It’s been pretty quiet on the recruiting front for Notre Dame since the start of the year in terms of the class of 2019. The Irish signed all 21 of their commitments in December in the early signing period and have turned their attention mostly to the class of 2020 with just two targets left on the board in 2019 – linebacker Asa Turner and defensive end Isaiah Foskey. Those two targets though, are absolutely critical in closing out this class.
There were a lot of things that we learned in the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson. One of the most critical, however, was that when it comes to the first 22 – aka the starting lineups – Notre Dame is not that far off from Clemson. Where a large gap still exists, however, is in the next 63.
When Notre Dame was at full strength in the first quarter, they went toe to toe with Clemson. When Notre Dame lost Julian Love, their All-American corner, for the entire second quarter and parts of the first, Clemson went into attack mode. It wasn’t just Love whose lose Notre Dame felt though. Julian Okwara, the Irish’s best pass rusher, went out in the second quarter and was lost for most of the remainder of the game. Without those two stars, Notre Dame couldn’t keep up.
Closing that gap is critical to Notre Dame not only making the playoffs again, but being much more competitive when they do. As Greg pointed out earlier this week, closing that gap is not as difficult as the 30-3 scoreboard disparity would lead you to believe.
That is where Asa Turner and Isaiah Foskey come into play. Foskey is an elite pass rusher who would add to Notre Dame’s depth at defensive end so in the future they are better able to sustain injuries to star players like Okwara. Remember, Clemson played the entire game without All ACC DT Dexter Lawrence but it was just plug and play for them with another stud lineman. Notre Dame’s depth is better than it was in 2012 right now, but it is still not at Clemson’s level.
Part of the reason for Notre Dame’s lack of depth – at least defensively – is the unmitigated disaster that was the Brian Vangorder experiment. Not only did Vangorder, who inexplicably continues to find employment in college football, waste some of the best defensive talent to play for the Irish in years including a generational talent like Jaylon Smith; he was also a total dud on the recruiting trail. Defensive recruiting under Vangorder was terrible including striking out at corner in the class of 2016.
That failure was evident with Love’s injury when Notre Dame’s only other options were true freshmen or junior Donte Vaughn who we later learned was playing through a shoulder injury that explains why he might have struggled making plays on the ball despite being in good position.
While Asa Turner won’t add to Notre Dame’s future cornerback depth, he would give Notre Dame another athletic, versatile defender that could be plugged into the defense. He is being recruited a sa ROVER by Notre Dame but a career path that sees him start at ROVER and grow into a BUCK ala Drue Tranquill seems possible given his frame. Either way, having more athletic, versatile linebackers on the roster is always a good thing.
It is still unknown where Turner is leaning or when he will decide between Notre Dame and Washington after he originally delayed a December Signing Day ceremony after being torn between the two. Foskey meanwhile is still planning on a February Signing Day ceremony at his high school and Notre Dame is still considered to be the odds on favorite for his signature.
If Notre Dame ends up landing Foskey, it is easy to see him playing a lot of meaningful snaps as early as 2020 if not sooner. Notre Dame’s top two DROP DE’s – Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes – will both be off to the NFL following the 2019 season. That would leave Notre Dame with junior to be Kofi Wardlow and 2019 early enrollee Nana Osafo-Mensah at DROP and not much else. It’s possible that linebacker Ovie Oghoufo could grow into a DROP at the rate at which he’s developing, but again, you can never have enough pass rushers.
Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara both came to Notre Dame in the same class and became mainstays in the Irish defense their sophomore years playing the same position. Both have NFL futures ahead of them. Foskey and Osafo-Mensah could have a similar career playing together for the Irish.
Should Notre Dame add both Foskey and Turner to their lineup next month, it will create more of a logjam on the 2019 roster. That situation is already sorting itself out though with the graduate transfers of DJ Morgan and Micah Dew Treadway the last few days. The benefits of landing also outweigh the numbers crunch that Brian Kelly and his staff will find themselves in.