Analysis: A benevolent twist among the recruiting implications emanating from Irish loss

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Detroit King's Dante Moore, a Notre Dame recruiting target, gets by Muskegon Mona Shores' Steve Koziak during second-half action at Detroit King High School on Friday, September 3, 2021.

SOUTH BEND — A day after the entrée portion of a momentous football recruiting weekend at Notre Dame — the game itself — turned rancid, there was at least one benevolent twist to emerge from the 24-13 loss to Cincinnati Saturday and the QB chaos that came with it.

“I think Dante Moore’s takeaway from his visit is that he could play for Notre Dame right away,” CBS recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said after meeting in person with Moore and some of the other top underclass prospects Sunday in Detroit.

The recruiting profile for Moore, a 6-3, 199-pound junior quarterback from Detroit King High, goes well beyond that, actually.

He’s one of the top junior prospects nationally regardless of position — No. 17 in the 2023 class per 247Sports, No. 35 per Rivals — which would put him on a trajectory for five-star status or close to it if he closes the recruiting cycle ranked similarly or higher.

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The Irish have extended scholarship offers to five other QBs in the class, four of whom are still uncommitted: The nation’s No. 1 prospect Arch Manning of New Orleans; No. 48 Nico Iamaleava of Downey, Calif.; No. 244 Avery Johnson of Maize, Kan., and unranked Jackson Arnold from Denton, Texas.

All but Manning have been on the Notre Dame campus for a camp or visit since the NCAA’s recruiting pandemic restrictions were lifted in June. Moore’s visit Saturday was his third to ND.

“It’s not only the talent, it’s the fit,” Lemming said of Moore, who holds scholarship offers from 26 schools — and counting. “He’s the kind of the quarterback that Notre Dame has been missing, that they need to make a run for a national championship. They’re doing a good job of collecting all the other pieces they need.”

Some possible future pieces on hand on campus Saturday of note, beyond Moore, included defensive end Sam M’Pemba, wide receiver Carnell Tate, linebacker Drayk Bowen, defensive tackle Luke Montgomery, offensive tackle Monroe Freeling and rover/safety Sonny Styles..

All but Freeling, a top 150 prospect from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., are ranked among the top 100 in the 2023 class by Rivals, 247Sports or both. Styles, the younger brother of ND freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., is the top prospect among them — No. 12 via 247Sports and No. 6 by Rivals.

“I don’t think Notre Dame losing that game affects recruits that were visiting the same way it affects fans,” Lemming said. “Notre Dame and other schools are pretty good at spinning when they lose a game on a big recruiting weekend.

“What can maybe take a toll, though, is if the fans get too carried away on social media — complaining about the head coach, the coordinator or the recruit’s future position coach. Kids read that stuff. It can hurt, and it certainly doesn’t help.”

One consolation along those lines is that Notre Dame (4-1) — down five spots Sunday to No. 14 in the latest AP poll (and 13th) in the coaches poll — has company in its misery. Eight other ranked teams also lost Saturday.

Per Matt Brown of The Athletic, that marked just the 24th time in the AP poll’s 76-year history in which nine or more ranked teams went down on the same day.

No. 3 Oregon was the highest-ranked team to fall, succumbing to unranked Stanford, a future Irish opponent, in overtime (31-24).

The Irish visit the Cardinal (3-2) in their Nov. 27 regular-season finale. More immediately for Notre Dame, this weekend, is a road trip to Blacksburg, Va., to take on unranked Virginia Tech (3-1). Kickoff on Saturday is 7:30 p.m. EDT on the ACC Network.

The Hokies are the lone remaining ND opponent with fewer than two losses.

Because of that, the perception of the Irish moving forward — and indirectly their postseason destination as well — can be helped by Cincinnati continuing to win. The relationship is complementary. Bbecause the now No. 5 Bearcats (4-0) would be aided by a rebounding Irish squad.

Inside the numbers

Five weeks into the regular season, the eye test suggests there are two great teams — No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia, in some order — and 128 flawed teams, some more than others, some with shortcomings that can be fixed or at least convincingly camouflaged.

Consider this comparison:

• Team A is 124th in rushing offense nationally out of 130 FBS teams, 29th in passing offense, 95th in total offense, 58th in scoring offense, 69th in team pass efficiency, and 94th in third-down efficiency.

• Team B is 98th in rushing offense, 96th in passing offense, 118th in total offense, 44th in scoring offense, 89th in team pass efficiency, and 88th in third-down efficiency.

Neither one is in the top 75 nationally in sacks allowed.

Team A happens to be Notre Dame. Team B is the new consensus No. 3 team behind Alabama and Georgia — Iowa (5-0).

The difference is the Hawkeyes’ elite defense (seventh in total yards per game allowed), their No. 1 ranking in turnover margin and much better-than-average special teams are giving the Iowa offense a chance to grow.

What can Notre Dame take from this?

The Irish offense can benefit if its defense can surge the way it did against Purdue and Wisconsin, and quite frankly, the way it played against Cincinnati except for the late scoring drives in each half.

The best self-help solution for the offense, though, is getting the quarterback right. And right now that’s the one who best mitigates the offensive line’s continual struggles.

The fan base and media seems to be in agreement that it’s sophomore Drew Pyne, who led both scoring drives Saturday against UC and who was sharp in relief of a then-injured Jack Coan Sept. 25 against Wisconsin.

Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne (10) at quarterback during Notre Dame’s 24-13 loss to Cincinnati NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

That’s not to say the offensive line doesn’t need a fix itself, but the most effective time frame for that would be the bye week after the Virginia Tech game.

The bad news? Virginia Tech is the top sacking team on Notre Dame’s schedule (16th, 3.25 per game), including the five opponents it has already played.

“I liked Drew Pyne as a prospect in high school,” Lemming said; “He was small as a high school freshman and still doesn’t have much size. But he has the skill set to help Notre Dame right now and for the rest of this season.

“But Brian Kelly wants to win a national championship before he’s done there at Notre Dame. And to do that he needs a truly elite quarterback. The good news is they’ve got some they’re going after and who are interested.

“Now, it’s a matter of closing and finishing.”

HOW TO WATCH NOTRE DAME VS. VIRGINIA TECH 

Who: No. 14 Notre Dame (4-1) vs. Virginia Tech (3-1) 

Kickoff: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT 

Where: Lane Stadium; Blacksburg, Va. 

TV: ACC Network 

Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5) 

Line: Notre Dame by 1 1/2 

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI