Notebook: No growing pains for Notre Dame freshman Julian Love

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Julian Love doesn’t play like a freshman.

He does smile like one, though.

With a little less than nine minutes remaining in Notre Dame’s 44-6 victory over Army on Saturday, Love — a 5-foot-11, 190-pound freshman defensive back — stepped in front of Black Knight wide receiver Christian Poe and snared his first career interception, at the goal line.

He tried to act like he’d been there before, but he couldn’t — and he hadn’t.

“I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Love, who finished with three tackles, an interception and a pass break-up. “That’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was 10 years old.

“I was just smiling the whole time. I couldn’t stop. I realized I have to stop smiling. I looked like a young kid.”

These days, Love has plenty to smile about. In last weekend’s loss to Navy, the freshman from Westchester, Ill., finished with eight tackles and a tackle for loss. Despite being limited early in the week with concussion-like symptoms (tests revealed there was no concussion), he provided an impressive encore on Saturday.

Moreover, Love — who played cornerback throughout the first nine games of the season — did so while starting at free safety.

“It feels really comfortable,” Love said of his sudden position switch. “It’s been one of my strengths, to be able to play all over. Safety is definitely something that’s in my heart.”

Sure, but is it in his future?

“I don't think that's something that we're looking at right now,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “The safety position was set up with defending the option that you really wanted guys that could run and hit at that position from seven and a half, eight yards.

“The game changes a little bit when you get back in a traditional defensive structure, but if you were to ask me right now whether we're making that move, there’s no intention there to move him to safety. It was just to structurally defend this particular offense.”

Notre Dame certainly defended it well, allowing just 229 rushing yards, 242 total yards and six points.

Its freshmen were a big part of that, which comes as no surprise to Love.

“I was super nervous (at the beginning of the season),” Love said. “I didn’t have much confidence early in the season. The other guys didn’t, too — Troy (Pride Jr.), (Devin) Studstill, Donte Vaughn, Jalen Elliott — all the freshmen.

“Each game, we’re getting more confident in ourselves. The team’s getting more confident in us. That’s huge going forward.”

Harrell’s big break

Five years. One start.

Saturday’s win meant a little more for 6-4, 306-pound graduate student Mark Harrell, who made his first career start after years of patiently waiting. The Charlotte, N.C., products’s opportunity wasn’t the result of an injury to incumbent starter Colin McGovern, either.

Simply enough, Harrell earned it.

“Mark has been really solid for us,” Kelly said. “We felt like this was the right time to give him that start. I think we've only got a couple of fifth-year guys. He's just been really solid for us, and we just thought he earned that opportunity to start today.”

Harrell and Co. flipped that opportunity into 261 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry and 44 points on Saturday.

"Did you happen to look at those guys in the green jerseys as compared to the guys in the white jerseys?" Army head coach Jeff Monken said. "I mean, holy mackerel. That's a great-looking football team. I mean, there's just no comparison physically between the two football teams. Holy mackerel.

"They're good. They just lined up and blocked us, and they're hard to tackle."

For the first time in his nearly five-year Irish career, Harrell was responsible for much of that blocking. But did he do enough to earn a second start?

“There’s not a lot of time left in the season, but we’ll see,” Harrell said. “Hopefully that’s the case, but if not I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and fighting hard and see where it goes.”

Hunter sits out

Senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. was scratched prior to Notre Dame’s game against Army with a knee injury suffered the week before during the 28-27 loss to Navy. Hunter briefly left that game, but returned and finished with a team-high eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Hunter also missed the game against Nevada after suffering a concussion in the season-opening loss at Texas. Notre Dame is 2-0 without its senior wide receiver and captain this season.

“He just wasn't explosive (in practices during the week),” Kelly said. “He just didn't have that. So he's going to be day-to-day.”

Squibs

• Notre Dame is now 4-0 this season when its opposition doesn’t have a 100-yard rusher. Army entered the game averaging 320.6 rushing yards this season, which ranked second nationally. The Black Knights managed just 229 rushing yards on Saturday, and their top rusher on the day — sophomore Darnell Woolfolk — fell short of triple digits, running for 95 yards on 11 carries.

• Notre Dame played indoors for the 11th time in program history on Saturday. Before Saturday’s Shamrock Series game, Notre Dame’s last game indoors was the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State at University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 1.

• Saturday’s victory was Notre Dame’s 15th consecutive win over Army in the all-time series. The Black Knights’ last victory over the Irish came in 1958, when No. 3 Army pulled out a 14-2 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium.

• Saturday’s game marked the first time in Notre Dame and Army’s 51 meetings that the two teams played a game west of Chicago.

• Notre Dame is now 8-0 in the Shamrock Series. Saturday’s game was also Notre Dame’s 170th neutral-site game in program history. The Irish own a 124-41-6 record in neutral-site games.

• Sophomore placekicker Justin Yoon knocked through a 27-yard field goal on Saturday to extend Notre Dame’s second quarter lead to 31-6. Yoon has now connected on eight consecutive field goal attempts.

Brian Kelly and Jon Bon Jovi talking shop. pic.twitter.com/tsBLL6RF1Y

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

QBs 1, 2, 3 and 4. pic.twitter.com/3vS04VIqNV

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

Caught the tail end of 21 push ups. pic.twitter.com/24oVxC9Mp3

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

Saturdays are for the bands. pic.twitter.com/YaL5GJtACv

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

Nice show of respect. Both teams took part in the other's alma mater. pic.twitter.com/jRjG8MFGn2

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

Wave farewell to these fellas, never to be worn again. pic.twitter.com/rDEDhcu4s8

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 12, 2016

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Notre Dame’s Isaac Rochell (90) and Julian Love (27) celebrate after a play against Army, Saturday in San Antonio, Texas. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)