Young group responds to calls to communicate
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, September 4, 2014
For many in Notre Dame’s clubhouse, there was little to worry about following the team’s 48-17 win over Rice on Saturday.
Behind senior quarterback Everett Golson’s five touchdowns, the Irish offense racked up 576 total yards.
Notre Dame’s young front seven held Rice’s offense to an average of 3.5 yards per play on the ground.
Even the Irish special teams recorded 80 yards in punt returns and 49 yards in kickoff returns.
With such successes in multiple facets of the game, most of the worry shifted to the Notre Dame secondary, which allowed 226 yards and four plays of more than 25 yards.
“There’s things we’ve got to get better at, obviously,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in his postgame press conference Saturday. “Our communication in the back end of the defense was at times a problem, which resulted in some big plays.”
Kelly reiterated the importance of communication in his Tuesday press conference.
“Without giving too much away, suffice it to say we have to be more demonstrative and take more control [in the secondary],” he said.
Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke said Wednesday that better communication has been emphasized throughout practices since the Rice game.
“Coaches have [talked about it], and that’s also something we have to take accountability for from the back four,” he said. “We’ve been trying to stress it a lot ourselves, hand signals and whatnot, but that’s something we’re working on.”
Notre Dame’s secondary may have an excuse for its communication struggles — lack of familiarity. The eight players listed in Notre Dame’s two-deep at the cornerback and safety positions made a combined 13 starts last season.
The team’s most experienced player in the secondary, senior cornerback Matthias Farley, switched positions after making eight starts at safety last season. Farley notched an interception in the second quarter of Saturday’s win.
“Matthias is a guy that can do a lot of jobs for us,” Kelly said in his Sunday teleconference. “He’s a valuable player for us.”
Farley, however, didn’t receive the start Saturday, as he was slotted behind sophomore safety Max Redfield. Starting opposite Redfield at the safety spot was junior Elijah Shumate, who was forced into action two days before the Rice game when graduate student safety and captain Austin Collinsworth tore his MCL.
Although Kelly singled out Shumate and Redfield as players who need to improve their communication in in his Sunday teleconference, graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs said he was impressed with the performance of the two new starters.
“I think they did a really good job,” Riggs said following Saturday’s game. “Elijah and Max played really well, which is what I expected. They had really great camps. They played exactly to their abilities.”
Riggs has 27 collegiate starts under his belt, albeit just one with the Irish. He appeared in 40 games for Florida over four seasons. Luke said he has picked up several techniques from the former SEC starter.
“Cody’s been a big help,” he said. “Obviously coming from the SEC, playing against a lot of great receivers, he’s a great guy, but he’s added another dynamic to our defense, plays fast, shifty.”
Luke rounds out the secondary starters, as he made his first start against Rice. Kelly singled out Luke’s poise in his Sunday teleconference.
“[Cole] didn’t seem to be affected by his first start,” he said. “I thought he played with confidence. Really just liked his demeanor.”
Luke said he will try to carry over that cool demeanor to Notre Dame’s matchup against Michigan on Saturday.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but for me, it’s after the first play, everything’s gone, and I’m kind of loose after that,” Luke said. “… Someone has to step up, and it’s my time to step up.”