If you haven’t yet read the offensive version of this, then do it right now. Not just because all of the things detailed within are 100% going to happen, but it gives a good little primer to what I’m doing here. Basically, I’m telling you what’s going to happen before the season starts to get rid of the some of the suspense.
If you didn’t click the link, Ian Book is setting completion percentage records, Chase Claypool and Chris Finke are going big, it’s running back by committee, and guess what, lots of points for the good guys. As I said in the piece about the offense, I had been less optimistic about that group than most on the Notre Dame beat, but I came around at the end. Too many weapons, too much experience.
Unlike the offense where everything is pretty much set, the defense has one major position group still up the air: linebacker. The good news is there isn’t a shortage of bodies and talent. The bad news is there is a shortage of players who we know can play at a high level. But, I’ve got a hunch about how that group will play out long term. Stay tuned for that.
The School Record For Team Sacks Is 41, Set In 1996. Bye Bye!
When looking back at that 1996 defense, it’s easy to understand why they got to the quarterback so often. Those boys were some monsters! Kory Minor, Bert Berry, Renaldo Wynn, Melvin Dansby, Kinnon Tatum, and Lyron Cobbins. Pass rushers and disruptors at every level. Unfortunately for them, their record goes away this season.
Notre Dame tallied 34 sacks last year, and that was with Julian Okwara missing out on about two dozen, an oft-injured Khalid Kareem, and a still improving Ade Ogundeji. All three of those players return, plus senior Daelin Hayes, to form the best collection of pass-rushing talent since that 1996 squad.
Okwara has his sights set on the individual school record for sacks of 13.5, set by Justin Tuck in 2003. In fact, his goal is to shatter the record; he wants 18-19 sacks in 2019. Let’s say for the sake of argument he gets to 15. That’d make up the difference from 34 to 41 if all else is equal, although he’d likely be taking some sacks away from other players if that were the case.
A factor here is I think Notre Dame is likely to be ahead a lot; therefore teams will be passing more often, and Notre Dame is going to be aggressive with their linebackers, giving them more opportunities to make plays in the backfield while relying on their stellar safety play to clean things up. Great players + scheme+ being in the lead= over 41 sacks in 2019.
Shayne Simon Starts At Middle Linebacker In Week 4 And Doesn’t Look Back
In the previous article, I talked about some of these being educated guesses and some being total speculation. This one falls into the latter category. Simon has been all over the defense in the last eight months. He was a Rover, and then he moved to Buck in the spring, and finally has been slotted at Mike for the better part of the summer and fall. He is flashing the athleticism that made him a top prospect regularly, but things haven’t totally clicked for him. That has allowed Drew White, who the coaches have liked since last season, to move into the starting Mike linebacker spot.
The book on Simon is he’s extremely aggressive but gets caught doing the wrong thing too often and does not yet have the grasp of the defense or the position the way White does. For his part, White is a solid player who knows what he’s doing and can call out the defense. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Te’Von Coney/Greer Martini situation from 2017. Remember, Coney did not start at linebacker for many of the same reasons Simon will not next week. But, when he was inserted, he made plays over and over again, to the point where it was not feasible to keep him out of the lineup.
So why week 4? Because that’s the game right after Georgia, which is likely to be very linebacker heavy given how much Georgia will run the ball, and being assignment sound will be at a premium, which is what Drew White is. However, once Notre Dame moves past that week, it’ll be the Simon show. He will not take over entirely for White, it’ll be a three-man rotation for two spots, as it was in 2017.
Kyle Hamilton Will Lead The Team In Interceptions
Come on; you had to know I was going there.
The first thing he has to do to accomplish this is be on the field, and with Notre Dame likely to be leading lots of games, that means the nickel defense, as teams are going to have to throw to get back in it. Which means Kyle Hamilton roaming the secondary. So the opportunity will be there.
Allegedly Hamilton brought in 15 interceptions throughout fall camp, too much to be considered a fluke. Clearly he’s got some sort of talent for getting his hands on the football. It’s not easy to intercept passes from division 1 quarterbacks, certainly not in your initial steps onto the field. Whatever you gifts you need to get to the ball Hamilton has got them.
Lastly, he’s got one of the best pass rushes in front of him harassing quarterbacks and causing them to throw the ball before they are ready. Poor decisions will be made, chances will be taken, and Hamilton will be there to snatch up anything ill advised from opposing quarterbacks.