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Concannon: Irish secondary will prove themselves against Trojans

| Friday, October 11, 2019

The Irish have some of the most feared defensive backs in all of college football. Senior safety Jalen Elliott, junior safety Alohi Gilman and junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. are all returning starters and NFL prospects. Freshman defensive back Kyle Hamilton, freshman defesnive back Houston Griffith and the injured graduate student cornerback Shaun Crawford have provided excellent play in support. They have all combined for six interceptions, and conceded the 40th least passing yards of any team in the FBS.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish defensive linebacker Myron Tagouvailoa-Amosa rushes the passer during Notre Dame’s 52-0 victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 5 at Notre Dame Stadium.

All of this is great, but they have not been tested like they will this weekend. Georgia and Virginia are likely better teams than USC, but neither have the talent at wide receiver that the Trojans will bring to South Bend this Saturday. Senior Michael Pittman already has four touchdowns, while redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown provide elite secondary options at wide receiver. The Trojans have thrown for 292 yards per game this season, 30 more than anyone else the Irish have played to date.

This is going to be a “prove it” game for the Irish secondary. In last year’s Cotton Bowl, the defense largely folded once star cornerback Julian Love exited the game. This group needs all hands on deck without Crawford. When USC comes out in three wide receiver sets, players like Hamilton and Griffith will need to be ready to cover NFL-type wide receivers, a task they not been asked to do this season.

I am extremely excited to see it. If this team is as good as many think it is, this is a matchup the Irish must win. Gilman and Elliott must prove why they are among the best safety duos in college football. The defensive line must force Trojans freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis to get the ball out of his hands quickly, just like they have the past two weeks. This secondary cannot get picked on by a backup quarterback.

The key for the Irish to ensure they win here will not lie with the defense’s stalwarts. I have confidence in Pride to cover one-on-one, and for Gilman and Elliott to make all the right plays at safety. It will come down to whether senior cornerback Donte Vaughn is ready to cover USC’s players and whether Hamilton can play as well against USC as he did against New Mexico. It will come down to outside linebackers stepping up and making plays against the pass. All of the unsung heroes of Notre Dame’s defense have to chip in when the Trojans come out with three or more receivers.

I have extreme faith in defensive coordinator Clark Lea to set the Irish up for success. The job he has done with the defense has been nothing short of miraculous. If he can design a game plan for Notre Dame’s inexperienced linebackers against Georgia, he certainly can find a way for the secondary to be ready to face USC’s high-flying offense. No matter who is in at cornerback, with Lea pushing all of the right buttons, they are going to be in a position where they can make plays.

Considering how the starters have played as of late, and Lea’s ability to get the most out of inexperienced players, I have full confidence the Irish secondary is going to prove it this weekend and get Notre Dame’s defense the national respect it deserves.

USC threw for just 163 yards last weekend, a season low by over 100 yards. The Irish secondary are going to hold them to right around this area. They are going to force turnovers and they are going to be the dominant force in this game. They are going to show the country that you do not come into Notre Dame Stadium and throw the ball on this defense.

When the Irish safeties realize their NFL dreams in a few months, this is going to be the game scouts point at. To be the best, you have to compete against the best. The USC passing game against the Irish secondary is the best matchup to watch this weekend, and it’s going to be a favorable one for the Irish.

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