Brian VanGorder’s Notre Dame Defense Shredded, Again

Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The third year of the Brian VanGorder experience was supposed to be different.  Three years in the players – albeit with several new starters – were supposed to fully grasp VanGorder’s attacking schemes.  In the season opener, however, VanGorder’s defense was the one being attacked by a true freshman quarterback running a newly implemented offensive system to the tune of 50 points.

It was the same old story for a Brian VanGorder Notre Dame defense.

All summer long the talk was Notre Dame’s defense would be able to limit the big plays and improve on defense despite losing Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Keivarae Russell, Joe Schmidt, Romeo Okwara, and Matthias Farley.  Instead a true freshman quarterback led the way for Texas’s 50 point, 500+ yard eruption in the first game of a brand new uptempo offense.

Think about that for a second.  A true freshman quarterback was able to torch the Notre Dame secondary in the first game of a brand new offense while the Irish were playing in their first game of the THIRD year of the Brian VanGorder defense.

The fears expressed all summer long around a lack of a pass rush and the back end of the defense were all confirmed.  Notre Dame registered just one single QB hurry the entire game and barely got their hands on either Texas quarterback.  Meanwhile, strong safety Drue Tranquill was benched by half-time and free safety Avery Sebastian likely should joined him following several missed tackles – one of which would have stalled a Texas scoring drive.

Notre Dame’s defensive line was unable to get any pressure on Shane Buechelle throughout the night and the frosh played like a savvy veteran as he dropped dime after dime over top of the Irish secondary.  Had it not been for a few drops, his stat line would have been even more impressive.  As is, Buechelle completed 16 of 26 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and a single interception.

The ground defense wasn’t much better.  Sloppy tackling led to a 237 rushing performance by the Longhorns.  D’Onta Freeman led the way with 131 yards and a touchdown.  Last year’s starting quarterback for Texas, Tyrone Swoopes, did the most damage though.

Swoopes found the end-zone three times including the game winner in the second OT.  As was the case throughout most of the night, the Notre Dame defense was in position to stop Swoopes in the backfield, but he knifed through the porous Irish defense one final time to seal the Texas win.  Swoopes attempted just one pass  last night while attempting 13 runs, but even with knowing what was coming the Irish defense simply had no answer.

Some of this was to be expected.  Notre Dame was starting six new starters on defense – Tranquill, Sebastian, Jay Hayes, Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Shaun Crawford – but many of the problems with the defense came down to fundamentals.  Notre Dame simply did not tackle well enough to win the football game.  For all the concerns over schemes and sub-packages and playing fast, Notre Dame just needed to play soundly and they would have won.

Instead, Notre Dame now has more questions to answer on the defensive side of the ball and the seat under Brian VanGorder is getting as hot as the asphalt in the Texas tailgate lots yesterday afternoon.  In his third year in charge of the Notre Dame defense, his troops continue to get torched.  In the last three Notre Dame games the Irish have surrendered a total of 132 points – 38 to Stanford, 44 to Ohio State, and 50 to Texas.

That just will not cut it.

The Notre Dame defense still has time to improve, but it failed its first test of the season miserably.   The young secondary can find its footing.  Shaun Crawford looked good in his starting debut and the personnel changes Kelly made at half time did at least limit the big plays in the second half from the Longhorns.  It looks like Notre Dame will have to count on true freshmen moving forward and that is usually not a very promising scenario.

Unless you’re a true freshman quarterback for Texas that is.

The defensive line will also have to play much better if the Irish defense is to improve at all upon its dreadful start to the 2016 season.  Between Jarron Jones, Daniel Cage, Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti, there is no reason VanGorder shouldn’t be able to find a rotation that creates a greater push up front. Rochell was one of the few bright spots on defense though with 9 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

The linebacker play wasn’t much better.  Nyles Morgan racked up 13 tackles, but the linebackers were making plays downfield instead of in the backfield.  The Irish linebacking corps combined for just 1.5 tackles for loss.

Brian Kelly at least put up a confident front both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon when talking to the media expressing his belief that his young defense will improve.  It would be interesting to hear what his message is behind closed doors in the Gug today though to both his team and his defensive coaches.

