With the offense struggling, Notre Dame football was forced to rely heavily on its defense Saturday. Clark Lea’s group answered the call.
At Slap the Sign, we’ve traditionally graded each position group the day after games. Today, however, it sees a moot point to do that because, well, spoiler alert: The Irish defense gets an A+ overall.
Instead of grading each position group, it seems an appropriate time to appreciate the way that the Fighting Irish defense has propelled Notre Dame to a 7-0 record heading into their bye week.
To start, it seems worth mentioning that the Irish defense has been the beneficiary of good fortune and veteran leadership. After all, standouts Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, and Drue Tranquill all had the opportunity to make the jump to the NFL after last season. Tillery and Coney felt they had enough unfinished business to come back, while Tranquill needed a year playing linebacker on the interior to boost his draft stock.
Nonetheless, all three have lead the Irish defense as well–and maybe better–than anyone could have expected this season.
Others have benefited from the leadership qualities of Tillery, Coney, and Tranquill, as well. Julian Okwara has been perhaps Notre Dame’s best “newcomer” on the Irish defense. A third-down pass rusher a year ago, Okwara has improved on his skills and developed into a well-rounded, every-down player this season. Who could forget his interception of Shea Patterson or his open-field tackle that ended a Pittsburgh drive with the the Irish trailing by 2 in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
And speaking of newcomers, while the Irish haven’t been perfect in their 3rd-down nickel package, freshman Houston Griffith has seen a lot of important football, while freshman Tariq Bracy was forced into action on Saturday. The Irish defense hasn’t missed a beat.
Despite the adversity of a struggling offense, the defense carried the load Saturday. Had the Irish been able to avoid special teams snafus (one that resulted in the continuation of a drive that ended in a touchdown and one that resulted in a kickoff return for a score), Notre Dame’s defense may have just pitched a shutout against the Panthers.
As the Irish offense continues to iron out its bumps, the defense has shouldered the load. With the defense playing lights-out, it will be a tall task for any opponent to find a way to win.