It was another impressive showing from the Notre Dame defense on Saturday in cold, rainy Evanston.
At this point in the season, it is hard to argue with what we’ve seen from the Notre Dame defense week in and week out. Obviously, they aren’t without their flaws, and a few spots need to be addressed from the Northwestern game. However, the defense continues to step up in the most crucial times and never gives the offense the assumption a game is out of reach.
Five sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 5 passes defended and 2 more quarterback hurries tells the story of a defense that had their way the majority of the contest. Here is how each unit performed this past weekend.
Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes led the way for the defensive line with 3 sacks and 3 tackles for loss combined. Okwara also landed one of the QB hurries. Notre Dame has continually been able to get pressure on the quarterback with only four, and Saturday was no different. Clayton Thorson never seemed comfortable in the pocket, and although he made some good plays stepping up and avoiding pressure, the pass rush made his life miserable overall.
Coming into the game, we spoke about the one dimensional offense the Wildcats would display without much existence of a running game. Northwestern definitely wanted a balanced attack, and it showed with Isaiah Bowser getting 20 carries. He was able to find some creases in the Notre Dame front seven at times, but the defense held ground more times than not. The only flustering part was the amount of snaps received by Micah Dew-Treadway in place of Tillery.
With three sacks on the day and limiting the rushing attack enough, this unit deserves a B+ for its efforts.
Much like last week, I thought the unit played tremendously without Drue Tranquill out there at 100 percent capacity. This time, the coaching staff called upon sophomore linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath for the majority of the snaps at BUCK. Tranquill seemingly played most of the important snaps — third down, goal line, passing downs, etc. — and was quite spectacular given the injury, but Genmark-Heath more than held his own as a first year linebacker.
Te’von Coney was the big story of the night, compiling 10 total tackles (6 solo) and 2 sacks of his own. Not only was he the best Notre Dame player on the field Saturday, but he also received the The Lott Trophy Player of the Week award for his performance. If he isn’t on the same level of Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith as a college performer, he is awfully close. Overall Grade: A
With Notre Dame holding a 24-7 lead early in the 4th quarter, it is fair to assume the defense let off the gas pedal just a tad. This showed the most in the secondary. For what it is worth, I felt Troy Pride Jr. played his best game of the season, and he ended the night with two pass breakups.
The one big hiccup was made by freshman nickel corner Houston Griffith. After Justin Yoon kicked a 43 yard field goal to make it 24-7, Northwestern quickly went down the field and scored. Griffith would be guilty of not getting his head turned around quickly enough on a seam route from the slot. It was actually pretty good coverage and a good ball by Thorson, but that is a play Griffith wishes he could get back.
Throughout the game, there wasn’t much made of the safety position. Gilman and Elliott played sound football all night, and continue to deserve a ton of credit for the turnaround at safety this season. Overall Grade: B+