Greg Hudson Passes 1st Test as Notre Dame DC

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Greg Hudson was named the interim defensive coordinator for Notre Dame just eight days ago.  Just six days after taking over coordinator duties from Brian Vangorder, Hudson was tasked with helping Brian Kelly stop the hemorrhaging on the defensive side of the ball against an uptempo offense with one of the best rated passing attacks in the FBS.  All things considered, Hudson passed his first test, but many more tougher challenges are on the horizon for the former Irish linebacker.

Notre Dame’s Defense Was Shaky Early

Saturday’s win over Syracuse did not start out well for the Notre Dame defense.  The Orange opened their day with back to back 75+ yard scoring drives highlighted by a 72 yard touchdown to Amba Etta-Tawo.  Syracuse went 154 yards in 9 plays while consuming just 3:12 of the clock with their fast pace, uptempo offense.

The Irish then surrendered another 75+ yard scoring drive later in the first quarter with a 9 play, 78 yard drive that used 3:08 of the clock.  The drive chart below for the first half shows that the Orange were marching and the Notre Dame defense was on its heels.

QuarterStartObtainedOutcomePlays-Yds.TOP
1stSU25KOTD8-752:06
1stSU21KOTD3-791:06
1stSU26KOPUNT3-70:59
1stSU01DOWNSPUNT6-422:12
1stSU22PUNTTD9-783:08
2ndSU23KOPUNT3-51:08
2ndSU01PUNTPUNT3-20:58
2ndSU36KOPUNT6-262:17
2ndND14PUNTTD2-140:08
2ndND34INTFGA4-110:16

A late first half touchdown set up by a special teams breakdown looked like it would give Syracuse all the momentum for the second half.  Something that hasn’t happened in a while for Notre Dame happened at half-time though, the Irish made adjustments and came out in the second half and shut down the opposition’s offense.

Defensive Half Time Adjustments? What Are These Things?

Now look at the second half drive chart for the Orange.

QuarterStartObtainedOutcomePlays-Yds.TOP
3rdSU25KOPUNT6-171:56
3rdSU21KOPUNT4-101:35
3rdSU25KOPUNT4-181:11
3rdND44PUNTPUNT3-11:58
3rdND34PUNTDOWNS7-292:07
4thSU25KOTD14-754:22
4thSU22FGAHALF4-201:11

In five third quarter drives, Syracuse didn’t have a single drive in which they gained 30 yards.  They also didn’t have a single drive in which they scored a point.  Now, contrast this to the losses to Texas and Michigan State when the Irish let both opponents come storming out of the gates in the second half to build big leads.  The Spartans scored 21 third quarter points while the Long Horns scored just 10 but scored them on their first two second half drives and used them to build a 17 point lead.

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Syracuse’s lone second half score came on a 14 play drive that took up over four minutes of the clock when all the Irish were concerned with was keeping Syracuse in front of them and forcing them to use up the clock.

Hudson and Kelly didn’t blow up the defense and replace the scheme given they had just a handful of practices.  Instead, they used the same basic principles of Brian Vangorder’s defense but simplified things a lot and rotated in far more players than Vangorder used during his time at Notre Dame.

  • Utilized three man fronts like we saw against Texas but this time the opponent wasn’t looking to run first.
  • Played Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes, Jonathon Bonner, and Elijah Taylor much more than they previously had while taking players like Isaac Rochell off the field more and keeping him fresh all game long.
  • Put freshman defensive back Donte Vaughn on Syracuse’s record setting receiver Etta-Tawo.  Etta-Tawo’s biggest play – his 72 yard TD – came when he was lined up opposite Julian Love.  Vaughn was up to the challenge.
  • Brought some smart pressure in the second half after rarely sending any in the first half.  Notre Dame only picked up one sack but did get consistent pressure on Eric Dungey in the second half.

One element of the Vangorder defense that remained in play, however, was the old BVG special of dropping Andrew Trumbetti into coverage.  If Notre Dame had JJ Watt as a rush end maybe that play would be effective.  They don’t and that concept needs to be ripped out of the play book and thrown away.

Still, utilizing a secondary that at times featured four freshman and then lost “veteran” Devin Studstill due to a questionable targeting penalty, Notre Dame played OK defense.  OK should never be what Notre Dame aspires for, but given what this defense was doing, OK was an improvement.

Tackling was a nightmare over the first four games.  Notre Dame defenders looked like matadors out there at times getting out of the way of charging defenders instead.  The Irish didn’t exactly put on a tackling clinic on Saturday, but tackling – at least by the defense – was much better (looking at you special teams).

