Grades: Notre Dame Defense vs. Boston College
Notre Dame had yet another dominant performance in November, dismantling Boston College en route to a 40-7 victory. It was Notre Dame’s third straight game with a victory of at least 31 points. It was also the fourth straight game that Notre Dame has held an opponent to its fewest or second fewest yardage output of the season.
Notre Dame held Boston College to just seven points in the game, and the Eagles got into the red zone just once in the contest. It was a thorough beating from the Irish defense. In the last three seasons (2017-19), Notre Dame and Clemson are the only teams to hold the Eagles to seven points.
Boston College had just 11 first downs, 191 yards of offense and averaged just 2.9 yards per play. In the last three seasons only Clemson has held the Eagles to lower numbers in a single game. Its 128 rushing yards and 2.9 yards per play were the second lowest total of the season (Clemson) and its 63 passing yards was its lowest total in the last two seasons.
Notre Dame racked up nine tackles for loss against the Boston College offense, which is the most the Eagles have allowed all season.
Hopefully those numbers put into context just how dominant the Notre Dame defense was against a Boston College offense that came into the contest averaging 33.8 points per game, 483.7 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, 282.2 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per rush attempt.
Notre Dame employed more of a 4-3 defensive look against Boston College’s run heavy offense. When the Eagles put a slot receiver in the game the Irish countered by keeping rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the box and putting one of its safeties in coverage over the slot players.
The Irish were aggressive with their front, getting constant penetration, which allowed the linebackers and safeties to play downhill against the big Boston College running backs. An underrated key to the game was the secondary - with one exception - dominating in coverage against the Eagle offense. Its inability to beat Notre Dame down the field - outside of one play - allowed the Irish defense to stick with its game plan of overwhelming the run game.
Only two individual players earned A grades, which shows just how good of a group effort this was for the Notre Dame defense.
DE #91 Adetokunbo Ogundeji - Grade: A — 6 tackles, 3 TFL’s, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble — Ogundeji had arguably the best game of his career; it was certainly his most impactful game. The senior did a little bit of everything for Notre Dame, shutting down the run game and getting after the quarterback in the pass game.
Ogundeji made his first two sacks of the season against Boston College, and both were important. His first ended a Boston College drive, and his second prevented the BC quarterback from seeing running back AJ Dillon running up the seam wide open. Ogundeji used power to get a push in the pass game, which is where his second sack came from, but his first sack we saw him burst off the edge and blow past the BC offensive tackle.
Boston College likes to attack teams with jet sweeps, and on the first jet attempt of the game, Ogundeji read it perfectly, chased the wide receiver to the sideline and when a teammate (Jalen Elliott) forced the runner inside it was Ogundeji who made the tackle. His ability to push the tackles back while keeping proper leverage allowed Ogundeji to shut down the run game to his side. His ability to get off blocks and get to the ball was key to his success.
DE #53 Khalid Kareem - Grade: B+ — 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble — Kareem continued his strong finish to the 2019 season. The senior captain played a strong all-around game; not dominating in any one area, but constantly being around the ball and making plays in the run game and pass game.
Kareem was physical at the point of attack, showed good hustle from the backside and made multiple plays on the ball. His hustle strip of the BC quarterback helped break the game open. Notre Dame led just 19-7 at the time, but Kareem’s strip and the recovery by linebacker Drew White gave the offense the ball at the BC 40-yard line. Six plays later the Irish offense put the ball into the end zone, and at that point the game was all but over.
Kareem had another hustle play that resulted in a sack, and another pressure forced the quarterback to rush the throw, which resulted in the ball being short and incomplete on third-down.
DE #44 Jamir Jones - Grade: B — 3 tackles — Jones played a physical football game against the Eagles. He didn’t make a lot of plays, but he did his job effectively, was strong at the point of attack in the run game and he tied Kareem for the team lead in quarterback pressures. Outside of not recognizing a swing route soon enough, Jones did his job throughout the game.
