Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players For 2020: No. 25, Nose Tackle Kurt Hinish
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 25, Kurt Hinish

Over the next month, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals who need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish goal of climbing toward championship timber.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)? The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.

First in the countdown is starting nose tackle Kurt Hinish, who collected 16 points in our poll.

Why Hinish Is Ranked 25th

Hinish edged out kicker Jonathan Doerer for the final spot. Even though Notre Dame’s defensive line is one of its deepest positions, Hinish has one quality it’s thin on: Beef. He’s one of only three lineman who are at least 295 pounds. And he puts his 6-2, 295-pound frame to use well as a frequent occupier of double teams.

“You can't play the kind of defense that we’re playing unless you have somebody that you can count on at that shade position like we have with him all year,” Brian Kelly said in November. “He’s been outstanding for us.”

Hinish slid into the starting lineup in 2019 after two seasons as a rotation player. He has played in 38 of a possible 39 games since arriving as a three-star recruit in 2017. As a starter last year, he averaged about 33 snaps per game. Pro Football Focus credited him with 10 stops — a tackle that resulted in a “failure” for the offense.

When he’s at his best, though, Hinish might go entirely unnoticed in the stat sheet. His overall numbers were modest: 15 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. He’s not much of a pass rusher. But he’s not asked to be. If there were a stat that counted the number of times a lineman occupied two blockers and held his position on the line of scrimmage, Hinish would be the favorite to lead Notre Dame in it.

“If I’m having a good day in the jungle, I’m holding my double teams down,” Hinish said. “The linebackers are flowing across making plays and I’m getting out of my double-team making plays.”

But make no mistake, Hinish is part of the action as an agitator and pain for blockers. He played no small role in helping Notre Dame bottle up top-five rushing offenses in Navy and Boston College last season despite only registering one tackle in two games.

Hinish’s Status Entering The Season

Notre Dame will count on Hinish to occupy double teams once again in 2020. He’s the starter at nose tackle and part of an interior line that returns every meaningful contributor in 2020 and helped Notre Dame finish 33rd nationally in stuff rate, per Football Outsiders. Notre Dame also ranked ninth in busted drive rate, which measures the percentage off opponent drives that fail to gain yards.

Jacob Lacey is Hinish’s expected backup once again after snagging the role as a true freshman. He was the only member of the 2019 class who didn’t redshirt and gives Notre Dame more of a gap-shooting presence at nose tackle with a little more pass rush ability (0.5 sacks, seven pressures per PFF).

Lacey’s presence capped Hinish’s spot in the top 25. If Hinish were to go down, Notre Dame would have a backup who could still make the position a strength rather than a liability. Lacey (6-2, 293) also has the size to hold his own at the point of attack, and at this point, has more upside. Three-technique tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Jayson Ademilola could slide over to the nose if needed as well.

That does not render Hinish useless, though. He’s a respected leader who has developed into a starter simply by showing up, putting in effort and consistently getting stronger. There’s value in his hungry and determined mindset developed from working construction for his father, Kurt Sr., in high school.

Notre Dame senior nose tackle Kurt Hinish
Kurt Hinish performed well in his first season as Notre Dame's starting nose tackle. (Angela Driskell)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

By virtue of his position and its duties, Hinish isn’t likely to collect the stats to earn national postseason honors. The nose tackle often comes off the field in exchange for an extra defensive back or a third pass rusher. The job itself is tiring and impossible to play for 60-plus snaps per game.

That said, his 2019 output is a fine barometer by which to judge his 2020 campaign. Something near the 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks would be acceptable and generally an indicator that he is providing a steady push in the middle.

Hinish can up his numbers if he’s able to shed blocks with more frequency, but the best stat to measure his success is seeing him take up two blockers to keep a second-level defender free to make a tackle.

“I always make fun of Myron and Jayson because they're always getting single-blocked — and I’m getting double-teamed,” Hinish chucked. “I make fun of them saying if they don’t make the play, then there is something wrong with them. I'm just waiting for the day I get single blocked so I can make a play, too.”

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings:

Patrick Engel: 23

Lou Somogyi: Not ranked

Mike Singer: 24

Todd Burlage: 16

Andrew Mentock: 25

Burlage on his ranking: “With 13 starts and 433 snaps last season, to go along with 38 appearances for his career at the demanding nose tackle position, Hinish, a senior, provides experience and a stabilizing force in the middle of the Irish defense that can’t be undervalued.”

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