Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 19, 2018

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

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Page 18 of 55 NOV. 19, 2018 19 seven pass attempts that targeted the speedy junior. Through 10 weeks, Love was tied for fifth in the country with 13 passes broken up, and Pride checked in at 21st with nine. Notre Dame and Texas Tech are the only two Power Five teams with two defensive backs to rank in the top 25 in passes broken up through the first 10 weeks of the season. This despite Pride missing the Pitt game Oct. 13 with an ankle injury. The biggest jump in coverage has come from the safety position. Gil- man has been outstanding in cover- age, giving up only nine receptions through nine games. Elliott earned just a 61.0 grade from PFF in 2017, which is a below- average grade. The entire safety po- sition combined for just five passes broken up in 2017, and the position group did not register a single inter- ception all season. Through nine games of the 2018 campaign, Elliott had surpassed that production by himself, breaking up five passes and intercepting three others. He had yielded just seven completions through Notre Dame's first nine games. The Irish have also received strong production in the pass game from their linebackers. According to PFF, senior linebacker Te'von Coney ranked fourth nationally among Power Five teams in coverage, and fifth-year senior Drue Tranquill was 14th. Colorado is the only other school with two linebackers to grade out in the top 15 at their position among Power Five teams. Being able to get after the quarter- back has benefitted the secondary, but having a defensive backfield and linebackers that can cover effectively also gives Lea the ability to use more aggressive coverages when he wants. The ability to cover longer also gives the defensive line more time to pur- sue the quarterback. Not only is the Irish defense one of the nation's best pass rushing units, it's also one of the most disruptive when the ball is in the air. Through 10 weeks, the Notre Dame defense ranked 10th in the nation in passes broken up and 15th in passes defended. Its 45 passes broken up already surpassed every season of the Kelly tenure except the 52 it had in 2017. If the Irish stay on their current pace it will obliterate that previous high. During that same stretch the Irish defense gave up just six touchdown tosses, while picking off eight passes. At its current rate the Irish defense will surrender just nine touchdown passes on the season. The production is not only impres- sive based on past seasons for Notre Dame, it is also on par with the pass defense of recent national champions. • From 2011-17, the national cham- pions have ranged between 83.69 (Al- abama, 2011) and 108.17 (Ohio State, 2014) in pass efficiency defense. Notre Dame had a 103.32 pass ef- ficiency rating through nine games. That would surpass the marks of Al- abama in 2012 and 2015, Ohio State in 2014, and Auburn in 2010. • Notre Dame averaged five passes broken up per game through its first nine games, a rate that exceeds all but the 2015 Alabama defense (5.3) when comparing it to past national champions during Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame. • The Irish defense allowed 5.5 yards per pass attempt, which is bet- ter than all but the 2017 Alabama edi- tion (5.4) and the 2013 Florida State unit (5.1). Their 9.75 yards allowed per completion are better than all but the 2011 Alabama defense. Notre Dame has had a great deal of success against the better passing teams on its schedule as well. Michi- gan (20th), Stanford (29th) and Vir- ginia Tech (41st) were the three best passing offenses on the Irish's sched- ule through the first nine games. Lea's squad held each of those teams at least 27.08 points below their season efficiency rating. Michigan had its lowest efficiency game of the season against the Irish, and both Stanford and Virginia Tech had their second lowest rated games. In fact, six of Notre Dame's first nine opponents had their lowest or sec- ond lowest pass efficiency games against the Irish, and another (Pitt) had its third lowest efficiency grade. When Notre Dame finished sec- ond nationally in passing yards al- lowed during the 2007 season (161.6 per game) it was largely due to the struggles of the run defense. The Irish gave up 195.4 yards per game on the ground that season, which ranked the defense 96th nationally out of 119 teams. Through nine games in 2018 the Irish defense had given up 142.6 yards per game on the ground and just 123.9 yards a contest against non-option op- ponents. This context is needed when properly evaluating the success of the pass defense this season. If Notre Dame can continue de- fending the pass in the final three games — especially Syracuse and USC — as it did the first nine, it will have an excellent chance at finishing the season unbeaten. ✦ Senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery spearheads an Irish defense that ranked fourth nationally in pass rush rate according to Pro Football Focus after racking up 164 pressures through its first nine games. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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