Notre Dame Football’s defense came into the game expecting to play well. They started and finished in dominating fashion.
Notre Dame football fans knew the defense would be good. Most even felt it would be a major strength of the team. If last night is any indication, it could be even better than anticipated.
The front seven dominated the line of scrimmage throughout, and the newly revamped safety core was impressive. Let’s take a look at the grades from each group, but as one should expect, it will be a lot of positive.
I think it’s fair to say this was the most physically dominating group in last night’s game. All of the fanfare was on Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, and they were undoubtedly disruptive. However, it was the Irish D-line that stole the show.
If you have followed Slap the Sign all off-season, we’ve mentioned junior defensive end Khalid Kareem as one of our breakout candidates. He did nothing to dispute that claim last night. Kareem was a force in the Michigan backfield, stopping Michigan Karan Higdon numerous times at or behind the line of scrimmage. He was also tremendous in the passing game, collecting two sacks. His final stat line was 9 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and one QB pressure. Not bad for the former Alabama commit.
But Kareem wasn’t the only one causing havoc. Senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery also found himself in the backfield a ton. Although his stat sheet only shows one sack and 3 tackles, he was constantly showing up on film. He consistently manhandled the Michigan interior offensive line.
Even the depth showed well. Daelin Hayes made a few nice plays, Okwara forced Shea Patteron outside the pocket a few times (and picked a ball off in coverage), and Ade Ogundeji has a nice pass deflection at the line of scrimmage.
The only downside was the early injury to sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. He never returned to the game, and was seen on the sidelines in a walking boot using crutches to walk. We now know he suffered a broken foot and will miss about ten weeks. He could still return for the last two games and the bowl game and still be eligible to redshirt this season under the new NCAA rule.
Defensive Line Grade: A+
Notre Dame’s defensive line stole the show, but the linebackers lived up to their billing as well. Seniors Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill were free to roam and make plays, and both were extremely impressive in the open field. Coney made a nice open field tackle against Shea Patterson to prevent a first down, and Tranquill went sideline to sideline to force a fourth down attempt after a beautiful tackle in open space. Combined, they finished with 17 total tackles and .5 tackles for loss. Coney was also his normal self when asked to blitz, as he was in Patterson face all night long when called upon.
Senior Asmar Bilal was able to make some nice plays as well. He flew to the ball on run plays, and even looked solid as an edge rusher. Notre Dame will need to pick their spots with Bilal, and as we get deeper into the season I expect Shayne Simon and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to receive more playing time. However, Bilal was more than adequate for the majority of the night.
If there was one negative by this group, it was against the pass. Shea Patterson turned to his tight ends a bunch, and there were a few times that the Irish linebackers looked lost in coverage. This was a weakness of Coney’s last season, and something kept him off the field in clear passing downs. Coney and Bilal were better in this aspect on Saturday night, but that should be something that is discussed in the film room.
Linebackers Grade: A-
I thought hard about splitting this up into two sections (corners and safeties), but truth be told, it was difficult to grade the corners last night. They simply weren’t tested much by the conservative Michigan offense. With all the talk around Shea Patterson coming into the game, I was expecting Michigan to challenge the Notre Dame corners more. It’s fair to say the Irish front seven didn’t give the Wolverine offense much time, but it was surprising nonetheless.
The MVP of the secondary last night was Alohi Gilman, another Slap the Sign breakout candidate. The transfer from Navy had to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, but his performance was well worth the wait. Gilman made his presence known from start to finish, and he was terrific in all aspects. Run support, check. Pass coverage, check. Whatever he was asked to do, he excelled. He was a treat to watch in the back end of the defense.
I think the most desirable part of the last night’s game was we didn’t hear much about Jalen Elliott or Nick Coleman. That means they did their job, and it did it well.
As far as the Irish corners are concerned, they played a fine game. Julian Love was beat deep on the first play of the second half, but overall the big plays were limited. The Michigan offense didn’t challenge them much, but it’s hard to fault them for that.
Alohi Gilman was an A++ for Notre Dame, but without much action by other players, it is hard to go all the way up to an A for the secondary as whole. This an underrated secondary nationally, that will continue to improve as the season goes on.
Secondary Grade: B+
Overall, the Irish defense played pretty well. There certainly is room for improvement at the back half of the defense, especially in passing situations. Luckily, the defensive front was able to cover any potential weaknesses, at least last night. The defense doesn’t quite get an A+, but they definitely get an A.