Notre Dame football is 7-0 for the first time since the 2012 season. Before we look ahead to the final five games on the schedule, we thought it best to spend the idle week reflecting on the first seven games.
As far as wins and losses go, the Notre Dame football team could not have done better through seven weeks of the college football season. The Irish are undefeated and in complete control of their College Football Playoff destiny.
A large part of Notre Dame’s success thus far can be attributed to the strong play of their defense. The Irish are currently ranked 16th in defensive efficiency and have held their opponents to 4.4 yards per play.
You can find impact players on every level of this defense. This makes it difficult for opposing offenses to game plan against Notre Dame. Here is how we graded each defensive position group through the first seven weeks of the 2018 season.
Defensive Line: A
This was probably the easiest position group to grade. Notre Dame is loaded along the defensive line this season. This is the most talented group on this Irish defense, and that has been evident in each of the first seven games.
Led by potential first-round draft pick Jerry Tillery, who already has seven sacks this year, the Notre Dame defensive line has been very disruptive. They have been able to consistently generate pressure despite dealing with a surprising amount of uncalled holding penalties.
This position group does not just have one or two players who account for the majority of the production, either. They have a solid rotation with quality depth. Three defensive lineman have recorded more than 20 quarterback hurries (by some measurements) in the first seven games.
The ability to give your starters some rest every couple of series without worrying about a significant dip in production is a huge luxury. Notre Dame’s defensive line rotation helps keep their players fresh into the late stages of the game, where they have been able to close out opponents.
The return Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill solidified this position group on the Irish defense. They also established a high floor for the expected production of the linebacker corps. It comes as no surprise that these two lead the team in tackles and are top-five on the team in tackles for loss.
The only thing keeping the grade for this group outside of the A-range is depth. Outside of the starting trio of Coney, Tranquill, and starting rover Asmar Bilal, there is a lot of inexperience on the linebacker roster. That, along with a slew of close games, has resulted in a heavy workload for guys like Coney and Tranquill.
Working with the defensive line, the Irish linebackers have propelled this defense into the top 25 in yards per rush attempt allowed. They have held their own in pass coverage as well.
Irish fans can commend former linebackers coach and current defensive coordinator Clark Lea for getting this group ready for the 2018 season.
Expectations for Notre Dame’s starting cornerbacks this season were relatively high. It has been a while since the Irish have had a duo as talented as Troy Pride Jr. and Julian Love. For the most part, Pride and Love have met those expectations.
Through seven games, Notre Dame’s pass defense has been stout, allowing just 5.6 yards per pass attempt. Naturally, the cornerbacks have played a pivotal role in the team’s success in that area.
Love and Pride Jr. have combined for 18 pass breakups and three interceptions. In week five, Love broke Notre Dame’s record for career pass breakups. Love also has three fumble recoveries, including one that he returned 42 yards for a touchdown in the game against Virginia Tech.
Similar to the linebacker position, my grade for the cornerbacks was weighed down due to a lack of depth. Notre Dame’s third and fourth cornerbacks on the depth chart are Donte Vaughn and TaRiq Bracy. Vaughn has not shown enough improvement over the past couple of years to earn him more playing time. Bracy is a true freshman with a promising future, but he still has to make progress in the weight room before he has the size and strength that is required of college cornerbacks.
Leading up to the start of the 2018 season, there was plenty of buzz around the Notre Dame debut of Alohi Gilman. Through seven games, I think Gilman has lived up to the hype. He has spent most of his snaps playing alongside Jalen Elliott. There was a competition at the strong safety position this past offseason, but Elliott earned the starting job and has shown improvement from last season.
Through seven games, Elliott and Gilman have combined for seven pass breakups and a few key turnovers. Elliot had two interceptions in the Ball State game, which gave the Irish offense some much-needed extra possessions. Gilman forced a fumble that undoubtedly took points off the board for Vanderbilt in what was a very close game.
The two starting safeties have played well enough to earn a grade in the B to B+ range. However, I am factoring in the play of the nickelback position in my overall grade here. At that position, Clark Lea has not seen the level of play he was hoping for. In all fairness, the player receiving the majority of snaps at that position has been true freshman Houston Griffith. As the season progresses and he gains more experience, we should see Griffith improve.
The defense has been the strength of this team through the first seven weeks of the 2018 season. With all of the talent on that side of the ball, we can expect that to continue through the final five weeks of the regular season.