For Notre Dame, replacing Avery Davis is a tall task. The fifth-year wide receiver for Notre Dame has been the most consistent member at that position group for the Irish. He and sophomore tight end Michael Mayer were the biggest returning weapons in the passing game in 2021. With four touchdowns and 27 receptions, Davis continued to be a reliable option for the Irish, filling a very crucial role as the second wide receiver behind senior Kevin Austin, who has emerged as the top option. But now, after Davis tore his ACL last weekend, the Irish face the struggle of replacing the veteran receiver.
Tough Road Test Minimizes Adjustment Period
With three regular-season games left to impress the College Football Playoff committee, there can be no adjustment period for the Irish. The offense has been rapidly improving since their bye week. Davis has nine receptions and two touchdowns in those three games. Notre Dame enters a road game against Virginia. The good news is that the Cavaliers have struggled defensively, giving up 31 points per game. The bad news, however, is that the UVA offense has been fantastic and this game could become a track meet.
The 6-3 Cavaliers enter having scored 30+ points in their last five contests and in eight of nine overall. In two of their three losses, they scored 39 and 49 points, sparked by huge efforts from quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Only Wake Forest, who beat Virginia 37-17, has kept the Cavaliers in check. Armstrong projects to be a game-time decision, meaning the Irish must prepare as if he’s starting. If Notre Dame is to beat an Armstrong-led UVA squad on the road, it’s going to take a strong offensive performance – one of their best of the year. The game projects as similar to the UNC clash from Halloween weekend, when the Irish needed plenty of offense in a 44-34 victory.
Notre Dame has suffered some blows to their receiver depth chart already in 2021. Seniors Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys, both of whom played roles, are no longer available. Wilkins suffered an injury, and Keys elected to enter the transfer portal. However, Davis is a longtime starter and the most crucial blow to the Irish offense this season. Only the injury to starting left tackle Blake Fisher was of even relatively similar magnitude.
So now, in the most crucial moments of their season, with a whole lot to play for, the Irish must adapt. Replacing Avery Davis is going to involve personnel stepping up, schematic changes, and more. So what should the Irish prioritize in adapting?
Deion Colzie Critical in Replacing Avery Davis
Only four wide receivers have recorded receptions for the Irish outside of Avery Davis. Braden Lenzy, Lorenzo Styles, and Austin figure to be the primary starters. But someone at least has to replace some of the volume that Davis commanded. That brings in true freshman Deion Colzie, who has just three catches on the year. However, he made his biggest play of the season this past Saturday against Navy, hauling in a 31-yard reception.
Colzie is going to likely replace Styles as the main fourth receiver. And the Irish had begun to build their tempo-offense around spreading the ball around, with Styles getting a lot of touches in recent games. Colzie must be prepared for a similar workload. At 6’4, 207 pounds, Colzie holds two inches over Austin and about four on Styles and Lenzy. He’s a matchup issue that offensive coordinator Tommy Rees must utilize.
In particular, Colzie can be used on the opposite side of the field as Mayer, giving opposing defenses a pair of big, tough-to-tackle receiving threats to deal with. That ideally will open up more space for Austin, Styles, and Lenzy to create big plays, or for the running game to find some holes.
Use Kyren Williams in the Slot
The Irish already do this a decent amount, but they could benefit from lining up Kyren Williams in the slot more frequently. This becomes far more doable with the emergence of freshman Logan Diggs, who has become a fantastic complementary back. If sophomore Chris Tyree’s health improves, the Irish have two great backs to fill for Williams when he plays a pass-catching role. The Irish have plenty of players who can stretch the field, but Davis’s best value was a valuable route-runner in the intermediate field, picking those key 10-12 yard conversions. Williams has the elusive ability to do the same. He can do plenty of damage in the run game, but for playcalling versatility, giving him some looks in the slot could help the Irish.
A really good look for the Irish could include Mayer and Styles on one side of the field, plus Colzie and Williams on the other. That gives you two physical playmakers on opposite sides in Mayer and Colzie. Williams is a versatile player who can take screens or become a threat in the slot. Styles (or Lenzy) could be the dynamic field-stretching threat. Then there’s Diggs, or maybe Tyree, in the backfield to keep the run defense honest.
Replacing Avery Davis for the Irish involves replacing a steady and reliable contributor. While that’s tough to do, there is a recipe to accomplish the tasks. Against Virginia, look for Colzie to step up, and Williams to be used in various roles. Rees may have other plans as well, but the key will be to diversify the offense to minimize the hole that losing Davis creates. A soft Virginia defense is a good unit to figure out where they can find success, but there can’t be a large adjustment period. If not, the Irish could head back to South Bend with a second loss and a huge blow to their major bowl game hopes.