SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Julian Love loves breakups. At least, the ones that happen on the football field.
It took Love less than 30 games to set the all-time Notre Dame record for pass breakups in a career. He recorded his 33rd PBU in the Fighting Irish’s 38-17 victory over then-No. 7 Stanford on Sept. 29. He passed Clarence Ellis’ record of 32 pass breakups, which had stood since 1971.
What’s more astounding is the tear Love has been on in the past two seasons. After recording three in twelve games his freshman year, the cornerback has responded with 20 and 15 in the past two seasons, respectively. The 20 in 2017 broke the single-season Notre Dame record of 13, also held by Ellis in 1969.
“The one thing that (Love) has shown is that he doesn’t panic. That’s the biggest thing for anybody in the secondary. There’s going to be times where you’re not in position, but you still have to find ways to finish,” defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said. “And with the way things have changed — with a lot of defensive pass interferences being called — that’s the one thing you can look at him and say he doesn’t panic at the moment of truth. And as a DB, that’s huge.”
Love had a strong inspiration growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the mid-2000s. That was when the likes of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Peanut Tilman were restoring the “Monsters of the Midway” with the Chicago Bears. Those players — especially Tilman — caught his eye at a young age.
“Peanut (Tilman), he was like a local hero. It was amazing. I kind of had never seen that before. Every time, he’s reaching for the ball and creating fumbles,” Love said. “And so Peanut Tilman is a local legend in that regard. Definitely loved him growing up. Still really appreciate his game. He did a lot for the game. He played for a long time.”
He made sure to clarify he wasn’t watching the film of these guys in his youth, though.
“I definitely wasn’t studying people when I was like 10 years old,” Love said.
Love was a one-man show in 2017. This season, though, he’s had some help in the secondary.
Safety Alohi Gilman has emerged as one of the Irish’s top defensive players in 2018. He’s second on the team in tackles with 76 and interceptions with two — both against then-No. 12 Syracuse. Gilman and Love both play on the same side of the field, making them a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
“When you have two playmakers on the same side of the field, I think their energy and production kind of bounces off each other. They can have a combo back there where one of them can be back there to make plays,” Joseph said.
Gilman concurred with his coach’s sentiments.
“That’s definitely true. Julian is my guy,” Gilman said. “We have similar playing styles. We anticipate well. We definitely play off each other. I definitely have fun playing with him.”
Combining for 137 tackles, 18 pass breakups and three interceptions this year has made Love and Gilman a dynamic duo in the Irish secondary.
“Just knowing he’s going to do his job puts a little confidence in me, and vice versa” Gilman said. “It’s great.”
If there’s an art to the pass breakup, Love has become the Notre Dame version of Picasso. Unlike the 20th century painter, though, nothing about what Love does is abstract. It’s the reason why he became a consensus All-American in 2018 and was one vote�away from being a unanimous one.
“I think the art is being in the right place at the right time. There’s a little luck in there, for sure. But just knowing where the quarterback likes to place the ball and following the receiver’s hands and eyes through it. Nobody likes catching a pass when somebody is punching through their basket,” Love said. “So, I guess that’s kind of my thing. I may not be on top of the route completely or the whole time, but I’m trying to finish it to the best of my abilities.”
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN