Remember the offseason of 2018 when the news dropped that Mike Elko was leaving for Texas A&M? The panic that ensued? The general feeling was the best part of the Notre Dame rebuild–Elko and his defense–had just walked out the door and into a Brinks truck on the way to College Station, Texas. That all feels silly right about now, doesn’t it?
Clark Lea and his crew put together a performance I don’t think anyone saw coming, even amongst the biggest online fanboy fans you can imagine. Georgia was going to bludgeon Notre Dame and their linebackers with their fleet of backs and their massive offensive line. It was going to be ugly; it was going to be brutal. It was going to be what Wisconsin did to Michigan (57 carries for 359 yards against the Wolverines, in case you were wondering). That is…not how it went.
Lea’s defense held Georgia to a pedestrian 152 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry, only allowed a long of 16 yards and made what many saw would be a route into a great football contest. And for that, Clark Lea gets a solid A for his unit.
Holy defensive tackles, Batman! In fairness to the fan base, Myron Tagovailoa Amosa and Kurt Hinish did not show this kind of ability against the run in the previous two games, so the idea of it arriving against a team like Georgia seemed unlikely. And yet, that’s precisely what it did. MTA was shooting gaps and being disruptive while Hinish channeled his inner Louis Nix and occupied blockers, allowing the Irish linebackers to roam unfettered inside. They turned in exactly the performance they needed, the definition of big time.
The defensive ends were stifled from a pass rush standpoint as Georgia was loathe to work any deep route concepts for fear of the rush getting home, and it showed with Jake Fromm only completing 7.2 yards per attempt, which includes a couple of back shoulder fades in the third quarter. That in itself is having an impact. Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem were good against the run, although we are still waiting for a breakout performance from Julian Okwara. His play drops the grade from an A to an A-. They need more from their best player.
I’m surprised by very little in life, especially when it comes to football, but the way Notre Dame’s linebackers played in this game was legitimately surprising. Drew White is out there tracking down DeAndre Swift in the open field, and darting into the backfield to corral five star running backs on jet sweeps with the game on the line. Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah is shedding 5th year senior tight ends and dropping Swift for loss, and Asmar Bilal is reading pass and chasing Swift down in the flat like he’s Jaylon Smith.
You could have put Jaylon, Drue Tranquill, and Te’Von Coney out there and they would not have played better than what we saw last weekend. Maybe it never reaches that level again, who knows, but it was there in Athens, and it was a beautiful thing to see. If you want to make yourself feel better, go back and re-watch the game and only focus on the linebackers. Then, you’ll start to believe in happiness again.
The back shoulder fades killed them again, they’ve been killing them for a few years now, but it was an overall strong game from this group. Gilman was again fantastic, and while Pride gave up the touchdown on what was a perfect throw and catch, he gave up little else. Crawford gave up the longest play of the game on, you guessed it, a jump ball to 6’5” Lawrence Cager, but like Pride, gave up little else. The player who is really coming on is TaRiq Bracy, who has played well in all three games this season and is proving to be a reliable third corner, a very significant development for the trajectory of the season.
Elliott and Hamilton were steady again in the back end, and as offenses are throwing short more and more, they have less work to clean up downfield.
Jay Bramblett has been a revelation. Apparently, he can kick it high even while employing the rugby style of kicking and has been really good so far this season. Doerer has yet to be tested, but his one field goal in this game was without stress, and his kickoffs have been fabulous after numerous struggles in his first two seasons.
The coverage teams have also been top-notch thus far, with maybe the top performer on their team Chase Claypool, flying down on the punt team and recovering muffed kicks by the opposition, in case you were wondering what leadership looks like. Notre Dame with good special teams, who knew?