Grading The Notre Dame Defense Against Virginia: Hint, They Passed!

Notre Dame LB Drew White

Clark Lea came into this game feeling like Notre Dame could handle the Virginia passing game playing man coverage. This was not the correct feeling. It had less to do with the scheme being faulty, and more to do with Virginia having a couple of excellent playmakers at wide receiver. The Irish weren’t surrendering a bunch of cheap stuff through the air, and their corners weren’t getting completely toasted. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a couple of excellent playmakers.

However, with all of that going on Lea made the switch to a zone defense in the second half, it forced Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins to hold the ball longer than he had previously, which in turn allowed the Notre Dame pass rush to go into God mode, putting the team, the program, and the season on their backs in destructing the Cavalier offense and moving the team to 3-1. Let’s give Lea an A for the game. When your defense forces five turnovers, registers eight sacks, and scores a defensive touchdown, you did well.

Defensive Line

Grade: Infinity

It’s an infinity grade for the defensive line this week, as Virginia had nothing for them upfront. Virginia could not run the ball–they finished with four yards on the ground–and obviously they could not block whoever it was that rushed quarterback on Saturday. The Irish line came in waves; defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem had monster games, Jamir Jones caused a sack and fumble, Ovie Oghoufo was out there doing things, and Myron Tagovailoa Amosa flew down the field and toward the end zone like he was born to do it. It was all happening for the Notre Dame defensive line.

In all, it was eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one touchdown for the defensive line — an amazing performance.

In the somber news of the day, they lost defensive end Daelin Hayes for the season to a torn labrum in his shoulder. This sets him up to use this season as a redshirt season if he’d like, he’s only played in four games, and while Notre Dame has plenty of depth at the position, Hayes was playing at a very high level.

Linebackers

Grade: A

Not much going on for the linebackers in this game; the defensive line took care of much of the running game, and the Virginia receivers did most of the damage in the passing game. That said, Drew White tied for the team lead in tackles with seven, he collected his 6th tackle for loss on the season, and Asmar Bilal and Wu Koramoah each notched five tackles. Paul Moala saw early action and gave up a touchdown on the games opening series when he left his man to pursue Perkins, but not really fair to downgrade the unit or him too much for that. It’s one play.

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The transformation in the last two weeks from a liability to a steady playmaking unit from the top three linebackers has been pretty extraordinary. We don’t see the mental errors from this group, they are playing decisively, and the tackling has been excellent since the opener. This just adds to the type of job Clark Lea is doing, the linebackers are his position group.

Secondary

Grade: B

First, thank goodness Shaun Crawford is only out for 3-4 weeks due to a dislocated elbow and not the season as many people feared when they play occurred. Not so much what it means for the season, although having him around is very nice, the prospect of another devastating season-ending injury for him would have been too much to take. Very thankful his season is not over, and he’ll suit up again for the Irish this season.

It was a tough first half for the pass defense; Bryce Perkins was picking them apart, and receivers Joe Reed and Hasise DuBois were ripping them apart.

Once the second half started though, everything changed. The pass rush got going, the defense moved to zone, and plays started to get made. Alohi Gilman made an interception that was almost a carbon copy of Shaun Crawford‘s against New Mexico earlier this year. Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton played his robber position perfectly late in the fourth, reading Perkins and snagging an in route to effectively end the game.

TaRiq Bracy continues to look good in coverage and will have to step up with the absence of Crawford. So far, there is good reason to believe he is up to the challenge.

Special Teams

Grade: D

Things had been going so well. I even put this unit in the “Trending Up” section of the stock report. It was good while it lasted, I suppose.

Johnathan Doerer missed a field goal, Chris Finke muffed a punt, and they gave up an onside kick to open the second half on a play so obvious it’s very fortunate Brian Polian is an excellent recruiter or else his job might be in question. Jay Bramblett was again good as a punter, the saving grace for the group as a whole, but on the main none of it was good enough. Not ready to declare any of this officially a problem, it’s just one game, but special teams has generally been average to poor the last couple years, so this was an unfortunate regression.

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