After heartbreaking losses it’s easy to make knee jerk reactions such as “HE SHOULD BE FIRED!” and most of the time they are exactly that, knee jerk reactions. After Sunday night’s gut wrenching defeat to Texas many of the Irish faithful, myself included, were yelling for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s job, and quite frankly this isn’t a knee jerk reaction.
We’ve been seeing the same old, same old from the Irish defense for the past two seasons, and now one game into year three it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. The Irish were torched by the high tempo Texas attack on Sunday night to the tune of 50 points and 517 yards. Surprisingly that isn’t even the worst performance in the BVG era, but there are more numbers on that later.
This BVG led defense has been this way ever since after his coming out party against Michigan in 2014, which was only the second game of his tenure. His ND tenure started off fast and tapered right off.
You can’t blame ND’s defensive performances on a lack of talent either because over the last two seasons they’ve had the likes of Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, KeiVarae Russell, Romeo Okwara, Isaac Rochell as well as a few others. They’ve actually produced some solid individual players. So how does having all these great players not add up to having a great defense? It’s all about the scheme and coaching at that point.
When BVG was hired we were all told that Notre Dame would have an aggressive attacking type defense. Which at the time sounded great after four years of a vanilla type defense under Bob Diaco. Well two years and one game into BVG’s tenure we have seen a more aggressive defense, but it has not produced any results whatsoever. This defense doesn’t force turnovers and doesn’t get a lot of sacks. Also in the process of being so aggressive, it leaves your corners out on an island. So it really isn’t much of a surprise that this ND defense is so prone to giving up so many big plays and drives.
Speaking of long drives, I did a little digging for you and found how many 75+ yard scoring drives Notre Dame has given up since the 2014 season and the number is staggering. Since 2014, a 27 game span, the Irish have given up 50, thats FIFTY scoring drives of 75+ yards, including four on Sunday night. To put that in perspective, the Irish gave up just seven scoring drives of 75+ yards in all of 2012.
The type of defense that would be perfect for this year’s Irish team would be the kind that Irish fans started to get tired of with Diaco. A bend-but-don’t-break, keep everything in front of you type of scheme. The Irish offense is so good now that they can score 40 points a game. A more conservative type of approach on defense would do wonders.
Here are some numbers provided by OFD’s own Martin Sweigert to compare Diaco’s more conservative approach to BVG’s aggressive style.
Diaco: 37-15 (.712)
BVG: 18-9 (.667)
Opp. Points per game:
Opp. YDS per game:
Opp. TO per game:
ND Offense Points per game: (arguing that BVG has to do even less to win than Diaco did)
Games over 500 yards allowed:
Diaco: 3 (5.8% of games) (Michigan 2010, Air Force 2011, Alabama 2012) (1-2)
BVG: 5 (18.5% of games) (UNC 2014, NW 2014, USC 2014, USC 2015, Texas 2016) (2-3)
Games over 30 pts allowed:
Diaco: 11 (21.2% of games)
BVG: 11 (41% of games)
Games less than 10 allowed
Diaco: 8 (15.4% of games)
BVG: 3 (11.1%)
Highest yards allowed:
Diaco: 565 - Air Force 2011 (W, ND 560 yds)
BVG: 590 - USC 2015 (W, ND 476 yds)
Highest points allowed:
Diaco: 42 - Alabama 2012
BVG: 55 - Arizona State 2014
Sacks per game:
As you can tell things have actually gotten worse since the BVG takeover, and one could argue that the talent level is better or at least the same with BVG than what Diaco had to work with.
So this begs the question, is it time for Notre Dame to make a change on the defensive coaching staff? The answer absolutely has to be yes.
Brian Kelly could have made a change after last season, but he believed the narrative that BVG hadn’t had the personnel he needed in the first two seasons. Well if you believe anything Kelly and the media members that follow the Irish have to say, BVG finally has the personnel he needs to run his type of defense in year three. If Sunday night is any indication having the right personnel doesn’t matter, the defense is still poorly coached and the scheme just doesn’t work.
The Irish have too good of an offense to waste with a poor defense. It’s like a baseball team with a murderers row lineup, and a pitching staff that can’t get out of it’s own way. It’s a total waste.
Changes are needed on the defensive coaching staff, but will Kelly make them? That’s a whole different and probably shorter conversation.