Notre Dame has 11 more games in the regular season to improve on defense.  If they don’t, there will be no way to justify standing pat again this offseason and waiting for the effects of “recruiting to scheme” and “learning the system” to take place.  Action will need to take place.

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  1. Not so sure about all the defensive talent you’re referring to. One safety got repeatedly steamrolled by various ball carriers to the point of submission. The other got benched due to poor play and was only used last year against teams like Navy. One CB got toasted deep three times. Martini? Trumbetti? Morgan has potential but couldn’t even beat out diminutive Joe Schmidt in consecutive seasons. I agree BVG is detrimental, but I wouldnt be spouting off about all the talent after last week.

  2. Sean, it’s definitely not talent. Part of the reason Texas seemed to have more speed is because of who was on the field. Another chunk of it is coaching and scheme. These issues all come down to BVG.

    How much of a sample size do we need before we can say BVG is a very bad college football coach? Recall, before he joined Rex with the Jets, he also coached an extremely talented Auburn defense into mediocrity. Honestly, Auburn is lucky to have recovered from that.

    At this point, it’s just ridiculous to blame the talent in any way, shape, or form. We are bringing it top 10 and top 15 recruiting classes, loaded with talent on defense. Honestly, though youth vs. experience ebbed and flowed, the defense has gotten better on the whole (in terms of talent) every year except maybe this one.

    BVG has proven he can’t coach college. He’ll do fine in the NFL. Notre Dame, though, needs to move on before it’s too late because this mediocrity will snowball fast when recruits realize that BVG is a better developer of talent.

  3. Damian says let’s be losers
    Cause we can’t be winners
    Fire swarbrick
    Fire Bvg
    Fire Kelly
    It’s pathetic

  4. I don’t know if it is as much as BVG or lack of talent.BVG has been very successful at many schools no doubt Texas ran all over that defense but to me Texas flat out had more speed .

  5. That’s just it though. ND has made progress since the disastrous D/W/W years. I noted in another post on another article that after Charlie Weis was fired, ND was very much in danger of becoming irrelevant. The glory days were behind us, over a decade by that point. Hire another mediocre coach and that would have been it.

    That’s not the case now. ND is pretty much a fixture on the Top 25 polls. Opponents respect us on the schedule now and know that when they play ND, they are going to have to fight for a win.

    Now no one should rest on that. With the recruits ND is getting it is not unreasonable to expect ND to be contending for a playoff spot, and I always said BK would not be elite in my eyes without a NC win. He should consider a shake-up in the defensive staff if things don’t improve in a hurry. Does BVG need to be fired or simply given new responsibilities and dropped as a DC? That’s a good question.

    But ND is in a far, far better place then it was 12/2009. And we need to face the fact that BK is the best coach we could possibly have right now. The few elite coaches out there that are better will never come to ND because ND is not willing to turn itself into an NFL factory. So if they were to fire BK, it’s almost a certainty they’d have to settle for something significantly less and we’re back to the D/D/W years. I never want to go through that again.

  6. ND in last three years…Losses to
    1) Oklahoma
    2) Texas
    3) Ohio State
    4) Stanford (twice)
    5) Clemson
    6) USC
    7) Louisville
    8) Northwestern
    9) Arizona State
    10) Florida State
    11) Michigan
    12) Pitt

    In last six years, 3 and 3 in bowl games and, in the only two that mattered, 0 – 2 and outscored 86 -48….

    That is not elite…it is not even very good…

    BK has three 5-losss seasons and one 4-loss season in six years. Charlie Weiss had one really bad year…BK had one really good year…they are pretty much even outside of that.

    I love ND Football, but not much has changed since they fired Holtz…it’s a lot of pretty packaging but not a lot of pretty football.

    Sorry, but that is the truth.

    I don’t want to say Kelly should go because he has made a lot of progress….unless he does not see that BVG is not working…Last year, Charlie Strong got rid of his coordinators after the ND game. BK not seeing that he needs a change their will be scary if they do not improve….also, it is pretty clear that Kizer is the better option right now at QB.

    Not making a decision is really making a decision…a decision to continue to struggle.

    Either way, I will be in front of the TV again this Saturday because I love them! 🙂 Go Irish!

