Adams: Despite sloppy play, lots of positive takeaways from Monday’s win
Hayden Adams | Tuesday, September 3, 2019
It’s no secret what Notre Dame lost last season on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, interior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and All-American cornerback Julian Love all departed following Notre Dame’s 12-1 season and first berth in the College Football Playoff.
Because of what the Irish lost, there was, quite reasonably, concern for what the defense would look like this season, particularly in the interior line and at linebacker. However, the season opener against Louisville, as up and down as it may have seemed offensively, was actually a promising showing for the defense. With that said, here are five reasons why the defense’s performance against Louisville should give Irish fans hope.
Limited scouting knowledge
While it hurt Louisville that this was the first game of their first season under a new coaching staff, that was also what gave them the best chance of winning this game. Cardinals head coach Scott Satterfield, who had been head coach of Appalachian State for six years prior, sought to confound the Irish defense, and it worked for two drives.
Notre Dame could only study tape of what Satterfield would run with his former players, and they didn’t know what to expect Monday night. It’s nobody’s fault — it’s just the way the chips fell — and it’s only logical that it would take the team a little while to figure out what their opponent was doing, but the Irish did so very quickly.
Resiliency and quick adaptation
The Irish defense managed to not only pick up on Louisville’s scheme after two drives, but after giving up 14 points in the first quarter, they held the Cardinals scoreless until allowing a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. What’s more, they turned the tide of the game when the crowd, in a full blackout, was in a frenzy over having a 14-7 lead. Head coach Brian Kelly talked about what playing in an environment like that can do to a young player.
“Having gone through the routine of going on the road and playing on the road in a hostile environment, those things help a football team when they do it again,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of distractions when an 18 to 20-year-old comes into a stadium, and there’s the noise and the fireworks and the lights, and that’s a lot of distractions. The ability to go through that and eliminate the distractions the next time on the road is extremely beneficial.”
Senior captain and safety Alohi Gilman also talked about the adjustments they made throughout the game to nullify the offense.
“Most first games, that’s how it goes — a lot of adjustments. We knew that coming in,” Gilman said. “[We] knew that they would adjust, so we would have to adjust as well. But, picking up on those things took some time for us, getting the rust off and playing actual football against a different team, getting the play speed. So, after that we were able to settle in a little better.”
A veteran presence remains
Yes, the Irish lost some key pieces from last season. However, they return All-American caliber safeties in Gilman and fellow senior captain Jalen Elliott, talented cornerbacks in senior Troy Pride Jr. and graduate student Shaun Crawford, as well as arguably the best defensive group in the country with senior captains Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara at the forefront. However, the showing for tonight’s veterans wasn’t great, as Kelly himself said.
“There were bits and pieces of really dynamic play from the veterans,” he said. “But we need a little more from them consistently, and I’m sure that they will tell you the same if they were sitting here tonight. There was a little rust there and I’m sure game one had something to do with it.”
That said, Gilman led the Irish with nine tackles, junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was second with seven tackles and senior defensive lineman Ade Ogundeji was third with six.
Also of note from the veterans, Okwara, senior defensive end Daelin Hayes and junior defensive lineman Kurt Hinish each recorded a sack. While the play of the seniors wasn’t ideal, what they did do goes to show just how good they can be.
A new guard stepping up
While the veterans will certainly be the key contributors this season, there are a handful of inexperienced yet talented players on the defensive side of the ball ready to step up and make a difference.
Junior linebacker Drew White, who saw limited action last year when Tranquill suffered an ankle sprain, recorded the first sack of the year for the Irish as well as a key pass break-up, both on an important defensive stand early in the second half after Louisville’s two scores. Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton also stepped in and made some important plays in coverage.
Ogundeji says he believes it’s just as important that the young players play a role as the veterans in order for the team to reach its full potential.
“I think it goes with the whole team,” he said. “If we’re going to get better, the whole team’s got to improve. We’ve all got to get better. We’ve all got to focus on our assignments and do the right things. And I think it goes, like I said, from the lowest people on the roster to the top people on the roster. Everybody’s got to do their job, that’s how we’re going to win consistently.”
It’s the first game
It’s already been referenced, but this is the first game of a 12-game regular season. No amount of training in summer or fall sessions can fully prepare a team for what they will face in a real, live game against another team.
“These are things that you expect in week one, and it’s good to get it out now, so you know who we are, what we can do to get better,” Gilman said. “[We’ll] work on those things, [our] strengths, our weaknesses, and just continue to improve every week.”
The team is going to get better, as all teams do, with more time and experience.
Kelly knows the defense is still a work in progress and has further adjustments to make.
“[It’s about] just technically being better,” he said. “We were out of sorts on running plays and not in our cut-back lanes. Just settling down and being technically better. We’ll have to be better as a group in other areas. We had penalties that kept drives alive. We had missed tackles. We’re going to have be on-body in coverage better.”
However, he says he saw promise from his team, and all he can hope for is that their training has prepared them to withstand the challenges of the season and to be able to grow as the season goes on.
“We had some young players step up today that were really important for us in some areas that were uncertain,” Kelly said. “Some of those questions that we had were answered, and the football team is in good physical condition and came through camp in good form and our ready to take on the rigors of the season.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.