Monday Morning Leftovers: Notre Dame’s defensive depth and youth bodes well for the future

Associated Press

Despite featuring a rout settled by the end of the first quarter, this weekend produced some thoughts which did not quite fit into the immediate coverage of Notre Dame’s 52-17 victory over Miami (OH). Wait, that’s the whole point of this weekly piece. Funny the way that works.

The sophomore defensive ends keep coming.
The spring and preseason buzz focused on Daelin Hayes, justifiably so. Hayes has totaled 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two fumbles recovered already this season. His athleticism has shown through time and time again, but he is not alone as an up-and-coming sophomore defensive end.

First came Julian Okwara, earning some notice in the season’s initial third with five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the first four weeks. He did not have an extensive chance to add to those numbers this weekend, because the Irish coaching staff turned to the reserves earlier than usual. Even Hayes notched only one tackle, though it was two yards into the RedHawks backfield.

“We were able to get up big and so a lot of our developmental guys were able to get reps and that really shows the direction of our program,” junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery said. “I’m so excited watching guys who have been through it all with us get in and get reps.”

Irish sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem (53) has emerged as a genuine option in the Notre Dame rotation at the position, providing unexpected depth at what was supposedly a weak spot entering the season. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In this instance, the reserve who made the most of his reps was Khalid Kareem, making two tackles, including an eight-yard sack toward the end of the third quarter.

“Khalid is really emerging in so many ways,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Physically in the weight room, his numbers are off the charts in terms of what he’s been doing. He’s just physically coming into his own. Very trustworthy in terms of what he’s doing day-to-day with [defensive line coach Mike Elston]. He’s earned his playing time.”

Kareem looked every bit the part of a Division I pass-rusher. With seniors Andrew Trumbetti and Jay Hayes (no relation) still large factors in the defensive end rotation, Kareem’s chances this season may be limited to blowouts and occasional pass-specific situations. Entering the season, though, the idea of a rotation so deep a viable contributor would see only sporadic chances would have been a concept completely foreign to Irish expectations.

Te’von Coney may “break out” next season, but don’t be fooled. It has already happened.
Junior linebacker Te’von Coney made only four tackles against Miami, three coming in the first half.

Watching the first few RedHawks drives, this scribe made a note of Coney’s performance, entirely expecting to include a mention of Coney’s evening in postgame coverage. The final stats sheet, however, showed him tied for fifth in tackles Saturday. Two of those ahead of him are the two senior linebackers with whom Coney both splits time and exchanges the season lead in tackles on a week-to-week basis.

Nyles Morgan made seven tackles Saturday, raising his total through five games to 41 to lead Notre Dame. Greer Martini had five takedowns, now with 34 on the year. Coney’s four this weekend brought his tally to 36, including two tackles for loss and one sack.

Coney catching the eye early yet not necessarily getting the statistical shine goes to show how much of an effect he is having overall. With both Morgan and Martini in their final season of eligibility, next year likely will be referred to as Coney’s “breakout season.” That will be too easy of a description, and short-sighted, at that. He has already broken out, even if only in shared playing time.

Chuck Martin’s return to Notre Dame did not go as the Miami coach may have hoped on the field, but he was pleased with everything off the field surrounding both programs. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Chuck Martin on Campus Crossroads
The former Irish assistant took the head coaching job at Miami long before any construction began at Notre Dame Stadium. His return to campus thus not only included reunions with friends all around — he specifically mentioned seeing 40 ushers he used to interact with daily or weekly — but also a look at a venue with some pretty thorough changes.

“I love what they did with the renovations,” Martin said. “I hadn’t been in it until yesterday. Totally different.

“They obviously hit a home run. Inside, outside, the whole deal. That part is cool.”

Continuing the Justin Yoon record watch
The junior kicker went 1-of-2 on field goal attempts Saturday. If Yoon makes three of his next seven attempts, he will set the Irish record for career percentage. Seven more attempts will be needed, no matter if he sends his next three kicks through the uprights, to officially reach the record’s minimum of 50 attempts.

Small, but unusual, gesture from Kelly to McGraw
Between the first and second quarters Saturday, Notre Dame recognized women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw for her induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. McGraw and her team took the field toward one of the end zones.

Kelly left the Irish sideline to spend a moment congratulating McGraw in person. It was a small thing that would go largely unnoticed, but it is also unexpected to see any football coach tend to something non-football in the middle of a game.

Georgia’s defense is good at the football thing.
Per the SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic, the Bulldogs have forced 26 three-and-outs this season, second-most in the country.

Seven of those came against Notre Dame. An eighth does not count toward that total, but it was in fact more impressive. That would be the final Irish drive of that 20-19 loss, when Georgia forced a Brandon Wimbush fumble on the third play of the drive, a different version of a three-and-out, if you will.

Bryce Love is also good at the football thing.
The Stanford junior running back ran for more than 1,000 yards before it came time to turn on Green Day’s fall anthem.

Sure, it was a quirk of the calendar that allowed Love’s first grand to come within September, but to run for 1,088 yards in five games is absurd, no matter what month or months those games come in.

UPDATE: Fighting Amish tossed a question into the comments regarding Love’s running rampant.

“I know Bryce Love has been racking up the yards but I haven’t seen anything overly impressive. I’m not saying that he isn’t a talented back but … is there any way of checking how he did in the two losses vs. how good those defenses rank nationally against the run?”

Yes, yes there is a way. It just takes some time spent with Stanford’s box scores and the NCAA statistics page.

Against Rice, Love gained 180 yards on 13 carries. The Owls rank No. 35 in the country in rush defense, giving up 122.2 yards per game. If removing the Stanford game, Rice has given up 81 yards per game, which would be No. 7 in the country.
USC — 160 yards on 17 carries — No. 67 rush defense with 147.2 yards allowed per game. Removing the Stanford game, the Trojans defense has given up 141.5 yards per game, which would be No. 62 in the country.
San Diego State — 184 yards on 13 carries — No. 47 rush defense with 131.0 yards allowed per game. Removing Stanford, the Aztecs have given up 120.25 yards per game, which would be No. 33 in the country.
UCLA —263 yards on 30 carries — No. 125 rush defense with 284.2 yards allowed per game. Removing Stanford, the Bruins have given up 254 yards per game, which would be No. 122.
Arizona State — 301 yards on 25 carries —No. 96 rush defense with 190.9 yards allowed per game. Removing Stanford, the Sun Devils have given up 155.5 yards per game, which would be No. 74 in the country.

Fighting Amish included, “Everyone scores big points on Rice and UCLA. Has he even played a legit defense?”

No one else runs against Rice, and San Diego State and Arizona State have average to better-than-average defenses. Love is doing this against genuine competition as often as not.

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