Wide receiver Chris Finke embracing multiplicity, expanded role for Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

With Chris Finke’s team captaincy comes the expectation to help unite members of the Notre Dame football locker room.

The graduate senior wide receiver looked to accomplish that over this past month through a unique approach. To boost team morale, Finke reintroduced his teammates to one of the more popular children’s games birthed in 1996: Bop It.

The Bop It toy consists of varying attachments and built-in speakers that project a series of commands. If commanded to “spin it,” the user must spin the “spin it” attachment in a timely manner or else the game is over. The longer a user completes the objectives, the higher the score they receive.

Finke’s parents shipped him two different Bop It toys from their home in Dayton, Ohio. He had a hunch the toy could become a locker room sensation. Before appearing in last year’s College Football Playoff, a game called knockout swept the Irish locker room.

“I don’t know why I thought of Bop It,” Finke said, “but I was just reminiscing on childhood. It’s a classic game.”

The high scores are posted on a whiteboard in the locker room. Finke and his teammates tend to play Bop It during their free time before and after practice. Starting safety Alohi Gilman was once seen playing Bop It while taking an ice bath.

Even quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees sometimes stops by Finke’s locker to take a stab at the high score.

“I thought it would be a fun thing for guys to do and build some camaraderie in the locker room,” Finke said. “I think some guys are having fun with it. Other guys are frustrated with it because they aren’t good at it.”

An openness to trying new things has been a theme of Finke’s collegiate career. He arrived in 2015 with walk-on distinction. In his first preseason camp, Finke moved to defense for a couple days due to position need. Beyond Finke’s duties as a starting receiver, he handles punt returns and is one of seven team captains.

Manning two different receiver positions has become the latest wrinkle for Finke. The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder alternated between slot and outside field receiver in last week’s win over New Mexico.

Finke’s role expanded once starter Michael Young suffered a broken collarbone during preseason camp. Young remains out for No. 7 Notre Dame’s game at No. 3 Georgia on Saturday (8 p.m. EDT on CBS).

Not once in Finke’s four previous years with the program had he been asked to play outside. An emphasis on multiplicity for the offense played a role in that move.

“There are different nuances to it,” said Finke of the outside position. “I’ve been trying to watch some film and figure out the nuances of it like I know in the slot. I’ve met with coach (DelVaughn) Alexander, take anything he’s throwing at me, do what I’m asked and perform at the best of my abilities.”

This new version of Finke is a work in progress — at least from a production standpoint. He has just one catch for three yards this season when lining up as the outer receiver on the far side. Three catches for 59 yards and a touchdown are Finke’s numbers through Louisville and UNM. Finke recorded at least three receptions in all but three games last season.

The Irish coaching staff insists better multiplicity can result in higher unpredictability. Finke’s 54-yard touchdown against the Lobos may add some credence to that assertion. He operated from the boundary (short side) on the play before reversing field and receiving a forward toss. Misdirection helped fool UNM’s defense and free Finke in space.

Receivers Chase Claypool and Lawrence Keys III have also lined up at different positions.

“That’s something coach (Chip) Long has been doing not just for disguise,” Book said, “but for getting certain people on the team the ball and running certain plays. Being able to have guys that don’t just play one spot is really great in terms of playcalling.”

Starting tight end Cole Kmet returns to action against UGA after being sidelined with a broken collarbone sustained in preseason camp. The Irish will now feature three tight ends — Kmet, Tommy Tremble and Brock Wright — who bring varying skill sets.

Two and sometimes all three of those tight ends will see the field on the same play.

“Being able to have all three of them just opens up our playbook even more,” Book said.

The recent emergence of Javon McKinley, Braden Lenzy and Avery Davis may also expand ND’s options. Head coach Brian Kelly hinted that all three earned themselves larger roles going forward after scoring long touchdowns against the Lobos.

For certain situations, McKinley may line up at boundary while Claypool moves to the opposite side. The elite speed of Lenzy and Davis could be used to stretch a formidable UGA defense.

“It allows us to put the pieces together as this offense moves forward, knowing we have the guys who have the confidence to go out there and make plays,” head coach Brian Kelly said.

Airing it out could be needed against the Bulldogs. ND’s running backs accounted for just 49 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in starter Jafar Armstrong’s absence last week. UGA snuffs out the run well (No. 5 nationally) and obtains early leads with its proficient offense.

Success through the air is contingent on a myriad of factors, with multiplicity being one of them. The next command for Finke is to bring the production that’s needed in a multiple offense.

“We teach concepts here,” Finke said, “not just learn by position. So I think a lot of people are able to move around … It just allows us to have a variety of formations and do things different ways.”

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Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Finke’s lone touchdown this season came on this 54-yard catch and run against New Mexico. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

WHO: No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0) at No. 3 Georgia (3-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT

WHERE: Sanford Stadium; Athens, Ga.


RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Georgia by 14.5