Notre Dame football: 2020 Wide receiver group is a hot mess

Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Tommy Tremble - Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Tommy Tremble - Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

If you’re a Notre Dame football fan, you probably cringe when thinking about the Irish wide receiver group in 2020.

For moments against Pitt you could get tunnel vision and forget the disaster that Notre Dame football has been showing on offense for the majority of 2020.

The hot mess of an offense hasn’t been because of a faulty offensive line. They’re widely considered the best in college football. Through the first four games, the Irish leaned behind them on the ground, largely because throwing wasn’t an option.

While making no excuses for 5th-year senior quarterback Ian Book, Notre Dame has been atrocious at wide receiver. In the first four games, Notre Dame didn’t throw all of two touchdowns to wide receivers. There were injuries at the position, notably to Northwestern transfer Ben Skowronek and Braden Lenzy.

Alabama’s Devonta Smith has 45 catches for 556 yards and four touchdowns all season. The entire Fighting Irish wide receiver corps has 33 catches for 530 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Now, obviously, Smith is one of the best wide receivers in all of college football, but come on. There has been no threat on the outside.

Part of this lack of explosiveness comes from play calling, as the Tommy Rees offense has been nervous to push the ball downfield. More often than not, routes are short crossers that are bound to get eaten up the moment they catch the ball.

It also doesn’t help that Ian Book has been nervous in trying to avoid making mistakes. He won’t take chances downfield when they’re available and that means teams don’t have to respect that option.

Why doesn’t Book trust his wide receivers? A general lack of chemistry doesn’t help, but the biggest issue is they don’t create space. There’s no one like Chase Claypool who can get open no matter who is covering him.

Last season, Claypool became Book’s safety net that he could rely on. Claypool also took up attention, making it easier for everyone else to get open. That’s simply not a threat Notre Dame has this season.

Still, Notre Dame needs to find a way to trust their wide receivers. Without a downfield attack, an already slim chance to beat someone like Clemson goes out the window. If there’s no outside threat, Clemson will load the box and take away Notre Dame’s strength at running the ball.

It was nice to see a now-healthy Ben Skowronek flash against Pitt. He had two long touchdowns, but this was the first showing of life from any Notre Dame wide receiver. The grad transfer from Northwestern, who flashed his speed after the catch in those two touchdown receptions, needs to keep playing well.

He’ll also need to get a partner at wide receiver to step up. The big question is who will that be? Before the season started Braden Lenzy made the most sense, but the speedster has had consistent injury issues, including getting hurt late at Pitt.

Kevin Austin has also been dealing with injuries. Beyond that is a lot of young players who Kelly doesn’t trust to put on the field consistently, and the likes of Javon McKinley who isn’t bad but hasn’t been consistent enough.

Notre Dame has one game to figure it out before Clemson. Without a plan at wide receiver, the Irish will have no chance when Clemson comes to South Bend.