Notre Dame football’s defense isn’t slowing down and Virginia Tech is their latest victim.
This is becoming a trend now that we are 6 weeks into the season. Notre Dame football sits at 6-0 and ranked 5th in the country. For the first 3 weeks of the year, the defense was all everything talked about. With Ian Book at quarterback and Dexter Williams back at running back, the offense is beginning to shoulder a lot of the load. However, the defense is as dominant as ever and they proved that once again on Saturday night in Blacksburg.
The Irish defense had to deal with adversity they had not yet seen this season. First off, they were walking into one of the craziest atmospheres in college football. Second, they were without starting drop-end Daelin Hayes. And third, they lost their best pass rusher, Julian Okwara, to a targeting ejection late in the second quarter.
None of that seemed to matter, and the Irish left on a plane back to South Bend with a 45-23 victory.
But how did each position group grade out? Overall, this was an interesting game to grade. I thought Virginia Tech played a decent game, and on many drives shot themselves in the foot. They had a few chunk plays, but the defense held when it needed to. What else is new?
This wasn’t the dominating performance we have become accustomed to, but down two of your best players will do that to you. Kareem continues his breakout junior campaign. He finished the game with 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, one pass deflection, and one QB hurry. He also created the sack fumble that led to Julian Love’s scoop and score for a touchdown. Needless to say, he was his usual self.
In the first half, Julian Okwara wreaked havoc, finishing with .5 sacks, .5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry of his own. Not bad for one half of football.
The best part about the defensive line was the depth. Ade Ogundeji and the Ademilola twins didn’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet, but they filled in admirably to cover up for the losses of Hayes and Okwara. The future continues to look bright on the EDGE for the Irish. Overall Grade: A-.
What more can we say about this Notre Dame linebacker core? Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney show up every game and produce. They are simply one of the best combos in the country. As a duo, they finished Saturday’s game with 2.5 tackles for loss and 14 tackles. They also limited the Virginia Tech tight ends to next to nothing in the passing game.
The nice surprise of the season goes out to redshirt junior, Asmar Bilal. He gets better every week and is great when running downhill. He finished the game with 9 tackles of his own. It was also a good sign to see Shayne Simon in the mix. He was in on the goal line series that prevented the Hokies from taking the lead, and he had 3 tackles and assisted on a tackle for a loss of his own. Overall Grade: A.
Virginia Tech was successful in the passing game at times on Saturday, finishing with 309 yards through the air. Damon Hazelton was particularly successful finishing with 12 catches for 131 and 1. However, when a team throws the ball 52 times they are bound to have some success, and they had to lean on the passing game for most of the second half while down by double digits.
Julian Love had his fumble recovery for a touchdown and an interception late in the game. He also had another pass deflection, adding to his record breaking career. Troy Pride, Jr. looked hobbled for a lot of the game, but played through it and was effective. He also had a nice pass breakup down the sideline. Donte Vaughn gave up a late score that didn’t mean much, but he didn’t get his head around in time on a fade route. That’s part of the reason he is third in the pecking order.
As for the safeties, Alohi Gilman is as solid as it gets. We haven’t heard his name much in recent weeks, but he is just very steady. It’s only a matter of time until a few big plays come his away again. I also felt this was one of Jalen Elliott’s better games at Notre Dame. Outside of the two-interception game in week 2, this is probably right up there. He will frustrate Irish fans, but I think some of his criticism is unfairly derived from last season. He had two pass breakups in the end zone. On the first one, he baited Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis into a throw and it nearly led to an interception. On the second, he nearly made a sweet one handed grab. He’s been pretty good for Notre Dame. Overall Grade: B+
As a unit on Saturday, the Irish gave up 450 yards. It was the team’s best performance, but on the road in that environment I wouldn’t expect much better. They probably should have contained Ryan Willis a tad better, and the running game was able to gash them for a few chunk plays. When it comes down to it, the defense did what it had to do and many of the yards given up came after a double digit lead. That makes 10 straight games without giving up 30 or more points. Overall Defensive Grade: A-.