Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 12, 2016

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

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Page 27 of 55

28 SEPT. 12, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MORE OF THE SAME Much was different about Notre Dame's defense in the 2016 season- opening loss to Texas, but the end re- sult looked eerily familiar. After talking all offseason about going with a bigger lineup to defend the run, Notre Dame came out against Texas with a 3-3-5 defensive alignment that had three linemen, three lineback- ers and five defensive backs on the field. Following the loss, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said the coaches felt it gave the defense its best chance to succeed. "It's more about our personnel and matching our personnel against them," Kelly said of the three-man look. "Hav- ing the defensive personnel that best fits what we feel gets our best players on the field more than anything else." Texas ran right through the Irish de- fense, and it was painfully obvious that the areas where Notre Dame struggled defensively the past two seasons are still cause for concern. Notre Dame ranked 72nd in rush- ing defense a season ago, giving up 175.6 yards per game. The Longhorns pounded Notre Dame, racking up 237 yards on 59 carries. The Irish defense did not seem to have many answers for the Longhorns' ground game, which was relatively simple but effective. "Clearly we were not in some po- sitions to make some tackles," Kelly noted. "When we were, they ran through some tackles as well." After falling behind 31-14 in the third quarter, Notre Dame adjusted and went to a four-man front on the next two series. Texas went three-and- out on both series, gaining just 11 yards on six plays. The Irish went back to the three-man look to start the fourth quarter. After a penalty and a muffed snap stalled the next Texas drive, the Longhorns got back on track against Notre Dame's three-man front, putting together an eight-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard scoring run from junior running back D'Onta Foreman. Situational football was also an issue for Notre Dame the last two seasons, and that continued against Texas. In its three losses in 2015, Notre Dame al- lowed opponents to score on all 15 red zone chances, including 11 touchdown drives. Texas was a perfect 7 for 7 in the red zone with six drives ending with a touchdown. Notre Dame also allowed 2015 op- ponents to convert third- and fourth- down opportunities at a troubling 43.5-percent clip. Texas went 10 of 20 (50.0 percent) on those two downs, and the Irish defense once again failed to get off the field in key situations. Another continuing issue for Notre Dame was big plays. Since defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder arrived prior to the 2014 season, Notre Dame has ranked 73rd (2015) and 84th (2014) in big plays allowed, giving up 31 of at least 40 yards over the last two seasons. Texas used a 68-yard reception from junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard to set up a second quarter touchdown, and sophomore wide receiver John Burt scored on a 72-yard reception a minute into the third quarter that put the Longhorns up 28-14. The bright spots for the defense were the play of junior Mike linebacker Nyles Morgan and senior defensive end Isaac Rochell. Morgan led the Irish with 13 total tackles and nine solo stops — both career highs. Rochell tied his career high with nine tackles, including five solo stops. He added 2.5 tackles for loss, which is a new personal best for the senior captain. TEXAS GAME NOTES BY BRYAN DRISKELL Senior defensive end Isaac Rochell tied a career high with nine tackles and set a new career standard with 2.5 tackles for loss against Texas. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA MISCELLANEOUS NOTES • This marked the first overtime game in the history of Darrell K. Royal Stadium. • Notre Dame's defense allowed an abysmal 25 scoring drives of 75 yards or more in 2015. That trend continued in the 2016 opener, with the Irish defense allowing Texas to score on four drives of at least 75 yards. • Seven Notre Dame freshmen got on the field for their first action in an Irish uniform: wide receiver Chase Claypool, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, defensive end Daelin Hayes, defensive end Julian Okwara, cornerback Ju- lian Love, safety Devin Studstill and safety Jalen Elliott. • Seven different players made their first career Notre Dame starts: senior right guard Colin McGovern, junior center Sam Mustipher, junior wide receiver Corey Holmes, sopho- more wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, sophomore cornerback Nick Coleman, sopho- more cornerback Shaun Crawford and sixth- year safety Avery Sebastian.

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