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TaRiq Bracy, Rylie Mills prepared to lead Irish defense this season

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.”

Nate Moller


Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu

Categories
Sports

Irish secondary prepares for prolific Buckeye offense

If Notre Dame has any hope of upsetting Ohio State in Columbus this weekend, they will have to start by slowing down the Buckeyes dynamic passing attack. Despite losing star receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in the first round of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes still boast likely Heisman contenders quarterback C.J. Stroud and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

All eyes will be on Notre Dame’s secondary, especially junior cornerback Cam Hart, who is likely to be spending most of the contest matched up across from Smith-Njigba. Hart burst onto the scene last year, earning a starting job and recording 42 tackles, nine pass deflections, and two interceptions.

He brings good length and ball skills to the position, as he arrived at Notre Dame as a receiver before switching to defense before his first year, and matches up well size-wise with Smith-Njigba. Limiting the damage will be key, but that’s easier said than done. Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns in last year’s Rose Bowl victory for the Buckeyes.

“I think of it like any other game,” Hart said after a practice last week. “I know a lot of people want to put hype into it, and that for players can be very dangerous, so I just try to stay level-headed, and it’s football at the end of the day, so I just go out and play.” 

Hart missed much of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason and was absent for several days of fall camp. But he appears to be fully healthy heading into the season.

The Irish won’t just depend on his performance though. The other cornerbacks, notably junior Clarence Lewis and graduate student TaRiq Bracy will also have to perform at the highest level Saturday. Lewis, in particular, will be looking to bounce back after a rough outing in the Fiesta Bowl defeat to Oklahoma State last year.

Ohio State’s other receiving threats don’t have much experience but aren’t lacking in talent. Julian Fleming was the top receiver and No. 3 overall player in the class of 2020 per 247 Sports. Marvin Harrison Jr. — the son of pro football hall-of-famer Marvin Harrison Sr. — was also a highly touted prospect. The Buckeyes receivers will certainly give the Irish cornerbacks all they can handle.

Of course, the corners won’t handle the entire burden of attempting to stop the Buckeyes offense — the safeties will play a significant role as well. Somehow, the Irish have found a solid replacement for Kyle Hamilton, bringing in Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph. Teammates and coaches have raved about Joseph since the moment he stepped on campus. The expectations are high — he was named a preseason All-American, in addition to the responsibility that Notre Dame has put on his shoulders. But he looks to be more than capable of living up to these lofty goals.

“He’s a perfect fit,” safeties coach Chris O’Leary said. “When you look it, like what kind of guys fit, they have to fit our culture, and that’s not just on the field, that’s work ethic, that’s how they operate in the classroom, that’s how they operate off the field, so he checks all those boxes, and then when you cross the lines he’s a smart, instinctual football player, and all those things fit perfectly within our culture and our team.” 

Coming from the Big 10, Joseph has already played Ohio State twice.

“It definitely makes a difference,” he said. “I’ve game-planned for them before, something that everyone here hasn’t done.”

O’Leary praised the group for being so detail-oriented.

“Whether it’s pre-snap, seeing what the offense is giving us, having a plan for motion and change of formation and those types of things, just the confidence in that area, and they’re playing faster,” he said.

The safeties are a veteran group, led by Joseph and graduate students Houston Griffith and D.J. Brown.

“The three older guys, Brandon, Houston and D.J. have done an amazing job, not only with our group, but with the secondary, of making sure that we’re all tied together, we’re all on the same page,” O’Leary said. “They all lead by example with their work ethic, and they’ve all taken it to the next level as far as vocal leadership and taking command.”

While the group certainly does bring a great deal of experience, they have had to adjust to the scheme of new defensive coordinator Al Golden.

“It’s a whole new defense, there’s a whole different look,” Griffith said. “We’ve got different fronts, different coverages. We’re playing multiple covers sometimes.”

Griffith said communication is essential to the success of the entire defense.

In addition to the experience that the secondary brings, some young players have greatly impressed in fall camp as well. Freshmen corners Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey have particularly stood out.

It is clear that the Irish have a lot of talent in the secondary. But as a group, they are still learning to play together, and under a new scheme. Irish fans will hope they can do enough to slow down Ohio State’s prolific offense Saturday night.

Liam Coolican


Contact Liam at loolica@nd.edu.