A Purdue POV on New Notre Dame Interim DC Greg Hudson

Photo: Kirby Lee // USA TODAY Sports

When Notre Dame fired Brian Vangorder on Sunday despite Brian Kelly’s apparent support for his defensive staff Saturday night, they surprised even more by handing the the reigns of the Irish defense to Greg Hudson – an Irish defensive analyst and former Purdue DC.   I reached out to Travis Miller of the Purdue blog HammerAndRails.com for some more background on the man tasked with patching up a defense that has imploded through four games this year.

Hudson, a defensive analyst, was hired without any fanfare this off-season after being fired as Purdue’s defensive coordinator following an unsuccessful three year stint running the Boilermaker defense.  During that time Hudson didn’t exactly produce stingy defenses.  In fact, his defenses ranked near the bottom of the FBS during that time.

YearTotal DefensePassing DefenseRush Defense
20139533116
2014835696
201511188107

“The best thing he did at Purdue was improve our linebacker player. For the first time in over a decade we have multiple real, live Big Ten linebackers,” Miller said over email this morning.  “Aside from that, his defenses were generally a mess.”

Uh oh.

“I will give him a slight pass because they were often serviceable for a half to three quarters, but wore down because John Shoop’s offense couldn’t get out of its own way,” he added.  “Numerous three and outs led to the defense being on the field too long and wilting in several games.”

Ok, so maybe not so bad for Notre Dame.  The Irish do have a potent offense – when they aren’t turning the ball over – and the Notre Dame defense hasn’t been bad because it’s been tired.  It’s been bad because it lacks fundamentals, doesn’t generate turnovers, and features the worst pass rush in the FBS right now.

Spoiler alert: Hudson’s defenses didn’t exactly generate a prolific pass rush at Purdue the past three seasons.

“His pass rush was inconsistent at best,” Miller told me.  “With all the great pass rushers Purdue has had no one every had more than four sacks in a single season when he was at Purdue. This is with two guys (Ryan Russell and Bruce Gaston) who eventually made the NFL.”

Ryan Russell was a 5th round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys this past April and Bruce Gatson was undrafted and has bounced around eight different NFL teams in the past three seasons.  Gatson was on the Chicago bears active roster in 2015 registering 11 tackles and 1 sack.  Russell didn’t make the Cowboys 53 man roster out of camp but is currently a member of the Miami Dolphins practice squad.

“His scheme often had his corners playing 10 yards off receivers at the snap to avoid the deep ball,  but when you do that on 3rd and 5 it just means an easy conversion for the other team. His run defenses were beyond awful most of the time and Purdue was one of the worst teams in the country on 3rd down.”

Ok, so that is all of the bad news.  Miller did offer a glimmer of hope for Notre Dame fans.

“I tend to think Purdue’s struggles were caused much more by Shoop’s ineptitude, and maybe with better talent and an actual offense to help out will make Hudson better,” Miller said before cautioning, “But like many things we have seen under Hazell, things that were glaring issues in game one were still glaring issues and never addressed as recently as two days ago.”

At the end of the day, all of these comments are about what you could expect after a coach is fired after three years of underwhelming defenses and are a heck of a lot nicer than anything a Notre Dame blogger would be telling fans of wherever Brian Vangorder lands next.

What is at least somewhat encouraging here is that some of Purdue’s problems under Hudson’s watch came to an offense that didn’t possess the football or help the defense out.  As a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I am seeing first hand how much a defense can improve once an offense doesn’t hang them out to dry continually this season.  Hudson doesn’t have an off-season to fix problems though.  He has a week.

What is also very important to keep in mind here is that Hudson is the INTERIM defensive coordinator before Notre Dame fans freak out (we’d never do that right?).  Kelly’s only options to replace Vangorder mid-season like this were either current assistants or one of his defensive analysts (Hudson, Jeff Burris, and Bob Elliot).  Burris has never been a coordinator and Elliot’s health moved him into the analyst role a couple years ago so he likely wasn’t an option either.

