Although the Irish came up short in last week’s season-opening loss in Columbus, there were plenty of positive takeaways, especially on the defensive side of the football.
The Irish secondary held a potent Ohio State offense to 223 passing yards, compared to the Buckeyes’ 683 passing yards against Utah in last season’s Rose Bowl.
One of the leaders who emerged on Saturday night was graduate student cornerback TaRiq Bracy, who finished the game with four tackles — three of which were solo.
Head coach Marcus Freeman acknowledged that Bracy has always been talented but has become more consistent as he matured as a football player.
“From the minute I got here, he was talented. There was no question to how talented TaRiq Bracy is,” Freeman said. “But what he has shown us is that he is able to be consistent and perform at a really high level every day.”
Freeman praised Bracy for his ability to play multiple positions and step into a big role as a senior.
“We have used him at multiple positions. It’s impressive for him to be able to play nickel and then go out to corner and then go back to nickel and to be able to ask him to do different things,” Freeman said. “He’s really performing right now as a senior should, and he is a guy that we are really going to depend on. I couldn’t be more pleased with his performance.”
Bracy was proud of the secondary’s performance Saturday, and he emphasized the importance of competing with any opponent.
“The message we sent is that we are here to play ball,” Bracy said. “Any time we play, we want to come out and compete at the highest level. We are ready. It doesn’t matter what team we play or who it is, we just want to compete.”
Bracy emphasized the importance of limiting explosive plays, which the Irish did well for the most part against the Buckeyes.
“The receivers are going to catch the ball. That’s part of football, but we want to limit their explosive plays and limit the yards after catch,” Bracy said.
Another player who stood out for the Irish on Saturday was freshman cornerback Ben Morrison, who finished the night with three total tackles.
Bracy praised Morrison for his ability to step into his first collegiate game and make an impact.
“We knew what he could do coming in. We saw him ball out in our fall camp,” Bracy said. “We were 100% confident in his play, and it showed on the field.”
Freeman also praised Morrison and freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey for their performance on Saturday.
“To have Jaden Mickey and Ben Morrison play and perform at the level that they did in that game as true freshmen, they are going to be special,” Freeman said. “Both of those players are going to be special for our football program for years to come.”
Bracy also praised graduate student safety Brandon Joseph for being a captain of the Irish secondary.
“He’s a smart player, very athletic and can change the game,” Bracy said. “Having a guy like that along with the rest of our safeties is very helpful playing that nickel and corner position and knowing you have help over the top.”
Despite the secondary’s success against the Buckeyes, the Irish came up short, and Bracy knows his team can learn from this loss.
“It’s football. You are going to win some and lose some. There has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser,” Bracy said. “And if you lose, you have to learn from it and bounce back.”
Bracy is excited to return home this weekend and feed off the crowd’s energy.
“It feels great to be back at home with the fans supporting us. We are ready to move on and play the next game,” Bracy said.
Bracy emphasized the importance of the Irish focusing on this week’s upcoming game against Marshall and not dwelling on the past.
“It’s about the next game,” Bracy said. “Coach Freeman says all the time, ‘one play, one life.’ If things don’t go your way, on to the next week. Get in the film room, practice hard and get ready for next week.”
Junior defensive lineman Rylie Mills, who finished Saturday’s game with three tackles, is also one of the anchors of the Irish defense.
Despite the loss, Mills felt that the defense competed well against the Buckeyes and that the Irish could get another shot at Ohio State in the playoffs if they continue to improve and take care of business.
“The biggest takeaway is that we are right there. And if we take care of business and do what we can do day in and day out the rest of this season, I have no doubt that we will play that team again,” Mills said.
Mills emphasized the importance of constantly improving as the season progresses and competing every day in practice.
“As we go on this season, we have to trend upwards,” Mills said. “We have to go out and dominate every day of practice.”
When asked about finishing games strong this season, Mills stressed the importance of working hard towards the end of practices.
“When we get to later periods of practice, are guys getting tired and wavering off, or do we still have the same intensity as when we came out there?” Mills said. “There’s things like that where, as we get to the tougher part of practice you have to keep up with the same intensity that you started.”
Mills also mentioned that he and his teammates have meticulously watched the film from Saturday’s game to look for areas that they can improve.
“For me specifically, I noticed that I have to work my pad level lower and work my moves better,” Mills said. “I’m my harshest critic, so every time I come away from a game like that and watch the film, I notice some highlights and things I did okay. However, there are things that I look at and realize I can do better. I just look at those and I know if I can really perfect that, I can be that much greater next week.”
Mills acknowledged that the defense was firing on all cylinders in the first half of Saturday’s game, and he hopes that the defense can replicate that performance going forward.
“The biggest positive is for the first half of football, we were stopping them. We were stopping the run and dominating the guy in front of us and working moves to get to the quarterback,” Mills said.
Mills believes the Irish are capable of bouncing back this season and getting another shot at Ohio State in the playoffs.
“If we just keep preparing and being intense in practice and focusing on finishing, at the end of the season we will play those guys again,” Mills said. “I know we will be way more prepared and ready to go.”
Like Bracy, Mills is excited to be back in front of the home crowd this Saturday.
“I’m super pumped for it. It’s always great when you are at home and you have the crowd on your side,” Mills said. “Last week they weren’t cheering when we were moving down the field, so it will be nice to have that.”