Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 23, 2015 Issue

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

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Page 25 of 113

BY LOU SOMOGYI A t the beginning of the 2015 sea‑ son, Notre Dame's defensive backfield was considered poten‑ tially the top overall strength of the team. Three of the four starters from 2014 returned with legitimate future NFL aspirations. Junior cornerback Cole Luke's 15 passes defended last season (four in‑ terceptions and 11 passes broken up) were the most by an Irish player since NFL standout Dave Waymer in 1978. One safety, junior Max Redfield, was coming off the strongest game of his ca‑ reer, 14 tackles in the 31‑28 Music City Bowl victory against LSU, and finished second on the team in tackles (68). The other, senior Elijah Shumate, was third in tackles (66), and was primed to come into his own during his final season, which he has. The fourth member, senior corner‑ back KeiVarae Russell, who started all 26 games in 2012‑13, was back after an academic exile, and the former Fresh‑ man All‑American on the 12‑1 team in 2012 had been classified among the top five cornerback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. His return also had Ath- lon rank Luke and Russell the nation's No. 5 cornerback tandem. Yet during Notre Dame's potential run to the 2015 College Football Play‑ off, the secondary has provided the most angst on defense. Former five‑star prospect Redfield, who has acknowledged that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's system might be more difficult to grasp than the Mandarin Chinese he is taking, has had a roller‑coaster ride in and out of the starting lineup. Thus, fifth‑year se‑ nior Matthias Farley, the nickel back last year, has taken needed reps at both safety positions, especially after soph‑ omore Drue Tranquill had to have a second knee injury following the 30‑22 win over Georgia Tech Sept. 19. Meanwhile, the word most fre‑ quently used with Russell — who did have two clutch fourth‑quarter inter‑ ceptions versus USC and Temple — is "rusty." Part of it is mistakes on defense are most conspicuous in the secondary. For example, at Pitt Nov. 7, Panthers quarterback Nate Peterman ranked 15th nationally in completion percent‑ SECONDARY PRIORITIES Once a team strength, the defensive backfield is in need of reinforcements

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