Notre Dame Run Defense Starts Off Strong
Notre Dame has put an outstanding defense on the field the last three seasons, but the one area where the unit had to get better to take the next step was with its run defense. The Irish ranked 59th, 36th and 51st in run defense during the first three years of post-2016 makeover.
During the same stretch the Clemson defense ranked 19th, 4th and 12th in run defense, and Alabama ranked first the year it last won the national championship (2017). Ohio State ranked 9th in run defense during its playoff run in 2019 and 19th when it made the playoff in 2016.
Notre Dame's run defense has been an Achilles heel for the unit the last three seasons, especially in big games. In Notre Dame's six losses the last three seasons the defense has given up 206.7 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush.
Late in the 2019 season, however, the Irish run defense started to show promise, and that carried over into the season opener against Duke.
Notre Dame played five Power 5 opponents down the stretch of the 2019 season, and the defense held those five opponents to just 96.4 rushing yards per game and 2.93 yards per rush. That included holding Boston College 125 yards below its season average.
Against Duke, the Irish defense got the season off to a great start, holding the Blue Devils to just 75 rushing yards and 2.5 yards per attempt. Duke running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant combined for just 59 rushing yards and 2.95 yards per attempt.
Notre Dame threw a wave of defensive linemen at Duke, with eight different defenders playing at least 12 snaps. The Irish line was physical at the point of attack and held up very well against Duke's big interior blockers. That was an issue for the Irish defensive tackles last season, so that was certainly a positive sign.
The line combined for eight run stuffs and four tackles for loss in the victory, which is quality production.
Notre Dame's linebackers were very active in the game, and the aggressive and disruptive play of the line allowed them to run free and make a lot of plays on the football. Linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Drew White, Bo Bauer and Marist Liufau combined for nine more run stuffs in the victory.
Duke is far from a run game powerhouse, but holding any Power 5 opponent to just 75 rushing yards in a game that was competitive throughout from a score standpoint is a high-quality performance, and a great first step for the defense.
The Irish will be tested a bit more on Saturday, as South Florida brings an offense that has impressive depth at running back and a big physical line. South Florida rushed for 302 yards in its season-opening victory over The Citadel, so another strong performance from the Irish will another positive sign that will tell us the Irish run defense just might have turned the corner.
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