Unlike the offense, the things that were bad were expected to be bad. However, the things that we thought were really good were only sort of good, which led to some mixed feelings following the 2019 opener.
We knew linebacker would be an open question–before, during, and even after the game. And it was. It was spotty at times, fantastic in others, and overall inconsistent. And if you followed the Notre Dame offseason, this was utterly unsurprising. When you lose your top two linebackers and have scarce experience behind them, this is what you get. It’s a work in progress.
The defensive line though, specifically the defensive ends, was thought to be a strength not just of the defense, but of the entire team. And that also brought inconsistent play and nothing spectacular from two of the best players on the whole team. And that was not unlike the offense. In fact, in that way, they were mirror images.
The defensive tackles had a tough night, as we knew they might, in their first front line action of their careers. It wasn’t a catastrophe by any means, but there was little penetration, little clogging of the lanes, and the offensive linemen seemed to have minimal trouble getting to the second level. When none of that is happening, the group isn’t playing very well. The good news is all of them play really hard and figure to improve as the season goes along. And they’ll need to, given what’s coming for them on the schedule.
The starting defensive ends of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem were even more baffling. Neither made a huge impact, although Kareem was pretty active in the run game, and they are considered two of the top five best players on the team. They can obviously survive some ho-hum performances from these two, as they did on Monday, but Notre Dame is considered good because of them. If they aren’t going to be standouts game after game, then the ceiling is dramatically lower than we think.
For their part, Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji looked very good when they took the field and showed why everyone is so excited about Notre Dame’s depth at that position. So it wasn’t all bad.
We can say this for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: that guy can hit. He doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but he will smack people when he gets there. He’s the baseball player who either strikes out or hits the ball out of the stadium. The mistakes will have to be corrected, and there were numerous, but you have to love the talent, the instincts, and the tenacity. They’ve got a great one budding at the Rover position.
Drew White also flashed some instincts without the same flair that JOK did, but effective nevertheless. He had an unfortunate missed tackle on third and short in the flat against the tight end, but was an overall plus player for Notre Dame. Have to think the combination of White and JOK getting more and more reps will lead to steadier play in the future.
Bilal was what we thought he’d be, and it wasn’t the best, and Notre Dame is likely looking for other options, either by player or formation. Hopefully, he turns it around though. That said, I thought Shayne Simon looked pretty frisky in there and my “he’ll be starting by week four” prediction is coming along nicely.
Hello Mr. Hamilton and welcome to this game we call college football. The true freshman safety saw his first game action and registered four tackles and broke up the only two passes he was challenged on, the first of which Jawon Pass was fortunate was not going the other way. This young man has unique ability, and whenever he was on the field, I was happy. They need to find ways to get him on the field more. They subbed him in for Alohi Gilman in some base sets, and he was in for every nickel situation. Have to think the defense will trend more towards the nickel going forward.
Gilman was again excellent if not spectacular, leading the team in tackles with 10, and forcing then recovering a fumble from the Louisville quarterback. He always plays hard, he brings the heat on every tackle and is generally the best player on the defense in every game he plays.
Overall the secondary played well against the pass, holding Louisville to 134 yards on 28 attempts and a measly 4.6 yards per attempt. They need to do better tackling against the run, looking at you Troy Pride, but all in all, it was a good performance, amongst the best units on the team.
Freshman Jay Bramblett kicked well all night, a minus point for a minor shank that turned out ok, and generally looked steady every time he was called on to perform. He averaged 39 yards per kick, allowing little return, and he did kick the ball very high, which allowed the coverage team to get down the field and corral the ball carrier or force a fair catch. A net of 39-40 on every kick this season will do just fine from the freshman kicker.