The Notre Dame football stock report: Michigan State Week

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

As No. 18 Notre Dame welcomes No. 12 Michigan State to South Bend on Saturday night, whose stock is on the rise? Whose star is drastically dimming? Mike Vorel sizes up the Irish before the Spartans come to town.

Stock Up

Sophomore wide receivers. Notre Dame wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders have made the most of their first two career starts, as St. Brown leads the Irish with 11 catches, 160 receiving yards and two touchdown catches and the ever-elusive Sanders has added 101 receiving yards and two scores. Moreover, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Sanders has wiggled through creases for 187 return yards in his first two games. The Irish receiving corps was equal parts inexperienced and unproven entering the season, but St. Brown and Sanders have proven to be capable complements next to senior Torii Hunter Jr., who hopes to return to action against Michigan State after missing the Nevada game with a concussion.

And if the young Irish receivers keep surging, folks outside of South Bend are going to have to start learning their names.

In which @Stugotz790 attempts to pronounce Equanimeous St. Brown's full name.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) September 12, 2016

DeShone Kizer. Through two games, Notre Dame’s 6-5, 230-pound junior quarterback has racked up a pass efficiency rating of 195.9, which ranks fifth nationally. More specifically, he has completed 7 of 10 passes with five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the red zone. On the whole, he has completed 71.4 percent of his passes and thrown for seven touchdowns with just one interception, while running for two more scores.

Kizer was good last season, and he’s been even better thus far in 2016.

Mike Denbrock. OK, so Will Fuller is gone. Chris Brown is gone. Amir Carlisle is gone. Corey Robinson is wearing a polo shirt and clapping enthusiastically on the sideline.

Theoretically, Notre Dame’s receiving corps should suffer as a result. But it hasn’t, and Denbrock is a huge reason why.

It’s Denbrock, not head coach Brian Kelly or quarterbacks coach and offensive wunderkind Mike Sanford, who calls Notre Dame’s offensive plays. And it’s Denbrock, too, who has prepared an alarmingly youthful but undeniably talented crop of receivers to make an impact, regardless of who’s throwing them the ball.

Daniel Cage. It was a fumble. Right? It sure looked like a fumble.

Alas, after Notre Dame’s 6-1, 315-pound junior nose tackle dislodged the football from Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart last weekend, referees ruled the play an incomplete pass. But regardless, Cage’s impact was felt. Head coach Brian Kelly called Cage’s performance against Nevada the best of his Irish career. Notre Dame will need Cage, along with fellow nose tackle Jarron Jones, to show up again on Saturday and disrupt Michigan State’s notoriously physical rushing attack.

Te’von Coney. What a difference two weeks makes.

In the week prior to Notre Dame’s season opener, Kelly wasn’t sure if Coney — who was arrested for possession of marijuana alongside four teammates in August — would be cleared to play against Texas.

He played. Then last week, he made his first career start at weakside linebacker in the win over Nevada, tying for the team lead with five tackles. The 6-1, 235-pound sophomore is a physical run-stopper, and that skill set should pay dividends against the Spartans on Saturday.

Stock Down

The pass rush. Florida State senior defensive lineman Demarcus Walker has recorded 4.5 sacks in his first two games.

That’s 4.5 more sacks than the entire Irish defense.

Through two games, Notre Dame has yet to corral the opposing quarterback. The Irish showed progress against Nevada, however, registering seven quarterback hurries in a comfortable 39-10 victory.

On Saturday night, Notre Dame — specifically defensive ends Isaac Rochell, Andrew Trumbetti, Daelin Hayes and Jay Hayes — will be tasked with pressuring relatively immobile Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor, who will make just his third career start.

The tight ends. Tight End U has yet to open for the fall semester.

In the first two games this season, Notre Dame’s four scholarship tight ends own a combined one catch for eight yards. It’s not that Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, Tyler Luatua and Jacob Matuska have been dropping passes, either.

They’re running routes, but the big boys have rarely been targeted.

“I would love our tight ends to get some more catches,” Denbrock said on WSBT Radio's Weekday Sportsbeat this week. “I think it’s a couple things. I think it’s our quarterback understanding when it’s time to give the ball to the tight ends, and we have to do a little bit better job of that. I’ll be the first one to admit it.”

Nick Coleman. The good news: Nick Coleman is still standing.

That wasn’t a sure thing following Notre Dame’s season opener, when the sophomore cornerback was torched for multiple long completions and deservingly benched. But Coleman made positive strides in last weekend’s victory over Nevada, allowing a 44-yard reception but otherwise providing improved coverage.

Without standout sophomore Shaun Crawford, who will miss the remainder of the regular season with a torn Achilles, Coleman will be under a searing spotlight again on Saturday night. He should expect to be targeted early and often.

Will Coleman and the Irish defense still be standing when the smoke clears?

The kicking game. This was unexpected.

A season ago, Justin Yoon connected on 15 of 17 field goals, including the last 12 of his freshman campaign. Tyler Newsome averaged 44.5 yards per punt, recorded 21 punts of at least 50 yards and pinned his opponent inside the 20-yard line 21 times.

Through two games this season, Yoon has missed an extra point and had a field goal attempt blocked. Newsome, too, has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, averaging just 41 yards per punt.

In 2015, Yoon and Newsome were special teams assets for the Irish.

Will they return to form on Saturday?

Cole Luke’s luck. Twice this season, senior cornerback Cole Luke has trotted giddily off the field, his teammates following behind him, a football cradled like a trophy under his arm.

Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke (36) and linebacker Nyles Morgan (5) celebrate a play against Texas during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

And twice, the celebration has been premature.

In the loss at Texas, a Luke interception that would have secured a comeback victory was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass. Last weekend, there was no doubt that he caught the ball, but the play was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty on freshman defensive end Khalid Kareem.

At this point, Luke is on pace for 12 (almost) interceptions in the regular season alone.

Maybe, against Michigan State, his luck will finally turn.

Holding steady: RB Josh Adams, LB Nyles Morgan, LB James Onwualu, DE Isaac Rochell, OT Mike McGlinchey

Notre Dame’s Daniel Cage (75) defends during the Notre Dame-Nevada NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN