Grading The Notre Dame Defense vs. Duke
Notre Dame had a strong defensive performance in its 27-13 season opening victory over Duke. The Irish held the Blue Devils to 13 points and just 334 yards, and Duke’s only touchdown drive of the game went just 39 yards.
It was a strong all-around performance for the defense, which got quality play from all three levels. I also graded the offense, and now it’s time to hand out grades for the defense.
COACHING — B+
Notre Dame’s game plan was aggressive and sound. They had a plan to handle Duke’s quick game and dared the Blue Devils to attack down the field. Duke tried, but quarterback Chase Brice rarely had time to get the throw off. Notre Dame’s base defense pass rush was highly effective, and it was obvious that defensive coordinator Clark Lea was confident the pass rush would keep Duke from getting the ball downfield.
The dime package failed to get much pressure early, and Lea adjusted relatively quickly. Notre Dame played a deep rotation throughout the game, which was a good sign.
DE ISAIAH FOSKEY (14 snaps) — A
Stats: 2 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 QB hits
Foskey didn’t play much, but he was incredibly impactful in those limited snaps. The sophomore rushed the quarterback just six times, and he had a hit or sack on the quarterback on three of those snaps. Duke tried to run a goal line bootleg at Foskey in hopes of getting the aggressive young defender to bit inside, but Foskey played it perfectly and brought down Brice for a sack, forcing a field goal attempt.
He was physical at the point of attack in the run game, and with just a bit better pad level the California native showed me he could be a stout run defender as well as an impactful pass rusher.
DE ADETOKUNBO OGUNDEJI (46 snaps) — B+
Stats: 2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 QB hurries, 1 QB hit, 1 run stuff
Ogundeji had a strong all-around performance for the Irish defense. He was physical on the edge against the run, which included a huge second down run stuff near the goal line just a play before Foskey’s big goal line sack. Ogundeji used his power and speed to be disruptive, finishing the game with three hurries and a hit on the quarterback.
Ogundeji also had an impressive tackle for loss on a swing pass to the running back. You could see his speed and ability to close quickly on the ball on that particular snap. He also was in the right spot to recover a fumble in the second half that ended a Duke drive.
DE DAELIN HAYES (46 snaps) — B+
Stats: 2 tackles, 3 QB hurries, 1 QB hit, 1 run stuff
Hayes also had an impressive all-around game. As we’ve come to expect from the Michigan native throughout his career, Hayes was solid against the run and performed well in coverage. He got underneath a key third-down throw, forcing Brice to throw the ball away, leading to a punt.
The most encouraging aspect of his game was how effective Hayes was in the pass game. He had three quarterback hurries and one hit on Brice. Hayes showed good speed off the edge and he didn’t telegraph his moves like we saw from him in the past. When he beat the tackle off the ball he would dip and rip around the edge, something we didn’t see enough of in the past. If this continues he could be poised for a big final season.
DE JUSTIN ADEMILOLA (20 snaps) — B-
Stats: 2 tackles
Ademilola impressed as a run defender in his first game as a key rotation player for the Irish defense. He needs to get off blocks better as a pass rusher, but I loved how physical Ademilola was in the run game. His ability to set the edge and hold up at the point of attack was impressive, and he funneled a number of runs back inside to the linebackers.
DT KURT HINISH (39 snaps) — A-
Stats: 2 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack
After breaking down the film I was far more impressed with Hinish’s performance. Outside of Duke’s one touchdown run, I was pleased with how physical he was at the point and how well he held up against double teams. That was an issue for Hinish in the past, and Duke has a big offensive line, so seeing him anchor so well was great to see. There were two snaps where his ability to be physical and hold his ground caused a Duke back to either run into the back of a blocker or to make an early cut right into the arms of an Irish linebacker.
Hinish was also disruptive in the game. He had one of the biggest defensive plays of the game on Duke’s second drive. Duke had a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, but Hinish stalled the drive with a 4-yard tackle for loss after destroying the guard off the snap. He also turned a good edge rush by Ogundeji and Hayes into a fourth quarter sack.
