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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 9:20 pm

Miami's Herndon a tough matchup for Notre Dame

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND — From Shannon Sharpe to Jimmy Graham to Kellen Winslow II to Bubba Franks to Greg Olsen to Jeremy Shockey, the tight end has always had a prominent role in Miami's offense.

This week, when No. 3 Notre Dame visits Miami Gardens, Florida, the Irish will see another of the Hurricanes' emerging players at the position in senior Christopher Herndon IV. He was a three-star recruit out of Norcross High School in Georgia and gradually worked his way up the depth chart and made himself into a real playmaker.

"Herndon may be the best tight end we see all year, in terms of his skill set," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He's a matchup problem for us that we have to identify."

At 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, Herndon appeared to be a prospect who could thrive in a blocking role. The question was whether or not he would be able to develop as a pass catcher. When coach Mark Richt took over the program last year, he quickly came to believe Herndon could run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. Richt made sure Herndon got more opportunities catch the ball.

Herndon has become a bigger part of Miami's offense this year, with an Oct. 21 effort against Syracuse being his breakout: 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Herndon has 32 grabs for 392 yards and four scores. Each of those three numbers ranks second on the team.

"I think he's one of the better tight ends I've been around," Richt said. "Good route runner. Good ball skills. He's very smart, and he of all our players has to adjust more than anybody we have. He's the guy that moves the most. When he hears the play, he's got to know where to go, and we put a lot of burden on the tight end position to do that, and he does it extremely well."

Notre Dame's defense has had few issues with tight ends. The strategy for defending them starts with Drue Tranquill, a former safety who now plays the "rover" position. Tranquill can hit tight ends at the line of scrimmage, jamming them, as the saying goes, and isn't easily outrun by tight ends.

Tranquill said last week he’s never felt as fresh as he does at this point of the season.

"I've kept my weight this year, whereas in the past typically you lose five pounds," Tranquill said. "I haven't lost any weight this year; strength numbers continue to go up. Everything seems to be on the up and up. I certainly feel that."

Also, Notre Dame's free safety, Nick Coleman, is a converted cornerback. That gives the Irish a leg up in coverage when tight ends run deeper routes.

In nine games opposing tight ends have only 23 catches against the Irish for 242 yards – that's 10.5 yards per catch –led by Cam Serigne's 48 yards on five catches for Wake Forest. Notre Dame has limited the group to one touchdown, by Wake's Jack Freudenthal this past Saturday, but Herndon will certainly be on the radar this week.