Notre Dame Football: Defensive Grades vs. Vanderbilt

Notre Dame football (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Notre Dame football (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame football might have found its calling card after three weeks, and that’s a dominant defense.

Three weeks have come and gone, and Notre Dame football has three wins. After an impressive Week 1 win against Michigan, we knew this defense was the real deal. Ball State did nothing to dispute that claim. Now — three weeks into the season — the Irish defense looks like it will have to carry them in the majority of games.

Early on, the defense was swarming as Notre Dame took a 16-3 lead into the half. As the game went on, Vanderbilt was able to muster up some more offense. Even then, the defense stepped up and made plays when it needed to.

The unit has yet to give up more than two touchdowns in a game, and they have played an integral role in Notre Dame never trailing this season.

Just how good was the defense on Saturday night? Let’s take a deeper look at each position group.

Defensive Line 

The line was impressive early, forcing Vanderbilt to abandon the run much for of the first half and making Kyle Shurmur get the ball out early. As the game progressed, the Vanderbilt offensive line was able to create some holes for the running game and stymie the Irish pass rushers. This had more to do with play calling, and the Commodores’ coaching staff deserves a ton of credit for their adjustments.

Regardless, the pass rush was nonexistent in the second half and that should be addressed in the film room. Jerry Tillery was his usual disruptive self and continues to look like a 2019 first round talent. Khalid Kareem’s breakout year continues, and although he only made one tackle (a beautiful tackle for loss), he was a load all afternoon. Notre Dame was rotating several defensive lineman throughout the game, keeping most of their studs fresh throughout.

It wasn’t their best performance, but it was an overall solid game for the unit. All I know is that our expectations should be high when the d-line plays like it has so far this season. Grade: B 


Much like the defensive line, the linebackers continue to produce at an elite level. However, Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney are playing nearly 100 percent of the snaps — and that needs to be addressed. With that said, Tranquill was probably the best player on the field on Saturday and Coney is as consistent as they come. Until these guys show signs of wearing down, this trend could continue.

Tranquill was all over the field against Vandy. He made plays in coverage. He made plays in the open field. He made plays as a blitzer. There was nothing Tranquill didn’t do this weekend.

It was a quieter game for Coney this week with only five total tackles, but he was constantly in position and made the plays that were around him. He also finished with one pass defended and two quarterback hurries.

I want to see the young players like Bo Bauer, Shayne Simon and Gordon Gemark-Heath receive some playing time to spell the three seniors, but at the moment it is hard to argue with the success. Grade: A 


The safety play is much improved with Alohi Gilman eligible and Jalen Elliott a year older. The corner play has been solid, but not spectacular overall. This trend continued on Saturday afternoon. Troy Pride Jr. struggled in coverage at times throughout the game, but was able to intercept a Kyle Shurmur pass in the end zone and put his hands on three other passes. Julian Love also finished with three passes defended, which seems to be his specialty. He’s very close to the Notre Dame school record, and he’s tied for the most in the NCAA through three weeks with 8 total passes defended.

The safeties continued to their upward climb as one of the best units on the Irish team. Gilman has the it-factor to him, and always seems to make the right play at the right time. His forced fumble at the goal line was something special. For the second week in a row, we heard Elliott’s name in positive ways. A week removed from his first two career interceptions, he made the biggest play of the game by breaking up the last pass of the game by the Vanderbilt offense and sealing a Notre Dame victory.

This unit was good overall, but ended with 326 yards passing against them. Grade: B 

dark. Next. Offensive Grades vs. Vanderbilt

Overall Defensive Grade

Again, the Irish did nothing to suggest this defense isn’t still elite. They only  allowed 17 points and two touchdowns, and some of that can even be attributed to lack of offensive support. This defense will continue to assert its prowess on a weekly basis, and carry this Notre Dame squad to many more victories. Until they allow more than 17 points in a game, the expectations should remain sky high. Grade: B+