DT MYRON TAGOVAILOA-AMOSA (44 snaps) — B
Stats: 4 tackles, 1 TFL
Tagovailao-Amosa didn’t have any flashy plays, but he was steady throughout. At times he got washed down the line more than I would like, but he was quick off the ball and did a solid job with penetration. He showed good hustle to the ball when he was away and he made more plays on the ball than we saw from him in the past, with his three solo tackles setting a career high.
DT JAYSON ADEMILOLA (20 snaps) — B
Stats: 2 quarterback hurries
One thing I wanted to see from Ademilola this season was more production in the pass game, and we saw that in the opener. He had two pass rushes where he easily beat a Duke guard and got a hurry on the quarterback, and Ademilola got a good push on a couple other pass rushes. The next step is closing on the quarterback more effectively and finishing off the play.
Ademilola was solid against the run and held up well at the point of attack.
DT JACOB LACEY (15 snaps) — C+
Stats: 1 tackle, 0.5 TFL
Lacey had an interesting game. He had a good tackle for loss in the second half, and he was physical at the point of attack, but he wasn’t as quick off the ball as he’s been in the past. There were a few too many snaps where he engaged and just locked in place instead of trying to disengage or get a push back. When he did try to get a push he was effective, but he wasn’t as consistent.
LB JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH (63 snaps) — B+
Stats: 9 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Owusu-Koramoah gets a higher grade because he had so many impactful plays, but he needs to clean some things up moving forward. He had a crucial forced fumble with the game still in doubt, a drive-killing sack and another big hit on the quarterback. Owusu-Koramoah also had a number of disruptive pass rushes and plays in space. I had him down for three run stuffs, and I was impressed with how aggressively Owusu-Koramoah attacked the run game.
There were issues in coverage that dragged his grade down a bit. Owusu-Koramoah gave up five completions for 58 yards, including a 22-yard gain on the first play of the game. On that snap, Owusu-Koramoah bit hard inside and allowed the tight end to get wide open in the flats for a 22-yard catch-and-run. He was late reacting to slant routes in front of him, which resulted in other catches in front of him.
Of course, he showed his elite athleticism on a third-down pass play where he got beat on a slant for 12 yards. On that snap, Owusu-Koramoah quickly closed on the wideout after getting beat and stripped the ball out, ending the Duke drive.
LB DREW WHITE (46 snaps) — B
Stats: 5 tackles, 4 run stuffs, 1 QB hurry
White had a steady game and was quite good against the run. There were a few snaps early where I felt his fit wasn’t correct, but overall he was steady. White missed two tackles that he should have made, and he didn’t get depth in coverage that he needed to on a few snaps, which dragged down his grade. His pass rushes were also mostly ineffective.
But White earned a solid B because of how good he was against the run. He was decisive, he was aggressive and he arrived at the football with force. White did a good job getting off blocks, but more often than not he was so quick and decisive that Duke’s guards simply couldn’t get a body on him.
LB BO BAUER (22 snaps) — B-
Stats: 2 tackles, 2 run stuffs
Bauer had a better second half than he did a first half, and he was far more comfortable in the base defense than he was in the dime package. Bauer was largely ineffective as a pass rusher in the dime package, and he often looked out of his element on third down.
On first and second down, however, Bauer was more effective. Early in the game he wasn’t as aggressive as I want him to be, but he quickly got up to speed and was far more aggressive as the game went on. Bauer needs to do a better job with block destruction, but he seemed mostly assignment sound and decisive, especially later in the game.
LB MARIST LIUFAU (27 snaps) — C
Stats: 3 tackles, 1 run stuff
Liufau is someone I gave a better grade to than I anticipated. Watching the game live I noticed him making a number of mistakes and getting blocked a lot, and those plays were present on film, but there were also more positives from his performance. Liufau was very aggressive, he attacked downhill and he showed good run-pass decision making. I love his speed and range, but he needs to clean things up quite a bit.
