In order to bounce back from a humiliating defensive performance against Texas, Notre Dame is putting its trust in freshman Devin Studstill. It’s worth the risk.
To state the obvious, Notre Dame’s defense greatly under-performed in the opener against Texas. This suggestion isn’t something that is magically going to fix the defense. Truthfully, a suggestion like that probably does not exist. That being said, freshman safety Devin Studstill needs to be a starter moving forward.
Head coach Brian Kelly did make Studstill the starter earlier this week, after starting sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian in the season opener. Sebastian, who took a medical redshirt last season following a broken foot at the beginning of the year, is simply not athletic enough to fulfill the needs of a free safety. Of course, none of this would be an issue if it were not for the character issues displayed by Max Redfield throughout his time in South Bend.
Kelly chose experience over talent when he put Sebastian on the field against Texas, which is understandable, especially at the start of the season. But after the results of Week 1, it is clear that right now Notre Dame’s defense needs more talent on the field.
Starting a freshman on the big stage of the opening weekend is a daunting task. It’s much easier to get that type of player on the field in a key role against an inferior opponent such as Nevada, which Notre Dame is planning to do this week.
In fact, Sebastian, who was in Notre Dame’s concussion protocol as of Monday, moved to the back-up strong safety spot behind Drue Tranquill on this week’s depth chart. This move obviously opens the door for Studstill to be the man at his spot.
Trusting a true freshman with a complicated position is not the easiest thing to do. Brian VanGorder’s defensive scheme is not only ineffective much of the time, but is also extremely difficult to learn. In a previous year, Redfield was quoted saying the defense was tougher to understand and master than the Mandarin Chinese class he was taking.
As daunting as that sounds, it gets worse. Notre Dame is not only counting on Studstill to learn Redfield’s old position, but his new backup is another true freshman, Jalen Elliot.
That’s right, VanGorder and Kelly are counting on not only one, but two true freshmen to learn the free safety position. The defensive scheme VanGorder runs is an attacking defense that’s all about taking risks. This, albeit not technically part of scheme, may be the biggest risk he’s taking. But it’s a risk that is completely necessary.
If the Irish are going to be successful they need to play the best athletes available, especially in the defensive backfield. Notre Dame cannot afford another Joe Schmidt type situation, with a less than stellar athlete playing a key role defensively. Taking the risk that the young guys will be able to pick up the defense and learn on the job is a big one, but it’s one BVG needs to work in order to get off the hot seat.