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Notre Dame’s Donte Vaughn and Alohi Gilman, bottom, tackle Virginia Tech QB Quincy Patterson II during ND’s 21-20 win Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

SOUTH BEND

Sometimes you can’t wait ‘til next year, even though it might seem like a good investment.

That’s why on Saturday coach Brian Kelly trotted out senior cornerback Donte Vaughn to match up with Virginia Tech star receiver Damon Hazelton, who had gouged the Irish for a school-record-tying 12 catches for 131 yards and a TD in an ND road win last October and who was averaging 23 yards a reception this season after recovering from a hamstring injury.

It was Vaughn’s fifth game played this season Saturday, in ND’s 21-20 rally past the Hokies (5-3), ending the possibility of a redshirt season and a return to the Irish roster in 2020.

Which just a few weeks ago sounded enticing to both Kelly and the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Memphis, Tenn., product.

The position group with seemingly the most “ifs” by far —on a team that collectively doesn’t figure to have many heading into next season — is cornerback.

If that’s still the case, say, next September, it could be the difference between a playoff run for the Irish or being on the outside looking in, like this season.

“That’s a conversation that Donte and I had, about playing this year, and we wanted him to play,” Kelly said Sunday, a day in which his Irish (6-2) moved up a spot to No. 15 in both the AP and coaches polls.

“He wanted to play, so we were both on the same page for that. We felt like Donte and Troy (Pride) gave us the best chance of winning this year. That’s why both of those guys are on the field. As for next year, we’ll get to that when we get to that.”

Notre Dame, which visits Duke (4-4) Saturday night (7:30 EST; ACC Network), has just 11 players with expiring eligibility after the 2019 season, and three of them are corners — Pride, Vaughn and grad student Shaun Crawford.

The Irish could look into adding a grad transfer at the position, as they did at safety. On Sunday pending Ohio State grad transfer Isaiah Pryor, a potential starter next season with a floor of a key rotation player, verbally committed to ND. He’ll have eligibility in 2021 as well.

As it stands, sophomore TaRiq Bracy will be ND’s only cornerback with experience from both a quantity and quality standpoint in 2020. The other three returning corners will be freshmen — KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford and recently converted wide receiver Cam Hart.

Kelly thinned the options earlier this season by moving junior Avery Davis back to running back and shifting sophomore Houston Griffith to his best natural position, safety.

None of the three corners committed to sign with the Irish in December — all deemed three-star prospects — are considered plug-and-play options. But Caleb Offord, Clarence Lewis and Landen Bartleson all offer good size/length at 6-1 and all are considered better athletes than seasoned technicians.

“We’ll have some young players there certainly next year, but there are a number of things you can do to help young players from a defensive standpoint,” Kelly said.

Part of what made the decision to green-light Vaughn’s final season is that he’s been healthy and surging. Neither happened very often in the 2017 or 2018 season, after Vaughn started four times as a freshman in 2016.

Though Vaughn wasn’t exclusively defending Hazelton the entire game Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Hokies star was limited to five catches for 63 yards and a TD catch with Pride defending. Overall, the Hokies caught only four other passes as Virginia Tech QB Quincy Patterson II labored to go 9-for-28 for 139 yards with an interception.

Vaughn more than doubled his season tackle total Saturday, with six (he now has 11 in 2019) to go along with two pass breakups.

Kelly said Pride and Vaughn were tasked with defending man-to-man with minimal safety help for virtually the entire game. That was so the Irish could slow the Hokies’ run game, which finished with 96 yards on 36 carries (2.7 per attempt).

“Our corners — they gave up some plays, but they were on an island all day,” Kelly said. “And Pride and Vaughn, they battled, they hung in there. And at the end of the day they did what we asked them to do in this game plan and they held up for us.”

Lamb out for Duke

Sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb, a part of ND’s effective third-down specialty defensive package for passing downs, will miss at least the Duke game Saturday night in Durham, N.C., because of a hip injury he sustained against Virginia Tech.

“It’s not surgical,” Kelly said. “We’re going to have further information on that after we have a specialist look at him.”

• Junior captain Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame’s starting right tackle, will undergo surgery Thursday on his fractured left ankle, per Kelly.

