Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Three Bold Predictions: Defense

July 11, 2018

As summer workouts are in full swing, Notre Dame is getting closer to Fall Camp kicking off. The Irish return experience, talent and several playmakers on the defensive side of the ball as they also enter the second year of the system despite having a new defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure the casual fan understands how much multiple years of the same defense means to a team and how it can turn programs around and that leads me into my three bold predictions for the defensive side of the ball.

Rick Kimball/ISD
2018 Citrus Bowl

Notre Dame’s Defense Holds Opponents To 3.5 Yards Per Carry

Yep, it’s bold, but it’s doable and realistic considering the talent Notre Dame returns in the front seven. Notre Dame might have the deepest and most talented defensive line since 2012, and it will be noticeable. 

Notre Dame let teams rush for 4.0 yards per carry last season under Mike Elko and at times it wasn’t pretty. 4.0 yards per carry isn’t great but better than 4.1 (2016), 4.6 (2015) and 4.2 (2014).

Now, 3.5 yards per carry isn’t elite as 2017 showed us:

Alabama: 2.8
Clemson: 3.1
Georgia: 3.7
Michigan: 3.5
Ohio State: 2.9 

*As a disclaimer, I picked 3.5 yards per carry out before seeing this stat, but in 2012, Notre Dame gave up 3.5 yards per carry, and that was good enough for a National Championship appearance. 

Jamie touched on part of it yesterday (Dissecting the Depth Chart - Defensive Tackle), and it starts with Jerry Tillery’s move to 3-tech. Notre Dame will have a playmaker on the inside of the defense that can shoot gaps, but also disrupt the middle of the offensive line when he wants to. 

The other piece to the puzzle is junior defensive end, Khalid Kareem. In 2017, Notre Dame saw Kareem flash and then take his game to the next level at the end of the year. Kareem finished the year with 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks while sharing reps with Jay Hayes. 

I believe Kareem is ready to take the next step and his ceiling is much higher than Hayes. Kareem does need to show he can be better against the run but I’d suspect Notre Dame gets a quicker and stronger player in 2018. The ability to have a longer and more athletic player at the 5-tech is going to be a difference on the edge. 

The other exciting aspect is the depth on the defensive line. A guy like Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa got thrown to the wolves last year as a true freshman and did better than expected. A year of experience and time with Matt Balis is going to make a big difference. He’s not going to be to a complete player, but he’s going to be a solid football player in the reps he gets, which won’t be too many. 

Kurt Hinish struggled at times last year, but he’s older and understands what’s expected. Jon Bonner is Jon Bonner, and he’s going to get his job done regardless of how pretty it looks. Then you add in the freshmen defensive lineman, who can give spot reps but can give everything they have because there are two or three guys in front of them. 

Finally, a guy like Micah Dew-Treadway could really make a difference if he is able to contribute at a high level. He hasn’t quite put it together but a year of entirely being healthy can allow players to make jumps. I don’t know what 2018 holds in store for Dew-Treadway but in the spring, he looked like a player that could give Clark Lea snaps at a high level in a reserve role. 

All that adds up into the potential to be a team that can shut down the run game and be on the verge of dominance against the run. I would lean towards Notre Dame being a year or two away from being a truly elite team against the run, but I would be surprised if there wasn't a signficant jump in run defense in 2018. 

Rick Kimball/ISD
CB Julian  Love 

Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. Will Be A Lethal Combo 

It might not be overly bold, but I think Love and Pride will be one of the nation’s best cornerback tandems at the end of the year. Love already has the accolades as he was named an All-American last fall as he recorded 68 tackles, three interceptions, and an utterly ridiculous 20 pass deflections. 

For Pride, it was about patience and learning his craft. I said last July Pride would end up taking a starting role in 2017 and this July, I’ll say he becomes a playmaker. We saw the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder make plays at the end of the year and play with a lot of confidence. 

Pride is known for his speed, but he became a physical player last fall, and it goes back to Matt Balis. The added weight and gains in strength showed up, and it changed Pride’s mentality. That continues this year. 

It’d be hard for Love to top 20 deflections this fall, so I think those go down, but his interceptions go up. He missed a few balls last year he could have picked, and I believe he gets those this fall. 

If you want a comparison, let’s go back to 2011. Notre Dame faced Florida State in the Champs Bowl and lost 18-14. Remember Florida State cornerback Greg Reid and the Noles secondary making countless plays on the ball? It wasn’t because they were always playing the routes correctly, but it was their team speed and experience to put themselves in position to make plays. If you have speed and know where the ball is going, you can make up for a lot, and I believe that’s what Notre Dame has this year at cornerback. 

Rick Kimball/ISD
S Houston Griffith

A Notre Dame Safety Will Lead The Team In Interceptions 

While it might not be the boldest thing in the world to those on the outside, but considering Notre Dame didn’t have an interception from the safety position in 2017, it’s bold. 

Mike Elko did wonders for the safety position a year ago and turned a liability into a position that didn’t get torched every other drive. Now, it also helped that Nick Coleman's move to safety worked out and the fact Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill weren’t true freshmen running around in the secondary, but there was significant progress made in 2017.

This spring, we saw the safety position start to make more plays and really become aggressive. Terry Joseph has stressed turnovers in drills and in team periods, and it's paid off to this point. 

Love and Pride are going to look to make plays on the ball, which will lead to deflections and quarterbacks being impacted by tighter coverage. Those deflections, high passes, and rushed throws will land in the hands of someone, and I have a good feeling it will be in the hands of Notre Dame’s safeties. 

In addition to Elliott, Studstill, and Coleman, Notre Dame will have Alohi Gilman and Houston Griffith running around. Gilman and Griffith showed in the spring a knack for finding the ball and causing turnovers. It will come down to how fast those guys can play, but if they play fast, there will be turnovers. 

The X-factor might be freshman Derrik Allen. We haven’t seen him run around or practice, but physically, he’s college ready. He expects to play, and while he might not start, I do expect to see him on the field this fall. Would it surprise me if it ended up being Allen and Griffith starting at safety Week 6? It wouldn’t surprise me because both are elite athletes, but there’s a long way to go to get to that point. Both give Notre Dame athletes the program hasn’t had in quite some time. 

Regardless of who is getting snaps, Notre Dame will have a solid football player at both safety positions, and that will lead to turnovers. 

Three Bold Predictions: Offense 

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