Notre Dame went old-school in beating up on Virginia on Saturday. The Irish defense swarmed Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins and harassed the talented dual-threat signal-caller into mistake after mistake en route to a 35-20 victory over the 18th ranked team in the country. Anytime you tally eight sacks and five turnovers; there is going to be a lot to like. Not surprisingly though, you won’t find a whole lot from the other side of the ball in this week’s 5 Things I Liked column.
1. The Return of Julian Okwara
Boy oh boy was it nice to see #42 living in an opposing team’s backfield again yesterday. Okwara was off to a plodding start to the season. He entered yesterday with just three tackles and no sacks on the season. He ended yesterday’s game with three sacks and two huge, momentum-changing forced fumbles.
With Virginia driving in the first quarter, Okwara raced into the backfield and wrapped up Bryce Perkins for a huge loss. On the way down to the ground, he also knocked the ball loose and came up with the recovery. At the time the score was 7-7 with UVA driving into scoring range. Okwara’s turnover gave the Irish the ball back, and they quickly took a 14-7 lead.
Later in the game with the Irish clinging to a 21-17 led, Okwara got into the backfield to take Perkins down a third time and for the second time he knocked the ball loose. This time Ade Ogunddeji was there to recover it and race into the endzone to give Notre Dame a 28-17 lead. Without those two plays, who knows how this one would have turned out. Hopefully, we see more of the Julian Okwara we saw yesterday the rest of the season.
2. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s fumble recovery
Notre Dame forced five turnovers yesterday, but none might have been bigger than Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa‘s fumble recovery off of a Jamir Jones strip-sack of Perkins. Virginia had all of the momentum and the lead at that point. Jones knocking the ball out was significant. Lord Myron’s recovery was big. The big man’s return was huge.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is Notre Dame’s starting defensive tackle. Once he got the ball in his hands though, he was racing down the field, and if Bryce Perkins is just a tad slower, it would have been a touchdown. It was shades of Stephon Tuitt outrunning the Navy offense in 2012.
If Notre Dame manages to navigate the rest of the regular season without another loss, this is the play we will look back to as the one that changed the course of the season. Just a huge, huge play.
3. The Hard Running of C’Bo Flemister and Tony Jones Jr
Notre Dame finally showed some signs of life in the running game yesterday. Powered by Tony Jones Jr‘s tough running and a few impressive carries by C’Bo Flemister, the Irish ran for 157 yards on 37 carries. Those numbers by themselves aren’t overly impressive, but given the struggles of the Notre Dame rushing attack so far this season, it was a step in the right direction.
Jones ran hard and had quite a bit of daylight to run through in picking up a career-high 131 yards on 18 attempts with three touchdowns – another career-high. If Notre Dame still had Dexter Williams, there was an even bigger day to be had because there were some holes a more explosive back would have exploited for touchdowns. Notre Dame just doesn’t have one of those yet.
Notre Dame got some tough running from sophomore C’Bo Flemister too. The soph running back had a tackle-breaking touchdown run in the first quarter and carried the ball six times for 27 yards. Flemister looks like he has more of a burst than the other Irish backs – save Jafar Armstrong who is going to miss another week at least. Getting Flemister the ball more over the rest of the season should be a priority for Chip Long and Lance Taylor.
4. Freshman All-American Kyle Hamilton
Ok, freshman All-American teams won’t be announced for months, but we all know Kyle Hamilton will be on them all. In the second home game of his career, Hamilton intercepted the second pass of his career. This time Hamilton dropped back into zone coverage and made a perfect play on the ball to give Notre Dame’s its fifth and final turnover of the contest. The ball just finds this kid and looks like it is going to continue to find him.
If the injury to Shaun Crawford is as severe as it looked yesterday (prayers up for that poor kid), Kyle Hamilton is going to be seeing even more action the rest of the season. Notre Dame could start him at nickel the rest of the year with Tariq Bracy taking over on the outside in Crawford’s place (again, assuming it’s as bad as it looked).
5. Notre Dame’s Depth at Defensive End
Remember when Notre Dame struggled to land edge rushers and was always reliant on playing the few they had far before they were ready? Those days are over. Even with Daelin Hayes, who had been Notre Dame’s best defensive end through three games, sidelined yesterday, Notre Dame’s depth at defensive end shined brightly.
Jamir Jones, who the staff has strategically been trying to redshirt, was an animal. He’s now played in two games which means that Notre Dame can only use him in two more if they want to keep the redshirt option open for 2020. Assuming the Irish would want him available for any playoff run, that would mean no more regular-season games. It might be impossible for that to happen at this point. He’s playing too good.
Ovie Oghoufo saw some action yesterday as well, and it didn’t take long for him to find his way into the Cavalier backfield. Ade Ogundeji is like a second starter at SDE more than a backup at this point too.
What’s impressive about this is, Notre Dame still has Justin Ademilola available to play, and the freshmen duo of Nana Osafo-Mensah and Isaiah Foskey is waiting in the wings. In too many other seasons, both Osafo-Mensah and Foskey would have already been forced into action.
We are seeing first hand what having real defensive end depth looks like, and as we saw yesterday, it looks pretty amazing.