Some Promising Signs of Defensive Improvement

Anyone who had been expecting a complete turnaround and a dominating defensive performance last weekend was delusional.  Notre Dame’s defense was off to a historically bad start and even last weekend the Irish surrendered 33 points to Syracuse.  While points allowed are the ultimate stat of any defense, consider the following:

  • After the first quarter, Syracuse had one scoring drive over more than 14 yards.
  • Notre Dame forced five three and outs and another two drives in which the Orange went four and out (excluding the two four play drives to end both halves).
  • Syracuse converted just 3 of 15 third downs.
  • Syracuse scored just 6 points in the second half.
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All of those stats are progress for a defense that was under siege in three of the first four weeks of the year.

Interestingly enough, our friends at Hammer & Rails warned of Hudson’s defenses playing well off opposing receivers and not generating much pressure.  Keeping receivers in front of them was exactly what Notre Dame aimed at doing on Saturday while banking on keeping points down and letting its potent offense build a lead.  Given the potential of the Notre Dame offense, that type of defense might just be enough to get the Irish back on track.

It was also nice to see the defensive coordinator jumping up and down and celebrating with his players.  BVG did that in his first year but we hadn’t seen a whole lot of that on the sidelines from him ever since that North Carolina game in 2014.  We’ll see if that keeps up as Notre Dame starts playing some tougher offenses and give up some big plays.  For one Saturday at least, the players kept buying into what Hudson and Kelly were selling even after the rough start to the game.

Hudson seems to have endeared himself to these players pretty quickly as well.  The players selected Hudson to lead them in the post game Fight Song in the locker room.

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More Tests in Store for Hudson, Notre Dame Defense

Now, things will get more difficult for Hudson the next few weeks.  The Irish won’t be playing a team like Syracuse each week that will give up 50 points to Notre Dame.  The Irish face NC State, Stanford, and Miami over the next three games.  Those three opponents have a combined record of 10-2 on the season.

How this new look Notre Dame defense lines up against a team like Stanford will especially be interesting to watch.  The 3-3-5 alignment that Texas ran right through but worked against Syracuse would get absolute shredded by Stanford’s power rushing game.

Before the Irish even being to think about the Cardinal though, Hudson and Kelly have a tough task on their hands this week with a NC State offense averaging 40 points a game – albeit against some highly questionable competition (William & Mary, East Carolina, Old Dominion, and Wake Forest).

Greg Hudson scored passing marks in his first test as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, but seven more remain starting this weekend with NC State.  If the defense can show as much improvement this week as it did last week, Hudson could very well pass his second test as well.

 

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25 Comments

  1. Are any of you Domer’s or are you all BS’s who wished you were but were not accepted? Do any of you know what it means to fight in the bengal bouts, or played in the Bookstore Basketball tournament? Do any of you have a degree from Our Lady? Were any of your Pop’s buried at the Basilica? One person here John D. Ward did all these things and I will continue them until the day die.
    Get Chris Peterson here and all “Domers” will be happy again. Even those whom did not get in the ring or play in the B.S.B.T.
    If we get C.P. we will be relevant and we will be Playing Like Champion’s Today again.
    Shut your mouths until you graduate or become a student.

    Peace,

    John D. Ward Class of 88′ Masters 91′ Mendoza School

    P.S. Do any of you need to be reminded of how & Why L.H. found and put the sign to use?

  2. The schedule is important to ND, exactly for the reasons SFR noted. We have no conference championship. The tough schedule is the only thing that gets us in with an undefeated season, possibly with a 1 loss season.

    It’s tough to get the perfect schedule because ND wants to schedule tough opponents, but because of our opponent’s conference tie ins they are limited as to where they can schedule their out of conference games.

    1. One last thing I have been begging ND to get Chris Peterson to ND regardless of what it would have taken him to leave Boise St. He is in his 2nd year at Washington and my bet is Washington wins the National Title and it will be Washington until he leaves or ND gets CP He is the best coach at any level and has been since he put Boise on he map.
      I was begging ND to do whatever it takes to get CP to ND. Everyone said he couldn’t get it done at a big time school. I wonder what Stanford thinks about that!!!! All ND had to do was give him whatever he wanted and ND would have won the last 5 National Titles.

  3. Thank you, George. Worst two days of my life. Other than a parent losing a child, is there anything worse than a child losing a parent. No matter what their ages or their childrens’ ages?

