One of the biggest question marks for the Irish coming into the season opener was what new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s 4-3 system look like. VanGorder’s stlye of defense is the polar opposite what Irish fans are used to when Bob Diaco was running the defense. So I tuned into NBC and hoped that I didn’t have flashbacks to Jon Tentua’s Irish defenses. But here are the game grades for Notre Dame’s defense:
Defensive Line A-
Notre Dame’s defense line was above average by consistently stopping the Owls rushing attack. The Irish D-Line held the Rice offense to 141 yards on 40 rushes. Sheldon Day lead the unit with six tackles and one tackle for loss. They only negative from this group was inconsistency to getting to the quarterback. The Irish D-Line did manage to get three sacks, but Driphrus Jackson had ample time to find receivers throughout the whole game. They will need a better job of getting in the backfield if they want a shot of beating Michigan this week.
Similar to the defensive line, the linebackers did an excellent job on coming up and stopping the run. But what concerned me was Rice receivers crossing over the middle for big gains. There was a play in the first quarter where Jackson hit a receiver about three yards above the line up scrimmage and it ended up being a 29-yard gain. The linebackers were exposed on plays similar to this all game long. But one thing that stood out to me was the play of Joe Schmidt. Whenever I hear the term “walk on player,” I automatically assume they are a bad player. But Schmidt ended up being the team’s leading tackler. If he could play like he did against Rice all season, the linebackers will be fine throughout season. Also, Jaylon Smith had a pedestrian day only have three tackles. Look for him to have a monster game against Michigan.
Cody Riggs and Cole Luke did a decent job at keeping the Owl receivers at bay during the game. But Austin Collingsworth was missed at the safety position and it was evident by both of Rice’s touchdowns. One the first touchdown, miscommunication by Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley allowed Rice to get a wide-open touchdown. The second touchdown was given up when Notre Dame had their second unit playing, but Nicky Baratti was beaten for a 53-yard touchdown. The Irish need to do a 180 on communication in the secondary if they want any chance of beating the wolverines on Saturday. Devin Gardner picked apart the Irish secondary in Ann Arbor last year with his legs and quick passes. So the Irish safeties need to have better commutation between them seeing that they’re the last line of defense. This is could be the difference in the game. One last thing, say what you want about Farley, but the dude is a ball hawk. He came up with the games only interception and swung the momentum in favor of the Irish.