Kelly went with the only coach he had readily available who has been a defensive coordinator whose voice the Notre Dame defenders haven’t been hearing throughout camp.  Perhaps some new ideas from a new voice sprinkled in with a lot of hands on involvement from Kelly will lead to some improvements.

Hey a guy can dream can’t he?  Oh hey look, a unicorn!

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28 comments

  1. Bruce Gregory Curme 3 years ago

    C-Dog
    Everything you just wrote is pretty much right. I would add that we need to attack the edges and the perimeter a bit more too…but not with deep slow developing sweeps…play it quicker…our QB can run that option as well as Rice (though he lacks the years of experience TR had) – I saw it in the Nevada game – right in front of my seats. Make them pay when they run blitz – don’t keep running right at them in those situations. By the way, the option is pretty friendly for O lines that have problems sustaining blocks for extended amounts of time. It develops so quick, if run correctly, that those kind of blocks are not usually needed. That’s why Navy and Air Force run versions of it – but not the version we want, of course! You know, if DK can eastablish himself as a real option type ball handler, as in Tony Rice, or McDougall – well that just gives the opponent’s defenders one more thing to worry about on top of everything else. So screw them if they can’t take a joke!
    I would, however, save that 70% run/pass mix for later in games we have good leads in – when Lou would let the “big uglies” take over. Let’s try 50-50 on the first two downs – in no special order – and be a little harder to read. On third down, if there is one…go on a case by case basis and and be ready to check out of a bad play. Then later in the game (assuming a decent lead), start to increase the running side of it steadily, including some option. You know, the option is especially unfun to play against when you have a nasty fullback with a bad attitude and a burst coming first. Do we have such a critter on scholarship, I wonder?
    PS – Imagine what that would do for that Fournette kid down in the southland – make him the THIRD problem those hotshot defenders in the SEC have to think about, rather than the first…and let those fine LSU linemen start learning some precision cut blocking…that’d just about take all the fun out of playing defense; just sayin’!
    Bruce G. Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

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  2. C-Dog 3 years ago

    The offense is loaded with talent and with individuals who DO have the fire. I think the O line is talented and tough. And their technique works in a finesse offense. But I don’t see them push and keep pushing I see them use a push off technique that is good for a quick motion play but not good when you want to make sure the defender vacant recover and chase down your running back. Too mangy running many plays break down because a true hole isn’t sustained long enough to get the back in open space. I’d love to see a drive with 70% run and just enough pass to keep me honest. I’d like to see drives with 4 to 20 yard gains. The Irish have too many times had that slow to develop line crash the middle and run a slight counter. It’s wasting really good backs.
    Kelly can do his INTERIM DC a real service by developing a sustained ground game.

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  3. Bruce Gregory Curme 3 years ago

    Shazamrock,
    There are a lot better ways to get Zaire involved than a pass back to DK…maybe some kind of direct snap threat back there, or maybe a single wing back with a run pass option, or perhaps in a non-QB roll entirely. But I think Kelly may have been trying about anything at that point to get a fire lit, and to get another talented athlete on the field. It flopped badly. Zaire has been an unfortunate casualty in all this – but hardly the only one.
    Anyway, this is not the time to experiment with the O. It’s time to get our offense (BK’s offense) rolling again, as we all know it can, certainly by air, and even on the ground. And please don’t revert to the 4-P’s again, like we did for too long against MSU! There are better ways to commit to the running game than that!
    Bruce Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

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  4. Shazamrock 3 years ago

    Yeah, the running game isn’t what it was last year. For sure.

    But Adams got nicked pretty good against Texas and doesn’t seem 100% yet, and Folston is still a bit of an unknown coming off major surgery and I think the staff is being careful with him.

    Now Williams has always shown flashes (when given a chance) and finding some plays for Zaire would most likely boost the run game as well.

    Of course bringing a clean-jersey Zaire in to run run a designed halfback pass certainly didn’t fool anyone. (or do him or the team any favors)

    I not sure there are too many teams that would have been fooled by that one… let alone Duke.

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  5. Damian 3 years ago

    I remember this past summer it seemed everyone was saying they had one of the top O-lines in the country. I found that a little odd because they lost 3 starters from last year. Even the best O-lines would probably see some drop off from that.

