The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had some glaring weaknesses in ‘16. Special Teams was disappointing to say the least. The Offensive Line didn’t perform to it's lofty “best in the country” expectations, and DeShone Kizer had a noticeable dip in his performance.
One aspect is brought up more than the rest. The pass rush, or lack there of.
The Irish defense struggled mightily at getting to the quarterback last season. Just 14 sacks landed them an embarrassing #118 national rank which was easily the worst in Power 5 football. Some fans contemplate whether letting Defensive Line Coach Keith Gilmore go was the right call but with only 3 sacks coming from the entire defensive line last season, his departure is hard to argue.
Let’s face it, Brian Van Gorder’s scheme just flat-out didn’t work at Notre Dame. For example, Andrew Trumbetti, a weak-side defensive end with many starts under his belt, has registered one sack in his career at Notre Dame. A college defense cannot be successful if their starting WDE can’t get to the quarterback. Another technical aspect of BVG’s scheme that contributed to the DL’s basement-low numbers in sacks is that defensive tackles were predominantly “gap-stuffers.” Jaron Jones showed some ability to get to the quarterback but Jerry Tillery, who came to Notre Dame with an arsenal of pass rush moves, failed to register a sack in ‘16 and like Trumbetti, has one career sack.
After the week 3 loss to Duke, Brian Kelly fired his long time friend Van Gorder. There was a collective sigh heard across South Bend. The Irish finished the season with Greg Hudson as Interim DC. Brian Kelly quickly got to work in search of a Defensive Coordinator and hired Mike Elko who lead Wake Forest’s defense to a bowl win over Temple as well as high statistiical rankings. The Demon Deasons registered an impressive 41 sacks (one less than ND has recorded the last 2 years combined).
As I mentioned in another article, the Mike Linebacker often blitzes A and B gaps in the 4-2-5 base defense. Wake Forest’s Mike linebacker Marquel Lee finished with 7.5 sacks in ‘16 which is quite good for a MLB. Nyles Morgan who possesses some elite traits should have every opportunity to have a similar season. Expect Morgan to be in the backfield much more this season.
Daelin Hayes, former 5 star recruit per Rivals, is expected to provide pressure from the edge in ‘17. Hayes saw limited action this past season while adjusting to the college game and coming off extensive shoulder injuries. Many believe he will provide a spark in pass rushing while he will line up in a stand-up end role. Wake Forest’s weak-side defensive end had big-time success last year. He registered 10.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. Let’s hope Dealin has a similar kind of year.
7 sacks were accumulated from the “Buck” linebacker position in the Wake Forest defense last year. Notre Dame has solid talent there with captain Greer Martini and rising junior Te’von Coney. Pressure is also dialed up in the form of disguided or timed blitzes from the safety and rover positions. Look for Drue Tranquill, who is effective when turning downhill, Asmar Bilal, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill to get in the mix as occasional pass rushers in exotic blitz schemes.
With a lot of talent returning in pass coverage this year, if the Irish can force the quarterback to make pressured throws Notre Dame will likely cause much more turnovers which often becomes the deciding factor in many contests.
Expect a long awaited improvement in this department in 2017.