Notre Dame Football: Defensive Grades vs. Texas


Despite all of the hype and acclaim given to Notre Dame prior to its 7:30 PM kickoff with Texas, few could have accurately predicted how completely and thoroughly the Irish would dominate the Longhorns on Saturday night. Racking up over 500 yards of offense, Irish QB Malik Zaire and his squad performed excellently in their rout of the overwhelmed Longhorns.

But it was Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s squad that really surprised, holding Texas under 200 yards of total offense (163 yards to be exact). The ND defense owned the young and inexperienced Longhorns all night, recording seven tackles-for-loss en route to allowing just eight first downs all game. This was great to see, considering the defense’s struggles down the stretch in 2014.

Defensive Line: A+

Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) is sacked by Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Romeo Okwara (45) at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Texas 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line came into the game without senior Jarron Jones, starting defensive tackle and Notre Dame’s lynchpin against the run. However, this unit didn’t miss a beat without him against a youth-laden Texas offensive front, as senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day especially had a field day blowing up the line, getting into the backfield, and causing headaches, both figuratively and literally, for QBs Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, RB Jonathan Gray, and anyone else the Longhorns tossed back there.

Defensive tackles Daniel Cage (sophomore) and Jerry Tillery (true freshman) played well in Jones’ stead, recording multiple tackles and making life difficult for Texas’ backfield. Tillery even picked up a sack in his ND debut, as did Day and senior defensive end Romeo Okwara, accounting for three of the four Irish sacks on the night.

Linebackers: A

The second line of defense for the Irish also performed about as well as could possibly be expected Saturday evening.

Any conversation about this group begins and ends with junior Jaylon Smith, who was all over the field as he made his presence known to Texas offensive players. He led the team in tackles with seven and also notched his first sack of the season, sitting Swoopes down right outside his own end zone in the second quarter.

Senior Joe Schmidt contributed 6 tackles and did a great job directing his teammates on the field, and junior James Onwualu added 3 tackles of his own. The entire crew executed well, providing sure-tackling and rarely letting Longhorn ball carriers into the secondary.

Texas finished with just 60 total rushing yards, so between the defensive line and the linebackers, the Longhorns’ rushing attack was completely bottled up. Talented backups Greer Martini (sophomore), Nyles Morgan (sophomore), and Te’Von Coney (freshman) all were able to play significant time in the fourth quarter as well, gaining experience under the lights against a big-time program.

Secondary: A-

The Notre Dame secondary performed just as everyone expected on Saturday. Cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell (senior) and Cole Luke (junior) locked up Texas receivers all night, and safeties Max Redfield (junior) and Elijah Shumate (senior) were excellent, especially in run support.

There were one or two blown coverages that resulted in bigger plays, however, including a big third quarter pass from Swoopes to WR John Burt that, if thrown well, would have been a touchdown. It was underthrown, however (resulting in a 48-yard gain), and eventually led to Texas’ only points of the night, a made field goal after the drive stalled in the red zone.

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Swoopes and Heard combined for just 103 passing yards on a dismal 8-of-23 performance, so, for the vast majority of the contest, the Irish secondary played exceptionally well and allowed the defensive line the time to get to the quarterback and make plays.

Members of the two-deep got great experience throughout the game as well, as Nick Coleman (freshman), Drue Tranquill (sophomore), Devin Butler (junior), Nick Watkins (sophomore), and Avery Sebastian (5th-year senior) all saw time. Sebastian suffered a broken foot, however, and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks, eliminating some of the defense’s already limited depth at safety.

Overall Defense: A

Overall, it was an impressive and dominant performance by an eager-to-prove-themselves Irish defense against a hapless and inexperienced Texas offense. We will be able to tell more about the ND defense’s strength after match-ups against more daunting offenses like Georgia Tech, Clemson, and USC within the next month or so, but Irish fans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season and have a lot to be excited about for this team.

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