Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

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

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16 OCT. 8, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL I f Howard Cross III had a feeling he posted an impressive individual stat line in Notre Dame's loss to Marshall Sept. 10, he didn't seek confirma- tion in the aftermath. The senior defen- sive tackle wasn't in the mood. The Irish had just lost as a 20.5-point favorite, and individual gratification was as far from his mind as Pluto is from Earth. He was one of four players who spoke to reporters after that defeat, and no questions about his own play were asked in his four-minute press confer- ence. He didn't care. He went home to stew over a day gone wrong. Eventually, he skimmed the stats. That's when he saw the number next to his name. Eleven. As in, a team-high 11 tackles. "I still remember sitting in my room after Marshall and being like, 'Dang. We have to fix this,'" Cross said. "Then just seeing my phone and it said 11 tack- les. Like wait, what? Then last week [vs. California] was 7 tackles. Wait, what? "It doesn't seem like it. I'm just trying to do my job, trying to help everybody out." The result is a team-high 21 total tackles through three games despite logging the sixth-most snaps among Notre Dame defensive players. He has 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 4 QB pressures within those stops. The 21 tackles are third among all FBS defen- sive linemen and second among interior defenders heading into Week 4 of the season. Texas State's Levi Bell is the only interior player with more than Cross (22). Cross, the Irish's starting nose tackle, has played 144 snaps through three games. He is averaging a tackle every 6.86 snaps. That's a strong number for a linebacker. Notre Dame's leading tackler last year, senior linebacker JD Bertrand, av- eraged a tackle every 7.46 snaps. Former Irish linebacker Te'Von Coney, who led the 2018 team with 123 tackles, averaged one every 7.49 snaps. The fact that 14 of Cross' 21 tackles are assisted shouldn't cheapen his ac- complishment. He's around the ball more than most defensive tackles. His key is a motor that doesn't have an off switch and technical proficiency he has built over four years on campus. The limitless energy is a product of a defensive line room that cultivates it and long-standing advice from his dad, former New York Giants tight end and Super Bowl champion Howard Cross Jr. "I call my dad after every game," Cross said. "The first thing he says is, 'Make sure you run to the ball. That doesn't mean just running to the ball. It means if you get blocked, get off the block, fight to get to the ball. If you're double-teamed, you should be dragging them to get to the ball. "That should be my mindset. And making sure I have the technique and am in the right gap just puts me in the right place at the right time." That's why defensive coordinator Al Golden doesn't see Cross outpacing any linebacker in tackles as a negative reflec- tion on the linebackers. Cross is either at the ball carrier first to make the play before a linebacker can or sharing tackles with linebackers because he fights off blocks and chases down runners. Of his 20 non-sack tackles, 15 are on running backs within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. He has split six of them with linebackers. "He beats blocks, gets off blocks and knows how to finish," Golden said. "He's got strong hands. He can cor- ral a running back and get him on the ground. The running back just doesn't run through him. Those are the things [that make him successful] — he's te- nacious with strong hands and doesn't stay blocked for very long. "He's a competitor. He makes a lot of plays." Double-digit tackle games were rou- tine for Cross at Montvale (N.J.) St. Jo- seph Regional High School, he said, but he didn't put much stock in them. Any- one with four stars next to his name on recruiting services and offers from Big Ten and SEC schools should produce like that. He also primarily played de- fensive end, not tackle. He would care about the stats more if he translated that production to col- lege. But believing he could wasn't an automatic reaction or default mentality OVERCOMING HIS DOUBTS Senior Howard Cross III emerges as an unlikely leading tackler for the Notre Dame defense

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