• Leading rusher, senior Tony Jones Jr., is expected to play against Duke after missing the Virginia Tech game with a rib injury.

• Sophomore Ja’mion Franklin took advantage of an opportunity to get some No. 2 reps at nose guard Saturday against the Hokies, while freshman Jacob Lacey was ailing with an undisclosed injury. Kelly said Sunday that Lacey is expected to return to his No. 2 status and play against Duke.

• Not only did grad senior Trevor Ruhland excel to the delight of the coaching staff in his first start of the season, filling in for injured starting right guard Tommy Kraemer, he continued to pleasantly befuddle the medical staff.

The Irish ran 91 offensive plays Saturday against Virginia Tech, the most of the Brian Kelly Era in a regulation game, and Ruhland wasn’t a spectator for many of them.

“We thought he was going to be a medical (hardship), quite frankly,” Kelly said of the preseason thinking regarding the oft-injured 6-foot-4, 292-pounder. “We thought that there was no way.

“If you asked our training staff — and I don’t think I’m putting any words in their mouth — they didn’t think that he was going to make it through the summer. But he wanted to play in his (last) year. It was important to him. So it’s great to see him have some success.”

To have sustained success, Kelly realizes there will have to be some rotation at right guard to keep Ruhland fresh. The coach said Sunday that rotation player would be either junior Dillan Gibbons or sophomore John Dirksen.

Book believer

Former Notre Dame All-America QB Joe Theismann not only thinks embattled Notre Dame starting quarterback Ian Book will finish the season strong, he believes the senior with a fifth-year option has an NFL future ahead of him as well.

And he’s let him know it via text message.

“I definitely would come back another year and work on my trade,” Theismann said of the nation’s 60th-ranked QB in passing efficiency. “Work on the position, work on throwing the football, work on my footwork — work on all the little things before you move to the next level.

“There isn’t a quarterback you’ve talked to that hasn’t gone through a rough stretch. All he needs to do is go to class, study, come out and have good practices and get himself ready to play, because I’m a big believer you can’t change yesterday, but you can learn from it.”

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

(9) comments

Bkrony

Gotta believe. If Joe T believes I feel much better

Ludwig von Football

The probability of a talented freshmen to play cornerback or safety for ND next year is high. However, the best we can do is recruit three star players who "might" develop into players who can contribute in their fourth or fifth year. Where are the five star recruits? Notre Dame should be camping in the front yard of every five star recruit who could join the 2020 class. Poor recruiting is the reason we are mediocre. Why can't we land four and five star recruits like Clemson, Alabama, and Oklahoma, and Ohio State? Is it because of poor coaches or is it because the University isn't committed to athletic excellence? Could it be the elitists in the Admissions Office?

atltom

Elitists in the admissions office? Duh! I sure hope so, Lud.

'89 Alum

If Big Game Brian is such a desirable Coach, why isn’t his name in the mix for the FSU job (or any other job for that matter)?

stickman1426

The Admissions Office takes their direction from the Administration. Is the Admin. really "devaluing" football after spending hundreds of millions on new facilities and stadium expansion? Devaluing football after increasing the number of coaches and raising these coaching salaries to high 6 figures and even 7 figure salaries?

Maybe the Admin. has directed the Admissions Office to hold ND athletes, to a minimum, a high school transcript and SAT scores worthy of admission to ND and a realistic chance for the athlete to complete an ND degree.

The football program's goal of its athletes completing their degree requirements in 3.5 years while practicing 20 hrs. a week, in addition to their travel time, extra film study and weight training (realistically another 20 hrs. per week), it would seem necessary to have talented students who are also athletes.

As to not securing 4 & 5 stars in the numbers Ohio St., Bama, Clemson and LSU regularly pull in would seem to be as much about fit (being a student) at ND, and degree opportunities.

I think most ND grads are proud that ND's athletes actually sound like college students when speaking in public or when interviewed. I think most ND grads a proud that the ND student athlete is actually that - a STUDENT athlete. The state universities, especially the large state universities, offer degree programs ND does not, and many would say are more suited to a community college than a 4 year school (thin Michigan and its vaunted Kinesiology major, Bama and it's driver's education major, etc.)

