Notebook: With Alizé Mack out, Notre Dame digs into its tight end depth

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Freshman Cole Kmet had such an impressive August training camp that it dissuaded the Notre Dame football coaching staff from redshirting him at arguably the team’s deepest position.

Eight games into the season, the 6-foot-6, 256-pound tight end doesn’t have anything statistically to show for that green light to play, though that could change this weekend.

Kmet and senior Nic Weishar figure to gain some game reps Saturday (3:30 p.m. EDT; NBC), particularly in multiple-tight end sets, when the AP No. 5 and CFP No. 3 Irish (7-1) host Wake Forest (5-3).

That’s because junior tight end Alizé Mack, the team’s second-leading receiver (17 catches, 154 yards) has been ruled out against the Demon Deacons after suffering a concussion last Saturday against North Carolina State.

Kelly said Thursday after practice that Mack passed the critical cardio phase of concussion protocol this week but didn’t practice Thursday.

“He could have done some football stuff today, but it’s Thursday,” Kelly said. “It would have been too late to kind of activate him, so he’ll have the week off.”

Kmet and Weishar will team with grad senior Durham Smythe, who has contributed 10 catches for 182 yards and a TD to the position group’s 30 receptions this season. The group is on a trajectory for 49, the most collectively in a season by the Irish tights since amassing 58 in 2012, then led by All-American Tyler Eifert.

Elsewhere on the injury front, Kelly said that grad senior wide receiver Cam Smith was back practicing this week, after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury.

He said all the players beyond Mack who suffered injuries last Saturday — including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner and running back Tony Jones Jr. — were all back at practice this week and are ready to contribute on Saturday.

Sitting but not fermenting

The NCAA turned down Navy transfer Alohi Gilman’s request for immediate eligibility in September, but the sophomore safety has been anything but inactive during his reluctant redshirt season.

“Oh, I couldn’t even begin to tell you (everything) he does,” said a smiling Kelly of the 5-11, 199-pound Laie, Hawaii, product. “He’s a great leader. He is an impactful player on our demo scout team. He challenges all of our guys on a day-to-day basis. His presence is known in our program.

“Everybody respects him and knows that he’s going to impact this program next year. And he’s already doing that in the roles that he can right now.”

Among some of the redshirting freshmen who have caught Kelly’s eye on the scout team are rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, defensive end Kofi Wardlow and offensive lineman Josh Lugg.

Keep on trucking

Apparently you can put a price on success — $26.

That’s what it will cost you to purchase one of the official #33Trucking caps Notre Dame is producing in conjunction with running back Josh Adams’ Heisman campaign.

Proceeds from the cap sales will supplement the Student Assistance Fund, which provides direct benefits to Notre Dame student-athletes and their families.

A confluence of persistent demand by the Irish fan base and the ND compliance office vetting any potential NCAA rules violations eventually opened the door to monetize the #33Trucking brand.

The hats will go on sale at noon EDT on Friday at the following campus locations: Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, Notre Dame Bookstore at Eddy Street Commons and Notre Dame Stadium Shop. Hats also will be available for purchase online at NDCatalog.com.

A special edition #33Trucking cap will be distributed free to the student body as they enter Saturday’s game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Beyond the eye test

One of the problems with raw statistical data and statistical rankings from the NCAA is that sometimes they lack context.

For instance, those numbers don’t take into account a seemingly strong rushing defense that has played a run of weak rushing offenses or a seemingly struggling quarterback who drew an abnormal number of elite pass defenses on his schedule.

Welcome to Brian Fremeau’s world.

Fremeau’s “day job” is director of facilities for the Campus Crossroads Complex at Notre Dame, but for the last decade his side gig has been as a statistical analyst for footballoutsiders.com.

He filters in factors such as the level of competition a team’s numbers have been compiled against and filters out things like garbage drives that have no bearing on the games.

Interestingly, Fremeau’s overall team rankings (also available at bcftoys.com) has Notre Dame exactly where the College Football Player selection committed placed the Irish on Tuesday night, at No. 3.

Equally interesting is who wasn’t surrounding ND in the top 10. Fremeau’s top teams from 1-10 are 1. Georgia, 2. Clemson, 3. ND, 4. Ohio State, 5. TCU, 6. Oklahoma, 7. Penn State, 8. Iowa State, 9. UCF and 10. Washington.

Alabama, No. 1 in both the AP and coaches polls and No. 2 in the CFP rankings, is No. 13 in the Fremeau rankings.

“That’s sort of the beauty in working with a spread sheet,” he said. “It’s data in and data out. There’s no massaging it for a specific result.”

All but three teams on the Irish schedule (Temple, Miami of Ohio and North Carolina) are ranked in the top 31.

Fremeau also ranks the teams by categories such as strength of schedule, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and special teams efficiency.

ND’s competition level boosts the NCAA No. 22 team in total offense to No. 4 in the Fremeau formula, behind only Oklahoma, Ohio State and Oklahoma State.

And the ND defense, 34th in the NCAA in total defense, is seventh in Fremeau’s rankings, with the other three teams in the CFP rankings all falling among the top four in defense.

The Irish special teams are ranked 58th out of 130 in the FBS.

Fremeau was inspired to start playing with the numbers while taking in a 14-7 Irish loss to Boston College in 2002 in which the Eagles’ offense never crossed midfield.

He started arguing with the person sitting next to him in the stands, in fact, about the influence of field position and turnovers on game outcomes, then took his argument to his computer.

“If it has a predictive power, all the better,” Fremeau said, “but I think I’m more focused on does it tell the story of a season and what went into winning and losing.”

Notre Dame freshman tight end Cole Kmet (84) is being called upon Saturday to help fill the role of injured junior Alizé Mack. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)