    I agree also that ND needs to tweak the schedule. But no way should ND schedule down. That would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Not playing for a confrere championship means ND needs to play a tough schedule year in and year out. Perhaps easing into the meat of the season would make sense, though.

    But the major issue is talent. ND just doesn’t have the talent and depth to compete with the best. I don’t know what compromises Lou managed to get from the administration back in the day, but we need to revisit those right away. Those Lou Holtz teams were loaded. Speed to spare. Tough. Physical. Aggressive. Don’t tell me that Tony Rice, Rocket Ishmael, Ricky Waters, Jerome Bettis, etc., were rocket scientists!

    Go Irish!

    1. I am an 88′ grad and I tutored Rice all he had was dislexia. Rice was a good student and is still a great friend. None of list you just read off were bad student’s Remember he had Randy Moss until Moss got in the fight because he had a white girlfriend and fans called them Salt and Pepper. Moss had a 1180 on his SAT’s. I am not saying they are “Rocket Scientist” however, I do know Rice was a good student.

      I will bleed Blue & Gold til I die and I was undefeated in the Bengal Bouts.

  4. SFR, sorry for you loss, and yes that brings perspective on so many levels.

    A win beats a loss any day of the week. But the escape is a definite plus!

    It may be time to rethink the strategy for the program and the administration. As the world of college football has changed, it seems the Irish struggle with that. I would NEVER want to see them schedule from the ranks of the FCS. But like so many other schools it may be time to rethink the scheduling just a bit. Opening on the road against Texas this year, next year at least a Temple warm up game before Georgia then follow that with opening with Michigan and with Louisville is not an easy path to start the season. Add to that the number of academic losses each summer and it is ripe for a slow start.

    Build a schedule that will keep you competitive and winning 10 games/year consistently.

    Go Irish.

  5. I agree, it’s just a game. Certainly don’t lose any sleep over a game, George.

    I’ve recently lost both my parents. That’s all the perspective on life I need!

    Still enjoy the games as an escape from reality for a few hours. Thus, might as well enjoy a win over a loss.

    Go Irish!

  6. USAF Irish,

    How bout it. ND Football is the most stressful sport I watch. I want the other teams I follow to win of course, an I get PO’d when they lose (I’m looking at you NY Giants). But I move on to the next game pretty quickly.

    Part of it is I want my teams to win NC’s, and with CFB there is so little margin for error. One loss can knock you out.

  7. I do think we can be a consistent 10 win team, and I think BK has slowly amassed a coaching team to do it with one major misstep (BVG) so far.
    I’m not against excellence, but I am against post football game depression! I was too wrapped up in it a couple years ago, and it got me a lot of Prilosec and palpitations. Ain’t worth it!

  8. George,

    I agree. One step at a time. But other legendary programs have made comebacks. I believe ND can do the same with a few structural changes in the football program and administration.

    I’ve said it before, if ND can’t or won’t compete at this level, then it’s perhaps time to rethink the future of the football program. I refuse to settle for perpetual Gator Bowl status. That’s were 8 or 9 wins will get you year in and year out.

    ND, ND football, and ND fans deserve better than Jacksonville in December.

  9. The college football landscape is vastly different than it was back in the day. I agree 7-8-9 win seasons don’t cut it. But before we talk about needing to win many National Championships like days of old, let’s not forget that, for whatever number of reasons, Lou Holtz won exactly 1 National Title. That is 1 more than BK I realize that. LH had a bit easier time getting athletes into the University, some things in admissions have changed.

    With that being said, it is time for BK to start winning in major Bowl games.

    Defensively I am thrilled that BVG is gone. It can only get better without him on the sidelines. Had he been gone at the end of last year though, I believe the defensive woes would have still been there. Losing guys to graduation with eligibility left, arrests and injury can make for some serious challenges.

    In the end, stop playing not to lose and rather play to win! Have fun and go Irish.

  10. USAF Irish,

    I’m somewhere between you and bruce. Our regulars now exactly where I stand. I don’t think the current state of ND football is acceptable. Winning games isn’t enough. That’s enough for the other IN university football teams. Not for ND. ND football needs to return to greatness, which means winning titles. Plain and simple.

    Having said that, we need to be hopeful. If not BK, then perhaps the next coach. ND football has been down before, albeit never for this long, and gotten back up. We need to hope it will do so again.

    I have hope, USAF Irish, but I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and believe that what I’m seeing now is anything like acceptable ND football. Like bruce, I know what the gold standard at ND looks like. This isn’t even close!

    Go Irish!

