Irish secondary shines amidst Notre Dame’s offensive struggles
Mia Berry | Monday, September 10, 2018
On a cloudy Saturday afternoon in South Bend, where temperatures barely rose beyond 65 degrees, there was still one ray of light in Notre Dame Stadium. Despite lackluster weather and offensive play for the Irish, the defensive secondary of juniors Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman and Julian Love were dynamic in Notre Dame’s 24-16 win over Ball State.
The Irish defensive line propelled the team to a 24-17 win over then-No. 14 Michigan, but against the Cardinals (1-1), the defensive secondary made the loudest noise and was the difference maker for the Irish (2-0).
“We’re just trying to do our jobs. It wasn’t just the mindset of ‘Let’s go get a pick.’ It was the mindset of ‘Let’s go do our jobs and the plays will come.’ We all stuck to that. We did our jobs and the plays came today,” Elliott, who had two interceptions for the Irish, said.
Early in the second quarter with the Irish narrowly leading the Cardinals 7-3, senior Nick Coleman was able to tip Ball State redshirt-junior quarterback Riley Neal’s pass, and Elliott came away with the ball returning the ball 11 yards to give the Irish strong field position at the Ball State 31-yard line. One play later, junior running back Tony Jones Jr. ran the ball all the way to extend the Irish lead to 14-3, right before the half.
“He had a great game. It was really great to see him [do that],” Kelly said of Jones. “Obviously the biggest thing was for him to grow relative to when the ball’s in the air tracking it and coming down with it.”
Jones’s touchdown got the defense back on the field, allowing it to complete its primary goal: getting back off the field.
“We know we have a dynamic offense and once we get the ball back to them we know they’re going to make a play, so we’re just trying to get off the field and give the ball back to the [offense],” Elliott said.
In the third quarter, Elliott continued where he left off in the first half grabbing his second interception of the game and second of his career. Jones once again capitalized on Elliott’s second takeaway, which earned Jones his first-career game with multiple touchdowns. The Irish also increased their lead to 21-6 with 10:37 remaining in the third. Despite receiving the game ball from Kelly, Elliott refused to take any personal credit.
“First one I had was on a great play by Nick Coleman on the slant. He read it perfectly got his hand in there and tipped the ball out,” he said. “I was just standing there in the right place at the right time. The second one I was just playing post and helping out over the top. Just try to make a play on the ball. You hope with the game plan you’re able to make some plays. Our coaches put us in great position. We have to do is go out and just make the play.”
In addition to Elliott’s seven tackles and two interceptions, Julian Love added eight tackles and four pass break ups for the Irish. While Gilman, the transfer from Navy, added nine tackles, including a tackle for loss in his second game with the Irish.
“Alohi is a great competitor. Whenever you add somebody who competes as hard as he does to your room, you’re always going to get better he pushed all of us and he’s upped everyone’s game. And we’re all competing at the highest level,” Elliott said.
“All those guys work hard, and to see those guys come out here and contribute and make plays for us to win football games, it’s amazing,” senior linebacker Te’von Coney said of the junior secondary trio.
This year may be the charm for the secondary, as Elliott attributes its success so far this season to experience.
“We have a lot of guys that [are returning] that are juniors. We’ve just really been in those big games and big moments where its been tough for us and younger players to understand ‘What’s really going on,’” Elliott said. “Now [the game] is moving slower for us and we’re [starting] to get it. We just have to keep going at it every week.
“We have to come together. Coach Kelly said it best ‘We play nameless and faceless opponents week to week. Everybody is going to bring their best game so we have to respect our opponents to the fullest. We just have to learn how to continue to push and stick to our traits.”
Despite the closer-than-expected result for the Irish, Elliott, Love and Gilman learned firsthand the type of competition to expect from all opponents.
“We play a tough schedule. Everybody that we’re going to play is going to be good,” Elliott said. “We just have to continue to push each other and push each week. We know every time somebody comes into this Stadium and to play us in general we’re going to get there best shot. We have to step up and continue to do so. A win is a win. That’s all there is to it.”