Notre Dame WR Miles Boykin's big night a product of Stanford's coverage choices

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Miles Boykin knew when the ball should be coming his way.

That’s not to say that Notre Dame’s offense became predictable, but the game plan Saturday night was to take what the Stanford defense would give the Irish.

For whatever reason, the Cardinal chose to leave Boykin open enough to make 11 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown in a 38-17 victory for No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday night.

It became apparent Boykin was in for a big night on the final Notre Dame drive of the first half. He caught four passes for 64 yards to put the Irish  in position to score before the half. Quarterback Ian Book finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chase Claypool.

If not for Boykin, who caught passes for 12 yards, 10 yards, nine yards and 33 yards on four of the first five plays of the drive, Notre Dame (5-0) might not have taken a 21-14 lead into halftime.

“A lot of it's also the coverage that they're in,” Boykin said. “If they go to another coverage, then maybe the ball's going to the other side of the field. That's something that (wide receivers) coach (DelVaughn) Alexander's brought to me.

"I can tell when the ball's coming to me, when it's not coming to me, just by looking off of the coverage."

Perhaps No. 7 Stanford (4-1) should have tried another coverage. Boykin ended the first half with eight catches for 106 yards. His eight-yard touchdown put Notre Dame ahead 31-17 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

By the end of the night, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound Boykin caught more passes in a game than any Irish wide receiver since Michael Floyd caught 12 against Purdue in 2011.

Book, who finished 24-of-33 passing (72.7 percent) for 278 yards and four touchdowns, said he wasn’t necessarily looking for Boykin more than his other targets. He threw Boykin’s way 14 times against Stanford.

“It was just the read,” Book said. “But our chemistry is coming along. He's such a good player, and I love throwing to him.”

The chemistry between Book and Boykin shouldn’t be a surprise. The two famously connected for a 55-yard, game-winning touchdown against LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Their elevation to the starting offense has continued what they built last season as backups on the practice field.

"A lot of times last year, since I was a two and he was a two, we'd be linking up on the field together,” Boykin said. “I have a great chemistry with both quarterbacks, I'd like to think. Me and Ian, it always clicks when we're out there."

But that chemistry doesn’t override the offense’s overall scheme. Book’s efficiency in his first two starts this season (49-of-67 passing) has been a product of finding the open receiver.

“That's exactly how it should be,” Boykin said. “We have a lot of dudes on this team that can play — a lot of weapons on this offense. In order for us to sit back and say, 'OK, you're going to get all the catches,' that's not how this offense can roll. We can open it up so many ways.”

The most dangerous option may be leaving Boykin open. Especially when he’s motivated.

"Stanford just makes me really upset,” Boykin said. “I haven't beaten them since I've been here. Every other rival we have, we've taken care of at least once since I've been here. Stanford we lost three years in a row. That's unacceptable here.”

After his second 100-yard game of the season, Boykin leads Notre Dame in receptions (20) and receiving yards (311).

If he knows the ball’s coming his way, the defense should probably be doing something different.

"I know before the ball is even snapped when the ball's coming to me,” Boykin said. “Most of the time I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I know I'm going to get this ball.'"

That he did — and Stanford didn’t stop it.

Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin (81) runs into the end zone for a touchdown in front of Stanford’s Malik Antoine (3) during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.