Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

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

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6 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T he headline in Blue & Gold Illustrat- ed's August 2016 preseason edition on the story previewing the defense was cryptic, even negative: Fragile Unit. It spoke to how setbacks in the sec- ondary with the dismissal of senior free safety Max Redfield for disci- plinary reasons and a broken arm to projected starting junior cornerback Nick Watkins left the overall defense with a small margin of error. Compounding the problems were the loss of six other starters, espe- cially 2015 Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith. The 2015 Irish defense was about as veteran as it could get in college football with virtually all senior or junior starters, yet it was so-so, even yielding what head coach Brian Kelly said was an "unaccept- able" 175.6 yards rushing per game to rank 72nd nationally. During the reg- ular season, it gave up 23 touchdown drives of 75 yards or more (the 2012 defense, in comparison, had two). Most disheartening for second-year defensive coordinator Brian Van- Gorder — whose NFL-style schemes are repeatedly perceived to be too complex in the college game — was not making a stop versus a backed-up Stanford team in the final 30 seconds of the regular-season finale that Notre Dame lost, 38-36. After two seasons of subpar de- fense under VanGorder, his third year in 2016 was going to be crucial to turning around fortunes. Instead, the corps might have reached its na- dir against a Longhorns team whose 5-7 campaign last year began with a 38-3 whipping at Notre Dame. The four new coaches on offense for the Longhorns staff did a dramatic about- face versus the Irish: • From 163 yards total offense in 2015 to 517 (280 passing and 237 rushing) in 2016. • From six carries for nine yards by the Smash Brothers duo of D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III to 177 yards rushing by the tandem this sea- son while methodically getting the tough yards inside. • The 249-pound quarterback Ty- rone Swoopes went from 7-of-22 passing at Notre Dame a year ago, with 17 rushing yards, to having a niche with the zone-read play, grind- ing out 53 yards on the ground and three scores, including the game-win- ner in overtime, in a separate, part- time package. • In his first collegiate action, true freshman quarterback Shane Buech- ele's 280 yards passing nearly dou- bled the per-game output of 145.9 Texas had last year. Buechele could have had 85 more had John Burt not dropped a perfectly placed deep pass in which the Irish secondary was beaten again. • Texas wasn't good enough last season to even enter the red zone against Notre Dame. This time the Longhorns reached the Irish 20-yard line seven times and turned six of the opportunities into a touchdown (plus a field goal). What a difference a year can make — or in Notre Dame's case on de- fense, doesn't make. The day after the defeat, Kelly found himself getting defensive about the defenseless performance. The head coach also was asked if he might start taking a larger coach- ing role with the defense, a la for- mer Irish head coach Lou Holtz in 1990-91 when that side of the ball was UNDER THE DOME ON THE DEFENSIVE … AGAIN Third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was under fire again after the loss at Texas, but head coach Brian Kelly said it's premature to jump the gun. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS Brian Kelly gives third-year coordinator Brian VanGorder public vote of confidence

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