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Players to Watch: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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The key notable players as Wake plays its first ranked opponent.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s game against Boston College was a true wake up call for the Wake defense. Having out-dueled both Tulane and Towson in the first two weeks, their strengths were finally tested against an opponent with good talent across the board.

The team allowed BC’s best offensive player and Heisman candidate AJ Dillon to gobble up 185 yards on the ground with a touchdown. The team also had trouble in the secondary as receiver Jeff Smith finished the game with 145 receiving yards and two scores.

As for the BC defense, they too had playmakers who showed up. I touched last week on corner Hamp Cheevers and defensive lineman Ray Wyatt.

Here’s how those two faired last Thursday.

Cheevers: 5 tckl, 2 pass deflections, 1 int

Wyatt: 8 tckl, 4 sacks

It was clear that these two were bound to have a good performance, and they did show up for the occasion.

This week will be the first of the year against a nationally ranked team of the season when the Deacs welcome No. 8 Notre Dame to Winston-Salem.

Here are the players to watch out for from the Irish side.

Tony Jones Jr

Notre Dame has historically had one heck of a rushing attack. From George Gipp in the late 1910’s to Darius Walker in the mid-2000’s, the school’s program has had a history of success of players in the backfield.

The 2018 team keeps that tradition alive as the majority of their playbook has been on the ground. In fact, the team has run the ball sixty-five percent of the time through three games. These are the type of numbers that are seen from other historic programs such as Navy and Army. With their main running back Dexter Williams still out of the lineup with lower body injuries, Tony Jones Jr has been the “next man up” over the past few seasons.

On the field, he has made a living off his initial speed. Especially through the tackles, Jones Jr has an explosive first step that allows him to reach the second level of the defense before other running backs in the nation.

This initial speed then translates to his incredible burst of acceleration once open in the field. He also has a large selection of juke moves to choose from as he’s been known to blow by defenders with his quick feet one-on-one.

He has also proven to be a threat in the passing game as over the last two seasons, he’s had an average of eight yards per catch. This allows offensive coordinator Chip Long to design more spread plays that make the Irish even more versatile.

So far this season, he has rushed for 224 yards with two touchdowns. That’s an average of 5.7 yards per run.

Expect the linebacking corps, led by Justin Strnad to be on their A game come Saturday. They are once again matched up against an elusive running back. Let’s see if this time, they’ll be able to hold their ground.

Te’von Coney

Coney is simply a man on a mission this year. After a series of off the field issues, he looks like he’s ready to be a changed man.

The sixth-ranked linebacker in the nation according to Rivals, he has been the commander of the Irish defensive unit. He has been the team’s leader in tackles this year with 24, and there’s a big reason for that.

Versatility is a large part of Coney’s game, and he uses that greatly to his advantage. In terms of pass rush, he has been able to make his opponent QB’s day that much worse as his quickness allows him to be a great pest in disrupting plays for the offense.

In terms of pure tackling, he beats you in a number of ways. He has proven to be an excellent angle tackler as he has been a havoc in terms of rush defense.

On the flip side, Coney’s speed has made him a threat from anywhere on the field. From sideline to sideline, he has been able to track down the open runner from anywhere across the field and as a result, is more of a hybrid middle linebacker.

Expect the two-headed monster of Cade Carney and Matt Colburn II to have a difficult time, at least early on, to what Coney brings to the table. He can certainly be a real threat to Wake quarterback Sam Hartman too, as he could prevent him from moving outside of the pocket for a pass or scramble.

In all, I expect both Troy Jones Jr. and Te’von Coney to be key pieces for Notre Dame come Saturday. Both players possess skills and versatility that could be a big problem for Wake.

Here’s to hoping Dave Clawson and his crew did their homework.