Notre Dame Football: Defensive Grades vs. USC

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Oct 17, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell (6) intercepts a pass intended for USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 41-31. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary: B+

The Notre Dame secondary has been largely disappointing during this 2015 season. Coming into the year, they were considered the strength of the defense, but have looked lost at times and been more-or-less torched by a couple QBs already this year. Against USC, the ND secondary was, unsurprisingly, far from perfect. They bit on another trick play (this one a 75-yard double-pass touchdown to Smith-Schuster by way of USC freshman WR Jalen Greene) and also managed to allow Jackson and Jones II to break off huge plays due to a mix of poor tackling, bad angles, and general blown coverages. USC passed for 440 yards on them, and they made plenty of mistakes in allowing that impressive number through the air.

However, the 4th quarter alone that the ND secondary put together earned them this B+ grade. Having to cover a couple of the most devastatingly fast and talented receivers in the country all game, the Irish defensive backs locked in and shut them down when it mattered most.

This turnaround started and ended with senior KeiVarae Russell, who many thought would be an All-American candidate this season. Russell, who has been disappointing and rusty at times, welcomed the challenge of covering these receivers, and absolutely won the battle in the 4th quarter when he made an NFL-caliber interception of a deep ball intended for Smith-Schuster, and then followed that up on the next possession by deflecting a pass thrown his way, leading to a Max Redfield pick. Russell also added 10 tackles, 9 of which were solo, showing sure-handedness in every facet of his game.

Junior Cole Luke had 6 tackles, Redfield had 4 to go along with his interception, senior captain Matthias Farley had 4 as well, and senior Elijah Shumate contributed a tackle-for-loss and a pass break-up. If it weren’t for the second and third quarters riddled with mental mistakes and missed tackles, the secondary would likely have graded out in the A-range in my book. Russell was that good down the stretch, and the rest of the unit weren’t too far behind in their overall performances, especially in the final 25 minutes of the game.

Next: Grades: Defensive Line