Notre Dame held its annual Blue-Gold Game on Saturday, which concludes the 2021 spring. The Fighting Irish defense was outstanding in the game.
Here are the key takeaways from the game, which sent the defense into the offseason on a strong note.
1. Run Defense Was Outstanding
Notre Dame's Gold and Blue teams rushed for a combined 64 yards on 42 carries (1.5 YPC). If you remove sacks the two offenses rushed for just 120 yards on 33 carries (3.6). Either way the run defense was outstanding.
Even the runs the offense did make were mostly about running backs making plays than they were about big run lanes opening up. There were two runs where the backside didn't close out, but for the most part the defense was stout on the edge, it got consistent penetration and the second and third level defenders tackled well in space.
There was very little room to work, and the defensive line spent much of the game in the backfield.
2. Defensive Line Is Deep And Disruptive
A big part of the success against the run was the strong play of the defensive line. There wasn't one player that necessarily dominated, but rather the entire line performed well. The depth of the defensive front really stood out in the spring game.
On the outside both Isaiah Foskey and Jordan Botelho both were active off the edge. Foskey had a tougher matchup going against Blake Fisher, but he was strong against the run and had a sack to go with multiple pressures. Botelho dominated his matchup against Tosh Baker, blowing past the young tackle with speed moves throughout the game. Botelho also saved a possible big run by Chris Tyree by tripping him up from behind.
Veteran Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa impressed off the edge. His slimmed down frame has given him more of a burst and he was able to keep that speed and quickness throughout the game.
On the inside, Jayson Ademilola, Rylie Mills, Kurt Hinish and Aidan Keanaaina all had very impressive moments.
3. Coverage Structure Was More Diverse Than Expected
I expected to see a lot of man coverage from the Marcus Freeman defense, which is what I saw the majority of the games I broke down when studying Cincinnati. While there was plenty of man coverage in the game, Notre Dame mixed up its secondary looks a lot more than I expected.
In base downs (first and second) the Irish spent most of the game in a two-high safety look. It was only on third down that we saw the Irish do a lot more single high looks. From those two-high looks we saw both safeties coming down in the alley.
The corners mixed up their looks as well, showing press, off man and zone looks.
4. Jack Kiser Looked Comfortable At Rover
We got to see junior Jack Kiser at rover for the first time, and I graded him out quite well. Kiser looked extremely comfortable playing in space, and he thrived against perimeter screens, perimeter runs and in coverage.
When Kiser kept things in front of him he showed tremendous closing speed and played with good angles while also delivering good punishment. He had one particular outstanding stop on a 3rd-and-5 where Kiser came down hill and drilled Joe Wilkins Jr. short of the sticks.
Kiser certainly has the speed and downfield coverage ability to thrive at rover.
5. Cornerbacks Played Better Than Expected
Arguably the biggest mark on the defense coming into the spring was the cornerback position. Despite going against a talented group of wideouts I felt the Irish cornerbacks played quite well in the game.
It didn't start well, as Cam Hart couldn't finish off a deep throw, which resulted in a 32-yard gain. After that snap I felt Hart played outstanding. He was locked onto wideouts all came, using his length and athleticism to stay hip-to-hip with wideouts all game long.
Veteran TaRiq Bracy played very well, as did sophomore Clarence Lewis. I was also impressed with the play of sophomore Caleb Offord, who looked comfortable playing in off man, and his transition skills were better than I expected the would be.
Freshman Ryan Barnes handled himself quite well, including a rep where he rode Wilkins out of bounds to force an incompletion on a deep ball. Classmate Philip Riley was physical in coverage as well.
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