Notre Dame CB Nick Coleman rising from the ashes

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – If a short memory is a necessary asset for a defensive back, Nick Coleman could have used a good case of amnesia a couple weeks ago.

It was bad.

Texas found the weak link in the Notre Dame football team’s secondary and exploited it. Over. And over. And over.

By the third quarter, Coleman was pulled off the field — but hardly out of the Irish game plan.

“Nick Coleman had a poor first game,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “He would be the first one to admit it. What we did, we went right back to work during the week to get Nick Coleman to be ready to step back in. The work we did with Nick Coleman during the week put him in a good position to have a good game against Nevada.

“That's coaching. We did that in 2012 (inserting freshman KeiVarae Russell and moving Matthias Farley from offense) and we're going to have to do that in '16 and '17 and '18. That's what you have to do to prepare for that next man in. Because you're going to have key injuries and you have to prepare for those scenarios instead of saying, ‘You stunk today. You're on the bench.’

“No, ‘We're going to need you, Nick, and we're going to need you to bounce back and here is how you're going to do it.’ Nick now finds himself in the starting position playing against Michigan State in a key game.”

Fast forward to Saturday’s battle with the Spartans and hold your breath. Shaun Crawford, generally regarded as a quality choice for a young guy at cornerback, is gone. In his freshman year last year, he was lost with an ACL tear before the season started. This season as a sophomore, his campaign lasted five quarters before a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg sidelined him.

Coleman, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore, was beaten on a 44-yard pass play by Nevada’s less-than-spectacular offense, to add another bit of skepticism to the equation.

Quarterback Tyler O’Connor and receivers Felton Davis (6-foot-4, 192 pounds) and Monty Madaris (6-1, 207) will likely provide some significant challenges for what should be a gun-shy Coleman.

Still, Coleman stubbornly refuses to give in to the idea that the struggles of the last two weeks have impacted him even the least little bit.

“Texas wasn’t the start we wanted to have; me personally,” said Coleman, who hails from Dayton, Ohio. “It was just a big learning experience. We looked over the film a couple times, then it was on to Nevada.

“I’m still learning, but I’m working hard every day to be dependable.”

Coleman, who had five tackles and a pass break-up against Nevada, rose to the occasion against the Wolf Pack.

“Shaun, being one of my best friends, it was hard to (see him get hurt),” Coleman said. “In the heat of the game, you just have to keep going. My name was called. There’s no breaking stride, I had to keep going. I thought I did fine.”

Even though it might be considered a weakness to admit it, logic says the Irish secondary will need help Saturday. If the front seven can corral Michigan State’s running game – which is vulnerable, given some gaps in the offensive line – it would allow Notre Dame to get into special packages with extra defensive backs when passing is expected.

“As a corner, there’s really no lack of confidence,” Coleman said. “(Texas) was a tough game, but it was just on to the next one. (The poor performance) didn’t hurt me at all. I’m fine now. I’m back now.

“It took me about 24 hours and (the Texas game) was completely out of my mind. I felt back to normal.

“(That mindset) is what we work on every day as a DB group. Coach is always talking about us being the toughest on the field. That was just another test.

“I’ve never gotten too down on myself (throughout) my life. Here, it’s always been about being the toughest guy.”

Whether or not he’ll be the toughest guy on the field Saturday will be up for debate. What won’t be questioned is that, if the Spartan coaches have done their homework, Coleman will be picked on quite a bit. With senior Cole Luke at the other corner, even someone in the media could figure out a direction for the passing attack.

“(Being a target), you have to hit that head-on,” Coleman said. “I’m ready for the challenge. You can’t run away from it. You get your mind right at the start of the week, then work at it Monday through Friday.

“When it’s game time, you won’t blink; you won’t flinch.”

Coleman has already done enough blinking and flinching at Texas to last an entire season.

Of course, he’d never remember it.

Texas’ John Burt (1) makes a touchdown reception in front of Notre Dame’s Nick Coleman (24) during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN