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Monaco: Defense will necessitate aggressive, explosive offense (April 13)

| Saturday, April 12, 2014

Last year, Notre Dame’s defense dominated the spring game with 10 sacks, two interceptions and a safety, limiting the offense to just one touchdown.

Last season, Notre Dame ranked 27th in scoring defense and 74th in scoring offense.

Two years ago, the defense earned a 42-31 win in the Blue-Gold Game.

Two seasons ago, Notre Dame ranked second in scoring defense and 80th in scoring offense.

On Saturday, it was the Irish offense that earned a “win” in the spring game, picking apart the defense throughout the first half en route to the 63-58 victory.

Sophomore receiver Will Fuller lines up opposite senior cornerback Jalen Brown during the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. Fuller is part of a young receiving corps set to have a breakout 2014 season for the Irish.Caroline Genco | The Observer
Sophomore receiver Will Fuller lines up opposite senior cornerback Jalen Brown during the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. Fuller is part of a young receiving corps set to have a breakout 2014 season for the Irish.


















In recent years, Notre Dame’s defense has impressed in the spring game and gone on to pick up the slack for a sometimes-stagnant offense in the regular season. If the first few quarters of play Saturday were any indication, it sure looked like the opposite would be the case in 2014.

The Irish scored (real) points on their first five possessions, four of which ended in touchdowns. Notre Dame led 42-3 at the end of the first quarter, prompting the question: Will it be the offense this year that carries the load, in a flip from the last two seasons?

“I wouldn’t say carry the load,” Irish senior quarterback Everett Golson said. “I think the aggressive offense will complement our defense.”

The thinking, as Golson explained it, is that the defense will be aggressive, the primary vibe emanating from defensive players and coaches under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. We may not have seen it Saturday — Irish head coach Brian Kelly told NBC Sports Network at halftime we were seeing a dialed down version of the defense — but VanGorder’s defense will be attacking. Golson mentioned after the game that he’s been “exposed a lot” by them in practice.

In turn, the offense will have to complement that defensive style, Golson said.

“If they’re going to be aggressive and have turnovers, the downside of that with that risk, there’s going to be touchdowns,” he said. “So we have to be aggressive as well and score points.”

And that’s exactly what it boils down to, even if and when the defense improves. Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt spoke after the game about the high number of mistakes being made defensively and the long way the unit has to go. Junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell said the Notre Dame squad looked young defensively, and in a (semi)-real game situation against an up-tempo offense, things materialized a bit too quickly for the defense to handle properly.

There’s a long way to go, and there’s plenty of talent on the defense, which began to find its way in the second half, as the defense outscored the offense 43-6 after the intermission. But even if the defense comes around, the blitzing and the press coverage will likely lead to miscues, as Golson said.

That’s why the offense needs to be potent.

And it sure looked the part for much of Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire impressed with his accuracy, and the three running backs — senior Cam McDaniel and sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston — proved they’ll deliver in the passing game, too. Kelly said he was pleased with the improved consistency from the receivers, something he thought was lacking in spots during spring ball.

But things became more strained for the offense in the second half. The consistency — one of the main offensive buzzwords this spring — wasn’t there from half to half.

To fully complement an aggressive defense, Notre Dame could very well need its aggressive offense.

And it will be needed on a consistent basis.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike