Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 19, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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18 NOV. 19, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL W hen former defensive co- ordinator Mike Elko and current defensive coordi- nator Clark Lea were hired prior to the 2017 season, they put a premium on Notre Dame making dramatic improvements in its ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. In the season prior to their ar- rival the Irish had just 14 sacks in 12 games. There were glimpses of an emerg- ing pass rush in 2017, but the Irish rushers have exploded onto the scene this fall. Through 10 weeks of the sea- son, the Notre Dame defense ranked fourth nationally in pass rush rate ac- cording to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Anytime a defense hurries, hits or sacks the quarterback, it is con- sidered a pressure according to PFF. Since PFF started grading teams back in 2014, Notre Dame's season high in pressures was 213 in 2015. Notre Dame had racked up 164 pressures through its first nine games, which put it on pace for 237 through the regular season and one postseason game. The Fighting Irish are the lone Power Five team in the country to have two defensive linemen rank in the top 10 of PFF's pass rush grades, with senior defensive tackle Jerry Til- lery ranking second and junior end Julian Okwara listing ninth. Junior end Khalid Kareem's pass rush grade ranked 28th nationally. The ability to pressure the quarter- back on a consistent basis is a vital reason for Notre Dame's improved pass defense this fall. Through the first 10 weeks of the season the Irish defense ranked 26th in the country in passing yards allowed per game, was third in touchdown passes al- lowed (six), fourth in passing yards surrendered per completion (9.75) and sixth in passing yards allowed per attempt (5.5). The defense ranked ninth in pass efficiency defense at 103.32, which would be the best of head coach Brian Kelly's tenure if it holds throughout the season. While the improved pass rush has certainly played a role, it is not the lone reason for the improved pass defense. Notre Dame has also re- ceived outstanding play from its sec- ondary for most of the season. Through nine games, PFF graded the Irish pass defense 14th nationally in coverage. The PFF grades for the Irish second- ary players is further evidence of just how well the secondary has played this season. Since 2014, the highest coverage mark for a Notre Dame cor- nerback is the 87.7 grade posted by junior cornerback Julian Love this fall. Junior safety Alohi Gilman earned an 81.3 grade through nine games, which was the best safety grade for a Notre Dame defender. Junior safety Jalen Elliott's 76.7 coverage grade is the third best single-season grade for an Irish defensive back. Love ranked 10th in the country in coverage through nine games accord- ing to PFF, and was seventh among Power Five cornerbacks. Gilman ranked 29th among all safeties across the country and 19th among Power Five safeties. Love graded out as the sixth best cornerback in the nation among Power Five teams in overall play, while Gilman was listed as the 13th- best safety among Power Five teams. Notre Dame is just one of nine Power Five teams to have two safeties (Gil- man, Elliott) rank among the top 50 in coverage according to PFF. Notre Dame received good corner- back play last season as well, with Love earning a 83.7 grade and junior Troy Pride Jr. receiving an above av- erage 72.4 rating. Pride has improved as the season has progressed. Two of his three best coverage grades were in weeks nine and 10. During those two games, op- ponents failed to complete any of the MORE THAN A PASSING GRADE Improved play from the secondary and increased pressure on the quarterback have fueled Notre Dame's pass defense success Junior Julian Love's 87.7 pass coverage grade from Pro Football Focus ranked seventh among Power Five cornerbacks and 10th overall nation- ally through 10 weeks. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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