Liufau overran too many plays and he blew a coverage that allowed Duke to complete a 19-yard pass on a wheel route that set up its lone touchdown. Liufau also needs to do a much better job taking on and getting off blocks. He just isn’t strong enough yet to really take on and get off blocks from big guys, so he needs to better utilize his speed to beat blockers to spots.
LB SHAYNE SIMON (32 snaps) — C
Simon needs to be a lot more aggressive and decisive. When he was there were some positive signs, but he was too inconsistent from an intensity standpoint. He also needs to do a better job getting depth when he reads pass.
S KYLE HAMILTON (42 snaps) — A
Stats: 7 tackles, 2 break ups, 1 run stuff, 1 QB hit
Hamilton entered the season with a great deal of hype for a young player, and I worried a bit about too much being put on his shoulders at such a young age. The sophomore safety backed up that hype against the Blue Devils before going down with an ankle injury. Notre Dame moved him all over the field and asked him to make plays in coverage, coming downhill as a run defender and as a pass rusher, and Hamilton made plays in every regard.
He had a key third-down run stuff on Duke’s opening drive, and on fourth-down he broke up a pass to get the Irish offense the ball. He had two break ups in the game where he used his length to get his hand on the football, and his length forced two other incompletions. Hamilton was excellent in the run game, and he had a great third-down open-field tackle on Brice that ended a Duke drive.
The only time Duke caught a pass on him it almost got the Blue Devils in the end zone, but Hamilton made the stop short of the goal line. That turned out to be a huge play, as Ogundeji had a crucial second-down run stuff and Foskey ended that drive with a sack.
S HOUSTON GRIFFITH (12 snaps) — B
Griffith didn’t play much, but I was impressed with what I saw from him. Early in the game he showed excellent route awareness and drove downhill on an out cut. He was decisive coming down into the alleys and he did a good job getting over the top in coverage when asked to do that.
S SHAUN CRAWFORD (60 snaps) — C-
Stats: 4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Crawford had a rough first performance at safety, but he also made plays. He had a key fumble recovery and also did a good job coming downhill on quick throws and the screen game. The issue, however, is that he gave up big plays as well. Crawford had three bad missed tackles, and Duke caught three passes against him for a total of 96 yards. On Duke’s early 55-yard gain it was Crawford’s man that made the catch. The veteran safety worked over the top and had himself in position to make a tackle for a relatively short gain, but Crawford missed the tackle and that opened up the big play for the Blue Devils.
He’ll need to clean up his game moving forward.
S DJ BROWN (30 snaps) — C
Stats: 1 break up
Brown did a poor job coming down and playing a quick throw early in the game, which opened up a 55-yard gain for the Blue Devils. I saw some calling for a penalty to be called against Duke on the play, but Brown not playing the play better made it easy for the refs to not throw the flag. He didn’t earn the flag on that play. Brown also had his own penalty that gave Duke a first-and-goal instead of a third-and-10.
CB NICK McCLOUD (68 snaps) — B
Stats: 5 tackles, 1 break up
McCloud had a solid first game for the Irish. He gave up two receptions for 21 yards early in the game, and late in the second quarter he gave up another contested back shoulder throw for 15 yards. The third completion he allowed was actually good coverage, but the throw and catch were even better.
Outside of that I felt McCloud was quite effective. He was very physical at the line of scrimmage and when he transitioned, and Notre Dame used him to press throughout the game. His ability to throw off the timing of the release by the Duke receivers threw off the timing of the quick game, was is a key part of the Blue Devil offense. That made McCloud an excellent weapon against that part of the Duke offense.
McCloud tackled well and was good against the run.
CB TARIQ BRACY (66 snaps) — A-
Stats: 4 tackles, 2 break ups
Bracy had an excellent performance for the Irish. Duke challenged him three times, and Bracy broke up two of those throws and forced an incompletion on the other. I was impressed with how clean his footwork was in the game, and he was much more physical working down the field than we’ve seen in the past. Bracy was also disciplined in coverage, playing good angles, being patient and he played the ball well on the one vertical route where Duke tried to challenge him deep.
Bracy was also physical as a tackler and taking on blocks, which is why I gave him a high run game grade as well.
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