All summer long we heard that Notre Dame would probably be rotating linebackers throughout the season as the group was perceived to be the biggest weakness on the team. Through three games, however, Notre Dame’s new linebacking corps is not only holding their own, in many ways they are thriving. Against a Georgia team that was supposed to gash them, they turned in one of the best performances we’ve seen from the unit in years. Who saw that coming?
Brian Kelly was asked on Monday how Clark Lea has been able to get this new group of linebackers ready despite a lack of experience. “He doesn’t vary much from what he’s said from day one. He’s not changing the drill work up each day. I think they know what they’re getting every day. He doesn’t throw a curveball at them,” Kelly said.
“He has an expectation for what those players need to do and what they master and what they need to master. Each day they close in on becoming better and better at it. I think that that’s what he’s done a really good job at regardless if it’s a player with a lot of experience or a little experience. His consistency and his teaching approach has been really one where I think all levels have been able to adapt to it,” he added.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s Talent is Undeniable
From the first snap of the Louisville game, the athleticism of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was on full display. He wasn’t always in the right place, and sure, he’s overrun a few plays looking for the big tackle for loss, but he is really coming on strong. A team like Georgia should be able to take advantage of a player like JOK – a young, super athletic backer anxious to make the play. They weren’t able to.
Here’s a prime example of Owusu-Koramoah looking like a veteran in the third start of his career against the third-ranked team in the country on the road.
Really impressed with just about everything Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah did on Saturday night. This is a guy basically playing in his third game beating the block of a fifth-year senior tight end. pic.twitter.com/nNYV4sQjDS
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) September 24, 2019
It’s impossible not to be giddy thinking about what JOK is going to grow into in this defense. When he was recruited, we heard that he was the prototype for the ROVER position in this defense. Now we are seeing that come to fruition. Get used to seeing Owusu-Koramoah in opponent’s backfields all year. He led the Irish with 2.5 TFL against Georgia. He already has 4.5 on the season.
Drew White Manning the Middle
Pretty everyone, myself included, counted Drew White out of the linebacker mix after he missed all of spring football. When fall camp started, however, it was White lining up as the first team MIKE. Some speculated that White could be a stopgap until some of the younger linebackers were ready. White looked like anything but a stopgap on Saturday night in Athens.
With Georgia facing a 1st and 10 deep in their own territory and Notre Dame needing a stop to get the ball back, White shot into the backfield and came up with a huge tackle for loss putting the Bulldogs in 2 and 14. In years past, that is the kind of situation where Notre Dame would allow a gain of like 4 yards putting the defense is a tough place. White made sure that didn’t happen, and the defense forced a three and out giving the offense the ball back with a chance to win the game.
White ended the Georgia game with 2.0 TFL and now has 5.0 on the season. Extrapolate that out over 12 games, and he’s on pace for 20 TFL this season. For context, Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill had 18.5 TFL in 2018… combined.
Asmar Bilal Finally Playing to His Potential
The Notre Dame defense looked a bit lost the first quarter against Louisville perhaps no one more than 5th-year senior linebacker Asmar Bilal. For a player who has had issues with diagnosing plays and knowing where to be, it wasn’t a great start to the year. Since then, Bilal has looked better than we’ve ever seen him look.
Athleticism has always been a strength for Bilal, instincts and play diagnosis, on the other hand, has not. The last two weeks, we’ve seen Bilal in the right place at the right time. We’ve also seen him making tackles in the open field against athletic backs. It’s not hyperbole to say that the last two weeks have been the best two weeks we’ve seen out of Bilal in his career.
A lot of people, myself included, were quick to write off Bilal and look for ways to get anyone else in the starting lineup; but Bilal has responded with a level of play that is going to make it impossible to take him off the field. At this point, the rotation we all expected looks less and less like a rotation. Expect to see JOK, White, and Bilal on the field a lot together.
Young Talent Showing Promise
In addition to Notre Dame’s starting trio establishing itself, the young Notre Dame linebackers some of us penciled in as starter’s are showing the promise that made us think it was only a matter of time until they see the field. Jack Lamb is getting work in the nickel package and coming up with big plays. Bo Bauer got some play against New Mexico and showed that he could be a weapon against run-first teams.
We haven’t see Shayne Simon flash much yet though he did randomly get his hands on a squib kick on Saturday night, but most of the young backers are showing out. Add in what looks to be a ridiculously loaded freshman class, and the future at linebacker looks extremely bright after looking a little bleak just a couple of months ago.
Credit Clark Lea for taking an entirely new group of backers and getting them ready to replace a couple of recent Irish greats and not skipping a beat.