Notre Dame Has Nation’s Highest Rated Pass Rush

We are almost at the half way point of the 2018 season and it appears as though the pass rush that Notre Dame fans have been waiting for for years has finally arrived.  Fueled by a five sack performance against Stanford, Notre Dame currently features the nation’s highest rated pass rush according to Pro Football Focus’s statistics. That’s not something even the most optimistic of Notre Dame fans could have hoped for in the summer.

The pass rush – or lack of it – has been a major point of consternation for Notre Dame fans for years.  Brain VanGorder’s terrible defenses blitzed like crazy but didn’t get results.  Last year under Mike Elko, that started to change, but the results were still mixed.  Even this year at times Notre Dame has had some moments where they haven’t been able to get to the quarterback – namely week two against Ball State.

Five games into the season though, the Irish have the top ranked pass rush in the nation.

That is some lofty company that Notre Dame has too.  Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson have been fixtures in the College Football Playoffs since their inception.  For Notre Dame to hope to join them in the playoffs this year, they will need to stay in their company when it comes to their pass rush.

Notre Dame has been able to accomplish this by having multiple players generating pressure and not just relying on a single player although one player has ended up getting most of the sacks.  Julian Okwara, Khlaid Kareem, Jerry Tillery, and Daelin Hayes all have at least 10 QB hurries already this year. No other team in the country has as many players with 10 QB hurries this season.

To put that into some more perspective, Notre Dame only had one player in all of 2017 generate 10 or more QB hurries – Jerry Tillery with 11.  Tillery has already passed that with 12 and has bettered his sack total by 3.5 with 7.0 on the season.  Okwara’s 16 is nine more than he had all last season.  Kareem’s 15 is 11 more than last year’s starting SDE Jay Hayes had on the year.

Last year Notre Dame sacked the quarterback 24 times which was a huge improvement from 2016’s output of just 14.  This year Notre Dame already has 13.0 and is on pace for 34 thanks to last week’s five sack effort.  QB hurries are up as a whole as well with the Irish on pace for 74 (over 13 games) compared to 63 a year ago.

Those sack totals should get better too.  Daelin Hayes for instance has 10 hurries but hasn’t gotten his first sack of the season yet.  Okwara has just 1.0 on his 16 hurries. More than half of Notre Dame’s sacks have come from Jerry Tillery with 7 of the teams 13 on the year on only 12 QB hurries.  If Tillery’s linemates start sealing the deal when they get pressure, this defense can be one of the best in the country and power Notre Dame to the playoffs. Okwara specifically should see the sacks start to come with the frequency in which he is generating pressures.

As is, Notre Dame’s pass rush is already PFF’s #1 rated in the county thanks to the increased pressure.  What makes matters even more impressive are that Notre Dame is generating this pressure without sending a ton of extra blitzers all the time.  It’s the reverse VanGorder defense that sent a lot of blitzers but got torched in the process.  Notre Dame has been able to generate pressure with just their front four more so this season than any recent season.

It’s not just the pass rush either, Notre Dame is on pace for 96 tackles for loss this year after registering 79 a season ago. Two years ago Notre Dame had a mere 61.   All of this is happening under first year defensive coordinator Clark Lea.  Not too bad of a start for a guy who’s never called a defense before he took over for Mike Elko in January.

It Notre Dame can keep up their pace of generating pressure and continue to finish the deal when they get there like they did last weekend against Stanford, the Irish will have a real chance to go undefeated and make the playoffs for the first time.

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  1. What’s noteworthy here is that three players who we though on 1/1/18 would impact the pass rush stats, are out of action.
    Jay Hayes, bless his heart is matriculating and succeeding in Athens.
    Shaun Crawford suffers again. His explosivenes shown in making interceptions and blocking and converting PAT attempt
    and then that Eroica in East Lansing are all gone. He is not the Honey Badger, but before his travail(s) he was the next best thing.

    And then there is Myron Tagavailoa-Amosa. He was a disrupter. And as effective as Hinish has been, Myron would have been more so.

    When you tell me you are good and talk of your starters, I yawn.
    When you tell me you are nearly-great and you talk of your depth and the Next Men In, then I lean forward in my seat, and start paying real attention, football attention.

  2. One Va. Tech fan posted that Willis will throw 4 td’s and in between have a ham sandwich and cup of coffeee as we beat up these Irish peoples 45-3. Well, I have news for him. When I saw their V symbol I thought it was for a Victory Garden. Tillery and Company will have time to plant Poppies in the Hoaxies backfield in between sacks.

  3. Credit to Balis and our D-line coach for what these guys are accomplishing so far!!! When you can generate a pass rush with your front four and then have LBs and a secondary like ND’s, the defense is going to be pretty damn good and we are seeing that product shut down teams each week! Love it!

    1. ChrisJ , agree. Like that you give props to the LB’s and secondary. With their outstanding coverage—opponents QB has to linger a wee bit longer –enabling Irish D line to get hurries and sacks. Of course that’s not to say Okwara , Green , Hayes with their speed will wreak havoc anyway. This leaves Tillery saliving at the mouth — he can’t be stopped from the inside one on one.

  4. With the other three down linemen also getting a lot of pressure and some sacks, it really makes it tougher for opponents to double team Tillery.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. BGC , without a doubt–as I responded to ChrisJ. Also , would give props to #91 Oguneji and #41 Hinish–who have been rotating in. I mentioned their numbers–so you’ll know when their in the game. Flutie hasn’t clue.

  5. Jack needs to stop with these neutral site games. I was planning on going to The Syracuse game but beside that you want to maximize as many games as you can at home.

    1. Look at next years commits on the D-line. We have maybe the best line in the country coming in to backfill! Go Irish?☘️???‼️

  6. It starts and ends with athletic performers at every position on defense. This is the first season in decades that ND has the type of players needed for a very good pass rush.

  7. Great info, Frank.

    Fascinating that the rush struggled against Ball State, but played well against Stanford.

    To me, the pass rush is still a work in progress and is getting better all of the time.

    Fun to watch and lets hope they keep hurrying the QB this Saturday night.


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