Notebook: Notre Dame headed for rush hour when it faces Harold Landry and BC

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Boston College calls Harold Landry a defensive end. The NFL is evaluating the Eagles senior as an outside linebacker.

When Notre Dame looks at the 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior on film, he looks like a nightmare.

The Irish (1-1) will see him for real Saturday at Chestnut Hill, Mass., when they visit Boston College (1-1) in the 24th iteration of their rivalry.

The reshuffled kickoff time is 3:30 p.m. EST (ESPN), moved from its original noon time slot. The ND-BC game became a time-slot domino when the 8 p.m. Miami-Florida State matchup was postponed due to Hurricane Irma’s lingering aftermath.

Landry has a modest one sack through two games this season but led the nation last year with 16.5. That’s two more than Notre Dame amassed as an entire team in 2016.

His less-than-prototypical size isn’t unusual among players that have been elite pass-rushers in college over the past seven seasons. The fact that he was a top 250 prospect coming out of Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, N.C., sort of is.

Both trends underscore the weird science in trying to find difference-makers on the edge.

Of the 36 players (with ties) that finished in the top five in sacks per game over the past seven seasons, only eight of them, beyond Landry, were top 250 prospects at the end of their respective recruiting cycles.

He was No. 180 in the 2014 class, a cycle in which the Irish took Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Jhonny Williams, Grant Blankenship and Jonathan Bonner as edge prospects.

The three players who preceded Landry as statistical sack champs — Penn State’s Carl Nassib, Utah’s Nate Orchard and Louisville’s Marcus Smith — had three FBS offers coming out of high school among them. Orchard was a 190-pound three-start wide receiver.

So what traits do you look for when you’re shopping beyond the aisle with the decorated 6-6, 265-pounders?

“Really, how they bend,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, whose staff did not recruit Landry out of high school.

“I mean, if you look at Landry, he had a sack the other day against Wake Forest where he really beat a long-arm tackle underneath him. Landry is 6-3, all of 6-3. He was able to bend, to get underneath the hands of an offensive tackle.

“We use the phrase 'run the hoop'. Really his ability to bend around the corner and have that kind of flexibility and certainly explosiveness, too. Certainly, obviously, (you’re looking for) a want-to. He's got a great motor.”

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has five sacks in two games, five more than the Irish had last year at this time. Defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara, defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner and linebackers Nyles Morgan and Te’von Coney have one each.

Personnel matters

Senior wide receiver Freddy Canteen is listed as doubtful against BC a week after making his first collegiate start, against Georgia.

Kelly said Canteen suffered a shoulder injury in the 20-19 Irish loss. Junior Chris Finke is listed as the starting slot receiver for the Eagles.

• Backup defensive tackle Elijah Taylor continues to struggle coming back from March foot surgery and isn’t anywhere close to playing for the Irish, per Kelly.

Taylor surged late last season and was a strong candidate to be in the rotation at defensive tackle in 2017 until a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot sidelined him early in spring practice, on March 10. His original prognosis was a return to all football activities in July.

“In last talking to our training staff, they could not give us a clear he's ready to go in there and change direction at a level necessary to play championship football,” Kelly said during his weekly Tuesday press conference.

Equivocal Equanimeous

Small sample size. Just two games. But junior Equanimeous St. Brown’s standing as Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver (6 for 96 1 TD) and tied with running back Josh Adams for those honors, is not by design.

“We targeted him 20 times,” Kelly said of last Saturday’s Georgia game that resulted in two catches for 16 yards for the 6-foot-5, 203-pound junior. “It's something that we have to be aware of.

“You've got to get the ball to your play-makers. Various reasons why (ND didn’t). That's coaching and that's playing. Both of those have to improve as we move forward.

“But we have to continue to target him. Quite frankly, we have to gain balance within our offensive passing game, so he doesn't become double-covered all the time, get somebody rolling up on him, a safety over the top. We got to continue to target him. We've got to, again, find balance.”

Grad transfer Cam Smith has provided some of that. He’s ND’s leader in receptions with seven (for 54 yards). But Kelly needs more from the receiver/tight end groups as well as from the Irish running game to open up opportunities for St. Brown, ND’s leading receiver in 2016.

“I had Michael Floyd here,” Kelly said. “Everybody knew about Michael Floyd. We had Will Fuller. Everybody knew about Will Fuller. We had Tyler Eifert. Everybody knew about Tyler Eifert.

“We know how to move (St. Brown) around and get him the football. That's not the issue. The issue is we need balance.”

Wimbush review

Notre Dame junior Brandon Wimbush finds himself at No. 106 nationally in passing efficiency after two starts (108.7), one slot ahead of former teammate and current Florida QB Malik Zaire (106.7).

Kelly is confident that number will start to rise as the 6-foot-2, 225-pound QB assimilates the lessons from the Temple and Georgia games.

“I think game recognition, what he sees in the game, then trusting the teaching,” Kelly said of Wimbush’s next step. “You have your teaching, and you go through it during the week, then it happens in the game. Just trust what you see and go with it. Don't be indecisive. Be decisive.

“I think that's probably the biggest learning curve for all young quarterbacks, that at times they think a little bit too much instead of just trusting it and going with it. I think he learned a lot from that game. I think it will be a springboard for him.”

Picking up the pace

Perhaps the most surprising difference in the Boston College team ND faces Saturday at Chestnut Hill, Mass., and the one it edged, 19-16, at Fenway Park in 2015 is offensive tempo.

That Eagles team was dead last in offensive plays per game among the 128 FBS teams that season, at 60.0. It was up slightly in 2016 to 111th at 66.3.

Through two games this season, BC has averaged 82 plays, with neither game going into overtime. That ranks as No. 9 nationally. Tulsa is first, at 95.0 per game.

Notre Dame currently ranks 41st (75.5), up from 86th last season (68.8). The national average is 71.1 plays per game.

Buffalo, incidentally, is running the fewest offensive plays per game at 51.5.

Notre Dame faces Boston College and star defensive end Harold Landry Saturday at Chestnut Hill, Mass. Landry led the FBS in sacks last season with 16.5 (AP Photo/CARLOS OSORIO)