    But no doubt they fell more than I thought. I just wonder how much of that is BK. A good coach adjusts his plays to the strengths and weaknesses on the field, and BK doesn’t seem to be doing that, which makes me wonder if the O-line really fell off as much as it appears, or are they just not being put in a position to succeed with bad playcalling.

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  6. George 3 years ago

    I never said to fire Hiestand, but I do think the ND O-lines are typically quite overrated. This year some experts had them ranked as the #1 OL in the country! That’s laughable. And again, I find it extremely disconcerting when ND absolutely cannot run the ball, especially when they have solid RB’s and are playing against teams like Duke. Maybe if my expectations were a little higher I would be calling for HH’s head, but in the grand scheme of things, at this point I feel like the O-line coach is the least of our worries. As for Hudson, if he can keep the opponent at 30 points for the rest of the year, I’ll be singing his praises.

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  7. Damian 3 years ago

    George,

    No doubt the O-line has taken a step back. I’m not ready to pull the plug on Hiestand at this point though. We’ve had good O-lines under him more times then not. And I’ve lost total faith in BK so I’m not sure yet how much is on Hiestand and how much is on BK’s play calls. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll no better which it is. If Hiestand is the real deal as an O-line coach, I’d hate to lose him.

    Denbrock is another keeper, he seems to be doing a good job on his end. And I guess it seems Sanford is good too, in fact, it seems many here think maybe BK should turn playcalling over to him.

    These are huge if’s but if Hudson can at least get the defense to play average (that is just complete tackles and maintain discipline), and if BK gets out of the way of the offense, maybe they can win a few games this year. That won’t help our woeful special teams, but it could be a step up.

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  8. LynnWhyJae 3 years ago

    Things I like about Greg Hudson: he has coached on the college level which makes me think he understands player development and how to prepare for games from a non-NFL perspective/method. from what I read in another article is he knows how to simplify the complex and communicate it. He will focus on fundamentals. If the Irish improve in tackling I will count that as a victory. I guess I can see how he impacts linebackers since he played LB. That should be good for the LB units.

    I’m not expecting a miracle by any means, but I do expect to see less blown assignments and better tackling.

    Thanks for the post @IrishFanNow I didn’t realize Hudson was the DC for the time Skip Holtz was at ECU. This gives me hope and a reason to continue watching the Irish.

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  9. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

    There are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics.

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  10. George 3 years ago

    Total offense? That’s fine. But I’m talking about being able to push around the little Blue Devils, which ND could not. And I realize everyone gives ND a pass on getting embarrassed by MSU, but I don’t. 53 rushing yards against MSU. That’s pathetic. BK had to completely abandon the run just to get points on the board, and it wont be the last time he has to do that. We all know it. ND ranks 83 in rushing offense, 64 in TFL allowed, and 57 in sacks allowed. That being said, ND has produced a good deal of top NFL talent lately, so they HAVE been doing something right. I agree there. But still, they are underachieving big time right now when it comes to running the ball.

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  11. Damian 3 years ago

    And I agree with Shaz that the O-line is not why we’re losing games. They took a step back with the loss of 3 starters, but Hiestand has done a pretty good job since he arrived. I think part of the problem is the play-calling by BK. I think the bigger problem with the O-line, basically is more BK, not so much Hiestand.

    Ironic, because in the past the complaint was that BK was too married to the passes, and didn’t run enough. Now he went in the complete opposite direction, insisting on running when more passing may be in in order. One thing about ND’s schedule is they face vastly different types of teams week to week. Some teams you’ll have more success passing on, some running. But they don’t seem to make those game to game adjustments.

    Hiestand and Denbrock are 2 assistants that I’d like to see maybe stick around (like Alford from Weis’ staff) if they fit in with a new HC.

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  12. Damian 3 years ago

    IrishFanNow,

    I hope you’re right about Hudson. I’m withholding judgment for now since they haven’t played a single game with him as DC, and I’m a reasonable guy. I know we’re not going to suddenly have the number 1 defense in the country. I’ll be happy to see progress week to week.

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