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Notre Dame Football: Slowly but Surely the Defense is Improving

Since the firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, the Irish defense has stepped up its game.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After Notre Dame’s soul crushing loss to Duke, a game where the Irish gave up 38 points and 500 yards, you probably would never have thought that the defense would turn into a strength of this team. That would have been a crazy enough thought to get you locked up. Well fast forward three weeks and the defense has morphed itself into a competent unit.

Through the first four games Notre Dame was giving up 33.5 point a game. Over the last three games the Irish defense is giving up an average of 15.3 points per game, and over their last 10 quarters they’re giving up just an average of 11 points.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The yards are way down as well. In the first four games, opponents were averaging 454 yards per game. Since BVG’s departure, the Irish are allowing just 327.6 yards per game.

They have got a bit lucky having to play NC State in a hurricane which made it almost impossible to play offense. They also were fortunate to face a McCaffrey-less Stanford team. Even so, the defense has stepped up and played much better over the past three games. It could be argued that if the defense played this way through the first four games when the offense was humming, the Irish would be in a much better position right now.

With BVG gone the scheme is now much more simplified. Greer Martini said it best the week of the NC State game.

“We have less plays, but we know those plays better,” Martini said.

Notre Dame has played a much more Diaco-like defense, in that the goal is keep the points down and don’t allow the big play. Big plays were something that always plagued BVG-led defenses, and the switch to the more simplified scheme has helped keep those big plays to a minimum. Since halftime of the Syracuse game, the longest play the Irish defense has given up was a 28 yard run vs. NC State.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It makes you wonder if Brian Kelly would have pulled the plug on BVG last January after the Fiesta Bowl would Notre Dame be in their current state? That’s a question for another time though.

Like it or not Irish fans, Kelly will be back next season. They’re not going to can him after one bad season. He’s going to bring in a new defensive coordinator. Kelly is going to make sure he chooses the right guy this time because this will be by far his biggest hire as head coach.

If whoever comes in and coaches the defense up the right way, then the Irish will be a dangerous team next season. If my math is right, there are currently 49 players on the two-deep that have eligibility for next season. Not only will Notre Dame be bringing back an experienced team, but also a pretty talented team as well.

The Irish have five games remaining and while a bowl game might be a tough goal to reach, the ultimate goal at this point should be to keep improving on both sides of the ball week in and week out. The defense has for the past three weeks. Now it’s your turn offense.