Young defense ready for next challenge

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The youth movement is here. And that young war chest of defensive talent that Notre Dame recruited to walk in and compete is… well, already competing.

Spin that any way that you want. And after the Syracuse win, it’s at least a little bit easier to look at it as a positive.

In a matter of a week, the Irish rebooted their starting secondary. They shook up their supporting pieces at linebacker. And they found opportunities to work some depth into a defensive line that was in desperate need of a rotation.

It’s a change that Brian Kelly can sum up in two sentences:

“I can’t remember ever playing this many freshmen.”

And…

“It’s the way I want our defense to look, based upon who our personnel is.”

Leading the way are cornerbacks Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. A week after promising that no freshman would go from zero snaps to 70, Pride nearly did that, playing a sizable role in the Irish secondary against Syracuse after getting Kelly’s attention as a scout team coverman.

“He impressed me. I really was impressed with him. I wanted to play him,” Kelly said. “I thought we should have played him, so I’m making those personnel decisions. We played him a little too much.”

Across from Pride was Donte Vaughn. Matched up (with help) as the Irish tried to slow Syracuse’s game-breaker Amba Etta-Tawo, Vaughn showed what Kelly saw on tape as a recruiter—a lengthy cornerback who may have safety size, but is talented enough to cover.

“Obviously he’s a unique player in that he the size and the flexibility to play that position,” Kelly said. “He’s going to be a really good tackler, and he’s got really good ball skills. So for a guy that’s long, fluid, athletic, he’s not afraid, and he’s going to play the ball well in the air and tackle. All those things are really, really good traits to have as a 6-2 corner.”

While the Wolf Pack don’t have an All-American candidate at receiver, they do have better personnel than Syracuse on both sides of the ball. The offense will be challenged by a rugged and disruptive defensive front while Greg Hudson won’t face the turbo-charged offense the Orange displayed, but a group that’ll play with pace under Eli Drinkwitz.

And after getting back on the right side of the ledger, Kelly continues to want to see progress.

“We will see how that goes. It was good last week,” Kelly said. “We got another really good team we’re playing this week and we just have to understand that it’s hard to win, just look at college football.”