I am proud that ND usually leads the nation in athlete graduation rate, especially in the sport of football.

I'm not saying their aren't 4 & 5 stars who are also good students, but realistically that is a pretty small pool to recruit 4 & 5 stars from, and they have the option to land anywhere they desire, for whatever reason they desire.

At 17, 18 or 19 would you turn down Stanford for ND because of - what... the ND mystique vs the Stanford west coast experience, weather and social life? Which degree is holds more weight? What about a degree from Northwestern, Vanderbuilt or Rice, or pretty much any major university? If you were a student athlete studying engineering - ND or Purdue?

The "Domers" who scream "fire coach Kelly" , "win a NC" and "lower admission standards so we can compete" aren't, IMHO, members of the Notre Dame family. The NC is not nearly as cherished as the production of great people who will contribute meaningfully throughout their lives to the greater community and not just sacrifice their bodies for you to claim the "WE" won a NC.

NDomer70

You have to love the "subway alumni" they help to make ND unique. However some of them aren't hard to identify when they post. Notre Dame will be Notre Dame. Winning the National Championship is not as important to the administration as it is to the ND fandom, subway and others. What is important is that all of the athletic programs conduct themselves in the "right" way and compete to their best ability. "It is not whether you win or lose, it's whether you play the right way." The "right way", play to win, compete your hardest and win or lose, learn from that experience and get better. Pretty simple formula, but can become hard to do in the quest of winning. Temptation runs rampant to cut corners in a variety of ways. But that is not what we want ND to represent. After all is said and done;

I still like for the Irish squads to be in the hunt and compete and succeed at a high level.

PolishPrince

Stickman1426, thank you for a refresher course in priorities. I too get caught up in the winning is everything mentality.

Ludwig von Football

Stickman 1426 and NDomer70 - I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame but college football today is nothing like it was when I graduated in 1980. God created very few people who have elite academic ability and elite athletic ability. There aren't enough of them - unless you would have a monopoly - to produce a football powerhouse that can seriously contend for a national championship. I think it can be done in basketball because you only need five quality players but in football you need a lot of them. Especially when you consider the physicality of the game and the injuries that happen. ( I took a course in the physiology and kinesiology of sports at a local state college after I graduated from ND. It was a hard course and I studied as hard as I did for any course I took at Notre Dame. You owe Michigan an apology.) In most states, if not all of them, you need a college degree and certification to teach physical education. Does ND offer a physical education degree? Aren't PE teachers performing God's work when they work with elementary and secondary students? I am 61 years old and I have had two surgeries on my spine. When I go to a local gym I really appreciate the help I receive from the trainer. He knows what I should and shouldn't attempt and has developed a nice program for me. His degree is in recreation. Is he doing God's work? Is he an asset to society? Does ND offer a degree in recreation? My son teaches fifth grade. He has a degree in elementary education. His hardest courses were equivalent to high school algebra, biology, chemistry, and history. Isn't he serving God by helping eleven year old kids. Does ND offer a degree in elementary education?

If ND wants to charge extremely high prices for football games, a parking place, food at the stadium, and anything and everything you buy at the bookstore... Well, it should put a team on the field that will seriously compete for a national championship. Our alma mater has an exclusive contract with NBC so they don't need the money. They also have a huge endowment that ranks up there with Harvard and Yale. They love the money the football program creates and they're not embarrassed at all by the outrageous prices they charge their fans. The "ND Experience" has become one that most fans can't afford. And they wonder why they can't sell tickets to the games.

My main point is simple. Make some philosophical changes at ND or you will NEVER win a national championship. The school didn't have these lofty standards when Rockne and Leahy were at Notre Dame. The alumni didn't complain. Almost all Catholics loved and cheered for ND. Today it is the norm to attend Mass and see most kids wearing shirts or sweatshirts representing the state school. In my day the majority of Catholics wore Notre Dame clothing. I had numerous friends when I was growing up who rooted for ND and couldn't wait for the one hour ND football show on Sunday but when they didn't get accepted to ND they went to the state school and started cheering against Notre Dame.

jjohnson226

Please allow Mr. Book to proceed with his future elsewhere and bring out Jurkovec or another dual threat Q/B that can survey a field and won't panic.

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