DE #29 Ovie Oghoufo - Grade: B- — 2 tackles — Like Jones, Oghoufo didn’t make a lot of plays, but he held his own on the edge and did his job effectively.
DT #95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa - Grade: B — 1 tackle — The numbers for Tagovailoa-Amosa and the other defensive tackles don’t do justice to how well they played in this game. Tagovailoa-Amosa went down early in the third quarter, but up to that point he was playing a strong game. His quickness gave the Eagle blockers fits, allowing the junior to get penetration, especially when the ball was run away from his side. He came off the ball hard and played with good leverage, allowing him to hold the point well against the double teams of the bigger BC blockers.
DT #41 Kurt Hinish - Grade: B+ — Hinish battled hard in this contest, and his ability to hold up against double teams prevented Boston College from getting its run game going downhill. There were snaps where he was able to use his quickness to get upfield, but the key for him was playing with leverage and holding the point. Outside of losing contain on a third-down quarterback scramble, Hinish played a clean game and executed at a high level.
DT #54 Jacob Lacey - Grade: B+ — 1 tackle — Lacey got a bump in snaps thanks to the injury to sophomore Jayson Ademilola, and he made the most of them. Lacey spent the game playing the three-technique after spending most of the season at nose tackle. He was quick off the ball and competed at the point of attack.
Boston College has one of the more physical lines in the country, but the Irish freshman held his own. He had an impressive instinct play in the third quarter, recognizing he got through on a pass rush because a screen was going on behind him, so instead of continuing his pursuit of the quarterback, Lacey got his hands up and made the throwing lane hard to manage for the quarterback.
DT #55 Ja’mion Franklin - Grade: B — 1 tackle — Frankin played a career-high in snaps for the second straight game. With Lacey getting snaps at three-technique, Franklin stepped into the rotation at nose tackle and used his natural pad level and power to be effective. He came off the line with power, anchored effectively and did a good job plugging up the middle of the line.
DT #90 Hunter Spears — 2 tackles — When Tagovailoa-Amosa went down, Spears was thrust into action, earning a career-high 15 snaps. It was just his third appearance of the season, but I was impressed with how Spears performed. He wasn’t at all tentative, showing the ability to anchor at the point of attack, and we even saw him use effective block destruction technique to get penetration. At times he played a bit too high, but overall he looked good.
LB #22 Asmar Bilal - Grade: B+ — 8 tackles, 1 TFL — Defensive coordinator Clark Lea put Bilal in a tough spot against the Eagles, asking him to do a lot of different jobs. Bilal had to play downhill against the big BC backs, he was asked to play the perimeter throws and perimeter runs, he was asked to play to the sideline and he was put into more coverage spots than we are used to seeing him be in.
In the run game we saw Bilal thrive. He was physical at the point of attack, and when the defensive tackles ate up blocks the fifth-year senior shot through gaps and was as physical as he could be against the backs. Bilal made plays at the line of scrimmage throughout the game, and his ability to use his speed to get to the backs as soon as they made cuts greatly limited their effectiveness. Bilal’s sideline speed overwhelmed the BC perimeter runs, which are a key part of their run game.
Where Bilal struggled, and why his grade wasn’t better, was his pass game production. Early in the game he did a good job jumping a running back wheel route, and he had a pass break up (on a play where he was beat on a drag route), but he was often late reacting to routes and didn’t get enough depth in zone coverage. If not for his pass game issues this would have been an A grade for the veteran linebacker.
LB #40 Drew White - Grade: B — 7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery — White played an aggressive and physical game, and he played sideline to sideline. He did not hesitate at all when he made his read, and it allowed him to consistently beat the BC blockers to the point of attack. By doing this, White was able to neutralize his size disadvantage, which was never more concerning than it was against Boston College, who has a massive line and two huge backs.
White had a couple of missed run fits, but overall he combined aggressiveness with discipline, and his pursuit angles prevented cutback runs. White’s hustle and reads allowed him to constantly be around the ball, which is why he was in position to fall on the ball after Kareem forced a fumble.