  11. to me the place is a sacred trust
    i see it being abused
    once you are a domer
    once you have been to the rock
    once you have been to the grotto
    once you have been to old field house
    once you can remember rudy’s nd
    you are always a domer
    once you love her
    you must fight for her
    bj notre dame class of 1970
    thanks steel fan rob

    save jack swarbrick’s ass for me

    1. There is always hope and always peak emotions while watching ND. We win way more than we lose, and watching the college athletes play and their emotional reactions is invigorating. Having gone to ND during the Faust years (and one Holtz year), I have a different standard for ND football. You may say lower, I say healthy or realistic. Enjoy the drama, don’t let it depress you!
      The defense will rise! The offense will excel! We will win by 21 this weekend! We will crush Stanford!

  12. bruce,

    I feel your frustration!

    As a regular on here, you know that I’m as critical as anyone on this site. I will always hope to see ND return to greatness. However illogical, I will always hope against hope that BK will turn this around.

    I will always root for ND. However, I will also always call a spade a spade, whether in praise of the Irish if playing well or in criticism if the team is playing poorly. Of late, of course, there has been more criticism than praise. That is appropriate to what we’re seeing on the field these last few seasons.

    Stay positive, bruce, even if you have to be critical of mediocrity.

    Go Irish!

  13. I just am tired of 24 years of mediocrity
    I just can’t relish the incomptence and lack of will to
    excel year after year
    Insanity is doing the same thing year after year and expecting different results
    Swarbrick Kelly Jenkins these guys are insane

  14. bruce,

    I doubt you’re accusing me of living in fantasy land! As you know, I’m one of the more critical voices on here.

    However, why not root for BK until the day he’s fired or resigns. Until then, however, he’s the ND football coach and we should cheer him and his squad on. Always. Plain and simple.

    I would rather BB skulk back on here to show off how much more he knows about football than me and have ND win a NC. That would be worth the arm-chair coaching of BB and others on here, who are for now as silent as a church mouse, but if BK turns it around then they’s come out from their holes to tell us they knew he would be great all along. It would be nice if just one of them would do that right now, make a prediction that BK will return ND football to greatness. Instead, if that does happen, we’ll have to hear from the post-facto prophets.

    But bj I insist you should take a little less pleasure from BK’s woes and demonstrate a little more loyalty to the lads. You can still call a spade a spade. Just don’t revel in it!

    Just my opinion. I respect if you disagree.

    Go Irish!

  15. The guy has had 6 years to turn it around. Each year he proves he is incompetent. What fantasy world do you guys live in?

  16. Under 30 points would be lights out defense. Giving up 35 points puts ND in a situation where the offense needs to be able to pull it out. 40 or more points, the defense didn’t do their part. So basically, as I said before, the offense needs to score six TDs per game. Just my estimation based on what I’ve seen thus far.

  17. Huge “IF”, USAF Irish!

    But we can all hope that they do just that.

    Even then, I don’t think it will be easy to score 30 points on some of the Ds on the remaining schedule.

    Realistically, I can foresee a couple of more defeats in the best case scenario. That would translate into a 7-5 season, which is just pathetic given this team’s alleged talent.

    While I personally don’t think this team is as talented as some on here believe, there’s no way they should lose to Duke at home or look as bad as they have all season long.

    Hopefully, BK and Co. can turn things around for good and be here for a long time and win multiple NCs. Forgive me for being skeptical, however.

    Go Irish!

  18. The defense made great strides this weekend. It is undeniable. They played like a team, made plays and got some of their mojo back. If they can hold teams under 30 points per game, we probably win out. We have the athletes, and the old Diaco “bend don’t break” is the scheme.

  19. I wanna be convinced (of the D)… however, from this report, they are using BVG’s scheme with an upgrade in personnel. What could BVG be thinking right now? Regardless, from what I read, he wasn’t much of a recruiter. Not sorry he’s gone.

    One more BH/AH to be eliminated and we’ll be better off for it. It could happen. A loss at NCS (not likely) but Vegas thinks it could happen, a loss vs Stanford and Miami, and BK will be playing and praying for his job come USC.

    Next year Jon Gruden…

    GH looks a little ‘over-the-top’ rah-rah for me. Next week i expect to see him suit up. Does he have any eligibility remaining?

  20. The D looked so much better in the 2d Half. You actually saw guys reading plays and reacting to what they were seeing on the field vs. running to a point and hoping someone runs to the same point. It was nice to see the LBs off the line not getting caught in traffic and taking away the screen or the quick slants that Duke killed us with. Just need to keep building on the 2H.

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