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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame's Chris Finke is among a group of wide receivers vying to become a consistent counterpart to top target Equanimeous St. Brown.

Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:00 am

Irish need somebody to grasp role as 2nd receiver

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame

at Boston College

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM, 107.3 FM

SOUTH BEND – Even if Equanimeous St. Brown becomes a superstar at wide receiver, Notre Dame knows quarterback Brandon Wimbush needs other reliable targets.

Two games into the season, the Irish (1-1) are still searching. Saturday's 20-19 loss to No. 13 Georgia provided strong evidence of that void as the Bulldogs held St. Brown to two catches for 16 yards and limited Wimbush to 210 passing yards.

“We know how to move (St. Brown) around and get him the football,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday in his weekly news conference. “That's not the issue. The issue is we need balance. We weren't able to strike enough balance in terms of ... getting the ball to other receivers so we could get those shots that we needed to our featured guy. That's what we have to do more than anything else.”

Kevin Stepherson, who caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five touchdowns last season as a freshman, was the third receiver in the 2016 rotation behind St. Brown and Torii Hunter Jr.

Once Hunter opted to leave Notre Dame to play professional baseball, Stepherson figured to assume a starting role but fell out of favor with Kelly and hasn't played this year. The coach has declined to confirm or deny speculation that Stepherson is suspended.

Even without Stepherson, though, the Irish were confident in their depth of pass-catching options. Cam Smith, Freddy Canteen, Chase Claypool, C.J. Sanders, Michael Young and Chris Finke seemed to provide enough skill that surely at least one or two would pan out.

So far, that hasn't happened. Wideouts not named St. Brown have 12 catches through two games. Smith, a senior transfer from Arizona State, has accounted for six of those grabs, but they went for a modest 55 yards.

In explaining why the offense wasn't dynamic against Georgia, Wimbush placed some of the blame on himself. He said he has to better recognize when to check out of a bad play.

“We know what type of offense we can be,” Wimbush said. “It's one hump in the road. We're going to prepare as hard as we can this week and look forward to Boston College.”

When the Irish play at Boston College on Saturday, Canteen, a transfer from Michigan, is unlikely to be part of the solution. Kelly lists Canteen, who has one 7-yard catch to his Irish ledger, as doubtful to play because of a shoulder injury.

On the team's official depth chart updated Tuesday, Smith remains listed as the No. 2 receiver behind St. Brown with Finke third. Finke had three catches for 36 yards last game after being shut out in the season opener.

Other wideouts Notre Dame would like to get going are Claypool and Young, who each have one reception apiece.

“We have to continue to target (St. Brown),” Kelly said. “Quite frankly, we have to gain balance within our offensive passing game so he doesn't become double covered all the time.”

cgoff@jg.net