notre Dame next year, there needs to be a commitment to defensive intensity and want-to. It’s painfully absent. Defense hasn’t been a strength for a long time. Notre Dame has finished in the top half of the ACC in conference-game defensive efficiency just twice since it joined in 2013-14, and never higher than seventh.
The year-by-year-ranks: 12th (2021), 13th (2020), 11th (2019), seventh (2018), seventh (2017), 12th (2016), 11th (2015) and 14th (2014).
The recent plunge has plenty to do with a drop in talent from the halcyon days of the mid-2010s and Big East era. The Irish are, as Brey has mentioned, getting “out-athleted” with some frequency. There’s not a clear draft pick on the roster.
But it also involves intensity, or a lack thereof. The coaching staff has a big hand in instilling urgency on defense. Brey has tried. The “compete drill” brought out some pride and helped lead to some better performances in January against some of the ACC’s lesser offenses. But nothing that has lasted. There doesn’t appear to be any more tricks and tactics.
Right now, Notre Dame’s defensive strategy is to frequently change between man and zone, and hope it confuses the opponent for a long enough stretch. That’s not really a strategy. It’s a prayer.
Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t worked. Didn’t work against a veteran Syracuse offense. Didn’t work against the remnants of last-place Boston College. Didn’t work against North Carolina State’s offense that gives major minutes to a pair of freshman guards. As it stands now, the roster will be largely the same next season. If there’s going to be a real jump, there has to be more stops.
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