Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

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

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32 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S ometimes a tag-team part- nership in football is ideal. And sometimes it is not. In 2020, the Notre Dame line- backer corps experienced both. The middle linebacker po- sition had a productive pla- toon between Drew White and Bo Bauer. White was effective usually the first two downs (460 snaps), and in third-down/nickel packages Bauer (275) was successful in his function as well. They combined for 83 stops, including 13.5 for lost yardage. At Buck linebacker — now renamed Will under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman — the "by committee" ap- proach had shining individual mo- ments, but was not nearly as consis- tent among Shayne Simon (297 snaps), Marist Liufau (206) and Jack Kiser (129). Not everyone can be as dominant as the graduated Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, whose 647 snaps indicated he could not be taken off the field, other than in blowouts. Still, 2018-20 defensive coordinator Clark Lea typically squeezed out top production collectively from his posi- tion group and overall defense. For the first time since 1969-71, Notre Dame finished among the top 15 in fewest points allowed per game three straight years. "You've got to be a crazy person to come in here and say, 'We're going to change what you've done,'" Freeman said. "Ultimately, all I care about is that we put our guys in a position to be successful and play fast. I'm not going to try to trick people. … My job is don't confuse [our players]." LINEBACKERS 2021 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY THE NUMBERS 5 Finalists for the 2020 Broyles Award, which is bestowed on college foot- ball's top assistant coach. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Free- man, now at Notre Dame, was among them. The Bearcats' 2020 defense ranked fourth nationally in yards per play (4.57), eighth in scoring (16.8) and third in the Fremeau Efficiency Index, plus sixth in SP+. 6 Tackles recorded by Marist Liufau in both the ACC Championship versus Clemson and the Rose Bowl against Alabama. He had 22 for the year, with 12 coming in those last two while asserting himself as the top Will linebacker. 19 Defensive coordinators at Notre Dame in the last 41 years, with Freeman the most recent. Most also coached the linebackers, with Mike Elko in 2016 handling the safeties an exception. WHO'S GONE Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah The two-year starter at rover joined Manti Te'o and Jaylon Smith as Notre Dame's third Butkus Award recipient in the last nine years. WLB Jack Lamb Saw action in 12 games as a junior in 2020, primarily on spe- cial teams. He entered the transfer portal after the season and enrolled as a graduate transfer at Colorado. WHO'S BACK Fifth-year senior MLB Drew White The two-year starter at the Mike position is a 2021 captain candidate. He returns with the most career tackles (144) and tackles for loss (17) among active Irish players. Senior MLB Bo Bauer The special teams standout and was utilized in sub packages at the Mike spot. He was seventh last year in tackles with 26, plus had 4.5 stops for lost yardage and an interception. Senior rover Isaiah Pryor The graduate transfer from Ohio State is a former safety who starred on special teams for the Irish in 2020 and backed up Owusu-Koramoah at rover in the final nine games of the season. Senior WLB Shayne Simon He made eight starts at the Will position in 2020 and recorded 297 snaps, third most among linebackers. He was credited with 14 tackles and four passes defended. Junior WLB Marist Liufau He made three starts at the Will spot — the opener and the final two. In 206 snaps he totaled 22 tackles and also recovered a fumble. Junior rover Paul Moala He began the season as the backup at rover, but suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in game three. Sophomore WLB Jack Kiser When Liufau and Simon were both unavailable in game two versus USF, he started at Will and earned the game ball with eight stops (two for loss). He could also see time at rover in 2021. DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/LINEBACKERS COACH Marcus Freeman — First Year One of the nation's most coveted up-and-coming coaches as both a recruiter and strategist, the 35-year- old Freeman was tabbed to replace the highly successful Clark Lea, now the head coach at Vanderbilt. After helping the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 31-6 mark the past three years (9-1 in 2020), Freeman opted for the Irish over LSU, and his name came up in connection with Auburn's, Michigan's and Texas' defensive coordinator searches — and he even reportedly was a finalist for Illinois' head coach position. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH Will linebacker might be a popular answer because of the presence of senior Shayne Simon and juniors Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser, but replacing probable first-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at rover will be of particular intrigue. At the start of last season, current senior Paul Moala was the top backup for Owusu-Koramoah before suffering a season- ending Achilles injury in game three. Graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor then was moved from safety to rover and appeared to find his niche at the hybrid position. The wild card could be the instinc- tive Kiser, who has trained at Will and rover. The hope is to not have the position as unresolved as Will linebacker was much of 2020 while finding a replacement for Asmar Bilal. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER DREW WHITE

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