  7. I don’t think there is anything that I could say that anyone hasn’t mentioned already. Being a fellow diehard Irish fan like the rest of you gentlemen, that was an EXTREMELY hard game to watch. I think every other word was the F word. My wife can vouch for that. She kept slapping me to watch my mouth. But, heck what is a diehard Irish fan to do? We’ve all been waiting to see a much realigned 20x improved defense. Yet, again BVG can’t seem to get it done. Well, personally, it’s definitely time for him to go. How many chances does one man need??? One of the disappointing things, aside from the performance of the defense is that, we still have 11 more games to go. I don’t even want to think of how we’ll fair against the much tougher teams on the schedule. I hate to be a pessimist but, damn somethings gotta give. My fears were comfirmed when Texas went up 31-14. However, as always I’ll be glued; hoping and wishing on the Irish stars to align. Go Irish Go!!

  8. “Brian VanGorder’s Notre Dame Defense Shredded, Again”

    Wrong title. Should be:

    “Brian VanGorder’s Notre Dame Defense Shredded, As Usual”

    VanGorder is incompetent as a coach and should be fired.

  9. BVG needs to go asap!! A 44.0 ppg avg for the last three games, missed tackles, missed assignments, no pass rush and general confusion on the defense several times. You have to wonder if Kelly really does know what he’s doing. He can’t be that naive to believe that BVG will get the defense turned around any time soon??? Excuses upon excuses with no visible improvement, heck our defense has regressed. It’s been three years of the SOS. We need a homerun with our next DC hire, and if BK doesn’t fire VanGorder then Swarbrick needs to have a heart to heart with Kelly. There has been no visible improvement whatsoever with the defense after three years. Waiting another year to see the same old defense is beyond stupid.

  10. BVG needs to drop down several levels to reach his competence. Perhaps Pee Wee football. At least he would entertain everyone with his sideline gestations.

  11. van gorders defense again that line should have been more aggressive and should have stayed more with a four man since they had more trouble with that.should be red flags all over since last season the defense giving up way too many big plays.the offense took care of business last year so something needs too change.


  12. You left out poor play by O line that has been said to the best in CFB. Without Kizer ND would have lost 37 – 0.
    Also why does ND have a young D after 7yrs of recruiting to build depth. DO Alabama, Ohio State, Fla State have that problem. No it is a worn out BK excuse. If you have the athletes, the scheme sucks.

  13. Big disappointment. I understood why BVG wasn’t fired last year. It’s rarely prudent to fire any coach after 2 years. But nothing changed. If they just got torched due to inexperience, I could excuse that. But they were getting torched for missed tackles and bonehead penalties. Those are coachable mistakes.

    Unfortunately the defense reminds me of the defenses under Weis. In fact I remember vividly the same exact problems on defense during Weis’ reign. Missed tackling, bad penalties, poor execution. Friend or not, BK needs to light a fire under BVG because poor defense is part of what brought down Weis, and BK does not want defense to be what leads to his downfall.

    A shame because our offense overall played a good game. They were exciting to watch. 47 points should be a win.

  14. It did not help matters that we switched QBs back and forth almost each series until the second half. This makes it very difficult for the QBs to establish a game rythm. There were several times when confusion seemed to reign on defense. After DBacks had been beaten deep three times but passes were dropped or the throw was off for UT, BVG made no adjustment. Of course, the same thing has been happening for two years now. BVGs defense calls are too predictable.

  15. Get ready for Big 12 football. ND will have to score at least 40 a game to win. BIG needs to go, ND doesn’t have the corners to play press man and sub packages aren’t going to work against up tempo offenses. Work more tackling less of scheme

  16. I was away for the game and coukdn’t watch it. I have been following all of the commentary very closely. Things must be very, very bad if we are missing Max Redfield – the essence of DB mediocrity.

  17. Can Kelly ease the pain of his pal by reassigning him to another type position on the D staff ? BVG wouldn’t be fired — just placed in another role. I believe Urban Meyer or was it Saban did this with coaching staff during the 2014 season. Who would replace BVG as DC from the in house ranks ? Is it too late to get a new hire from outside ND ? A shake up is needed—a change is needed and players might get a shot of new adrenalin with a new DC—where ever he comes from. Viewing the sidelines during game , it really showed VanGorder lost and confused with a “I don’t know what to do” look on his face. Numerous times Kelly was in his face and BK was reprimanding defensive players too. Hey somebody has to.

