2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 106 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 105 DEFENSIVE BACKS NOTABLE DATA Notre Dame has broken its team record in pass efficiency defense — which first became an official stat in the early 1990s — the last two seasons. After a No. 6 finish in 2018, it allowed the fifth-lowest opponent pass efficiency in the country in 2019, at 110.15. The Irish jumped to third nationally in passing yards allowed per game (168.5) following a No. 44 finish in 2018. An experienced secondary and a star freshman were undeniable benefits, but in the current state of college football, pass defense is also a function of op- ponents. The popular saying now is the only shutdown defenses are those that haven't faced explosive offenses. On cue, the four highest yardage totals Notre Dame allowed came against the four highest-ranked passing offenses. At the same time, only one opponent topped 300 yards and the Irish held Iowa State — the nation's No. 11 passing offense — to nine points. Notre Dame's 2020 schedule fea- tures five passing offenses that finished in the top 40 in yards per game, notably No. 6 USC and No. 23 Clemson in November. DID YOU KNOW? Kyle Hamilton had more passes defended (10) than completions allowed (seven). Pro Football Focus (PFF) identified Hamilton as the primary de- fender on 23 targets. He allowed merely 74 yards, zero touchdowns and 17 yards after the catch. His range, ball skills and ability to keep everything in front of him give Notre Dame's defense ideal back- end security. Hamilton had a team-high four interceptions to go with six passes broken up. According to PFF, opponents had an NFL passer rating of 1.3 when throwing at him. For comparison, a game full of only incomplete passes would earn a quarterback a 39.6 rating. On average, opponents were better chucking the ball into the stands than throwing at him. His "worst" game was against Stanford, when he allowed three catches for 40 yards on five targets and committed his lone penalty of the year, per PFF. 2019 VS. 2020: STOCK UP OR DOWN? Mass personnel losses would ordinarily make for a clear downward trend, but Notre Dame's ceiling-less sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton is back and two graduate trans- fers came in as reinforcements — ex-Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor and former North Carolina State cornerback Nick McCloud. Pryor was Rivals' No. 106 overall recruit in 2017, but never could crack the Buckeyes' starting lineup in 2019, while McCloud was a starter in 2017 and 2018 on nine-win Wolfpack teams. Notre Dame's most experienced cornerbacks are sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford and junior TaRiq Bracy. The latter was a freshman surprise and a rotation player at both cornerback spots the last two years. Neither is particularly big or an obvious fit at boundary corner, though Bracy has played the spot. The 6-1, 190-pound McCloud brings a bigger frame and boundary skill set that should help him snag a starting job. X-FACTOR Houston Griffith figured he would need to wait a bit before his turn arrived. The highest-rated recruit in Notre Dame's 2018 class (No. 43 overall) played be- hind safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, each firmly entrenched as starters the last two years. He now has the chance to replace them and is a front-runner along with Pryor to start next to Hamilton. Griffith played the most snaps of any Notre Dame freshman in 2018 (197, per Pro Football Focus). He then dabbled at boundary corner in spring 2019, dealt with a nagging injury and went down the depth chart that season. Griffith would bring strong coverage skills to Notre Dame's "stud" safety spot. He is a fluid athlete who also embraces the physi- cality of a box safety. PFF credited him with only one missed tackle in two years. FRESHMAN OUTLOOK All but two of Notre Dame's 14 defensive backs have multiple years of eligibility left (including 2020), which meant a small freshman class. Three-star recruits Caleb Offord, Ramon Henderson and Clarence Lewis join a corner position replete with youth after Bracy, Crawford and McCloud. A redshirt for all would not be surprising, but with unproven figures vying for backup jobs at both cornerback spots, any of the three could play his way into a complementary role. Shaun Crawford's return for a sixth year was a boost to an inexperi- enced defensive backfield. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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