Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2016 Issue

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

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Page 131 of 133

THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI B elieve it or not, who plays quar- terback is not and should not be the most relevant team topic at Notre Dame in 2016. Whether it's De- Shone Kizer (probable) or Malik Zaire at the throttle, the Fighting Irish are capable of record- ing a double-digit win total like last year. Whether they can go a step or two higher will fall more on defense and special teams, es- pecially the former under third-year coordinator Brian VanGorder. The loss of six de- fensive starters — most notably Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith and lineman Sheldon Day — might elicit angst that VanGorder's already maligned defense will have a drop-off in 2016, especially when last year it was one of the worst in the na- tion (and in Notre Dame history) at producing turnovers, with only 14. Ending the year by yielding 38 and 44 points in losses to Stanford and Ohio State, respectively, raised more questions about whether VanGorder's ostensibly complex NFL system is suited to the college game. Our most optimistic take is in year three under previous coordinator Bob Diaco, the Irish defense was expected to take a step back with the loss of pass rush force Aaron Lynch; standout line- backer and future Su- per Bowl winner Dar- ius Fleming; the top two safeties, includ- ing first-round pick Harrison Smith; and the top three corner- backs. It responded with the best statisti- cal defensive perfor- mance at Notre Dame in 32 years. Va n G o rd e r h a s heard the theories and accusations of his NFL defense be- ing too complex for college student-athletes. "Our players that are dialed into it, it's pretty consistent for them," he said this spring. "It's likable and it's learn- able. … We have smart players." VanGorder acknowledged that the performance by the veteran 2015 unit was not up to snuff, so consequently there is going to be a cause-and-effect connotation and backlash. "It's because we have a large inven- tory, I guess," VanGorder said of the theory that his defense creates informa- tion overload. "And we didn't play real 'Likable And Learnable' Defense The No. 1 Topic Third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder does not believe his scheme is too complex for the Irish, but needs to get some positive results on the field to support that assertion. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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