  18. Kelly tried to protect BVG today. I know him and Brian Kelly go back a long way but he should have been fired last season. Under BVG I have never seen a Notre Dame defense this bad. I thought Jon Tenuta was a horribe DC but BVG is on another level. A lower level. No pass rush what so ever. Our S play was just horrible last night as well. I never thought I would miss Max Redfield but he was missed last night.

  19. For the previous two years, Van Gorder should’ve, and did, receive the benefit of the doubt. The numerous injuries, and his complicated system were a horrible combination, and could be overlooked. Outside of Redfield, all of these kids were healthy and have at least 2 years in the system (frosh obviously excluded), so there really is no excuse. This year, the system should show what it can do, and it’s clear it’s not very much. It’s time to look for another DC somewhere. You can see the player development clearly on the offensive side of the ball, but on D, there is simply stagnation. Todd Lyght could step in and do much better than a complicated scheme that is nothing but swiss cheese.

  20. Totally agree with MTA in that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that the most talented players are seeing the field. And at this point, ND has nothing to lose on the D side of the ball. Play the best athletes. Christ, play anyone who can tackle. BVG is a fraud and seems to be somewhat of a dipshit.

  21. In life we have responsibilities and if we fail to meet those responsibilities, there are consequences. But Father Jenkins has hired a part time lawyer off campus ad to achieve the glory that was once ours. He has not met his responsibilities and yet there are no consequences. He hired a second rate coach in ten days who has a chip on his shoulder and is more interested in protecting his position rather than taking the risks necessary to become a national champion. Again no consequences for failing to meet responsibilities. Kelly hires a DC that gives up 741 points in two seasons and one game. Again no consequences for not meeting responsibilities.
    Again you have to wonder what Father Jenkins is thinking. You have to wonder why we have become a corporate entity involved in minimal performance but benefits for those in power. Jenkins, Swarbrick, Kelly, Van Gorder. Unless Lou or Montana or someone else raises a huge stink it goes on and on until mediocrity is the new nd mantra. Unless you find unique people, not good coaches, good players,
    good recruiters you won’t find the magical ingredient that lets you beat a bear Bryant or. a woody Hayes or a nick saban (a guy that constantly strives to make his coaching staff better). Short term fire Bvg and bring back Diaco.for two years at a high salary. Higher than he is getting now. And go find a new head coach that respects the. Glory of nd and can shake down the thunder not the dollars.

  22. Might I recommend I nice bottle of Chianti to calm you down Steve.
    The sun came up today and we still have this site to marvel at the comments.

  23. So the DBs performed better in the third quarter?
    Was that after ND put the “next-men-in” even though they’re the Frosh?
    So is NDs D’ even playing the best players we have, or the players who know the ineffective system with less talent? Does that sound familiar? (See: Joe Schmidt, Avery Sebastian, Nick Coleman, Drue Tranquil, Andrew Trumbetti, instead of Morgan, Studstill, a Frosh CB, a Frosh safety, Daelin Hayes)?
    There seems to be a pattern of not playing the best player- would we even have ever known of Kizer without Golson’ transfer and Zaire’s injury?
    Is “next-man-in” too often better than the guy who was in?
    Who’s that on?

  24. The worst multi year stretch of horrible defense I have witnessed in 50 years of following the IRISH.
    Can’t tackle, can’t cover, can’t play the ball in the air, can’t adjust (TX was not running trick/gadget plays) CAN’T make key stops to finish games.etc etc etc. It’s beyond tedious watching this crap every year. One common denominator and perhaps that needs to be changed and soon.

  25. Although he has a long way to go, Nyles Morgan has shown significant improvement over the last two years. And I thought Rochelle played pretty well. Other than that, this defense is a disappointment for all the reasons the author so eloquently states.

    I’m hopeful that BK has lit up BVG in the same manner he’s lit up his players in the past. When one or two players are out of position, you can blame the players. When it’s several different players, it’s coaching.

  26. ND’s defense will play better against marginal teams i.e. Nevada and the like, but stronger teams we will see the same old VanGorder defense. He needs to go sooner than later. This current defense will never be a top 10 defense as long as VanGorder is at the helm. Period!!!!!

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