LB #6 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - Grade: A- — 7 tackles, 1 TFL — Owusu-Koramoah is just 215 pounds, yet the Notre Dame coaches felt it was a good idea to play him in the box against a massive offensive line and an offense with two backs that weigh 250 and 241 pounds. While that might seem like a poor idea on paper, it was a key part of Notre Dame’s success.
Owusu-Koramoah used his speed to neutralize the size disadvantage, and he attacked the ball all game long. He was physical when taking on blockers, he was able to get off to the ball and his speed was too much for BC to handle. But Owusu-Koramoah also made plays with his physicality, arriving with force at the football and shedding blockers in space.
He lost contain on Boston College’s only touchdown, but overall he played a clean football game despite being asked to do things he had never been asked to do in previous games. Owusu-Koramoah was good in coverage, and his ability to drive on the ball allowed him to make plays in the run game and pass game.
S #11 Alohi Gilman - Grade: B+ — 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack — Gilman was an impactful defender for the Irish, and we saw it right away. He and Elliott jumped a seam route on the second play of the game, and on play three the senior safety timed his blitz perfectly and finished BC’s first drive off with his first career sacks.
Gilman was asked to play in or near the box all game long. He was tasked with protecting the linebackers at times, he was used to be a force player on perimeter runs at times, he was asked to fit behind the line at times and he tackled quite effectively. Gilman wasn’t used in coverage much, but on snaps he was the Hawaii native was where he needed to be.
S #21 Jalen Elliott - Grade: B+ — 1 tackle — Elliott’s numbers don’t do justice to how well he played either. He was asked to do a lot, including protecting against the deep ball, protecting the seams, being the force player against the run and he was used in the slot for coverage at times. On the jet sweep that Ogundeji brought down behind the line, it was Elliott that came up and forced the runner to slow down and cut, which allowed Ogundeji to make the cut. Elliott’s perimeter support didn’t result in him making tackles, but it kept the BC perimeter game from getting outside.
Elliott’s coverage was top notch, including read and jumping a tight end wheel route that had been such a big part of the Eagle offense in past game. Elliott and the other Irish safeties combined to shut down the tight end pass game. BC came into the game with a tight end rotation that had combined for 55 catches, 839 yards and eight touchdowns. Against Notre Dame, the safeties were held to just three catches for 17 yards.
S #14 Kyle Hamilton - Grade: B+ — 3 tackles, 1 INT — Hamilton was asked to do the same things Elliott and Gilman were tasked with, and like the veterans he played well. Hamilton had a great force play on the Kareem fumble. He flew downhill, took on the blocker to his outside and forced the runner to make an early cut, which allowed Kareem to come from behind and make the play.
Hamilton got beat on a corner route, but his length and recovery ability allowed him to break up the pass. His interception was an impressive play. He made a great read, closed quickly on the drag and when the ball was thrown behind he showed the instincts to get his hands on the ball for the pick. Despite his lack of girth and strength (he’s a freshman),
Hamilton played a physical game and was more than willing to mix it up in the run game. He got knocked over a few times, but you had to be impressed with his ability to play physical against a pair of massive backs.
CB #5 Troy Pride Jr. - Grade: B — Boston College challenged Pride just once, and it was in an off coverage situation, but the play was negated by a holding penalty. Outside of that, Pride shut down the BC wide receivers and did a solid job in run support as a force player.
CB #28 TaRiq Bracy - Grade: B- — 1 tackle — Bracy bit on a wheel route that allowed Boston College to complete a 39-yard play to set up its only score. After that mistake, Bracy settled in ad played a quality game. His coverage was top notch behind that, but what really stood out was his willingness to come downhill and be aggressive taking on the BC wide receivers in the run game. By being so aggressive, Bracy helped keep the backs from getting to the outside.
CB #20 Shaun Crawford - Grade: B- — 3 tackles, 1 TFL — Crawford misplayed an off-tackle run early in the game, which allowed Dillon to get outside. Beyond that, he did a good job in support and held his own in the run game.