Is this a make or break season for Notre Dame defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder?
When Brian VanGorder joined the Notre Dame football staff before the 2014 season, most Irish fans probably glanced at his resume and thought, “All right, he has experience coaching in the SEC and coaching in the NFL with defensive genius Rex Ryan. The Notre Dame defense must be in pretty good hands.” And the first impressions were great. We were all excited in 2014 when the Irish defense was great out of the gate, a start that was punctuated with a shutout over Michigan which produced this beautiful moment….
Well fast forward two years later and it probably safe to say that most of ND Nation is pretty disappointed with how the defense has performed.
Going into last season Irish fans had high expectations for the defense, considering it was loaded with NFL-type talent and they had one year of VanGorder’s scheme under their belts. While the Irish did finish better in terms of total defense in 2015 than they did in 2014, they still under performed mightily. The defense almost left you with an empty feeling, like they could have been so much better. With the likes of Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt there was no reason why the Irish didn’t have had a top 25 defense.
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One thing that I have been frustrated about (and I am sure other Irish fans feel the same way) is VanGorder’s inability to change or tweak his defensive scheme. VanGorder’s scheme is heavily predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback with a variety of blitzes and forcing turnovers, which is good in theory, but over the past two years ND has finished 78th and 70th in sacks, and 110th and 41st in forced turnovers.
The scheme also makes the Irish vulnerable to big plays and long drives. I went back and tracked every scoring drive the Irish have given up over the last two seasons and what I found is pretty eyeopening. Over the last two seasons the Irish have given up 46! scoring drives of 75 yards or more. The numbers back the notion that VanGorder’s scheme just hasn’t worked. Yes, one can argue that he hasn’t had the personnel he wants, but he is running out of time and 2016 will be a make or break year for BVG.
The Irish are going to lose some key contributors from 2015, but they still have a pretty good amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball. If the Irish defensive unit doesn’t make considerable strides in 2016, Kelly could have an interesting decision to make regarding his defensive coordinator