Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct.10, 2016

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

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32 OCT. 10, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED D rue Tranquill had a mo- ment of clarity on Notre Dame's first defensive snap against Syracuse. The Irish junior safety took the field to start the game along- side three freshmen defensive backs: Julian Love, Devin Stud- still and Donte Vaughn. "They're just lining up and playing football, something they've done for 10 years of their lives," Tranquill said. "They bring a lot of energy; they're fun." And it was that way for all of Notre Dame's 50-33 win over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium. The Irish utilized 25 defensive players against the Orange, featuring a substitution-heavy lineup against head coach Dino Babers' uptempo spread offense. It was a byproduct of the fir- ing of third-year defensive coordina- tor Brian VanGorder following the loss to Duke. Head coach Brian Kelly took a bigger role in the defensive game plan, assisting new coordina- tor Greg Hudson in streamlining the scheme. Junior linebacker Nyles Morgan — a first-year starter but one of the most experienced players on this year 's defense — said the simplification worked. "Keep it simple for a lot of the younger guys on the team," Morgan said. "It really helps them play fast and be more aggressive." Kelly said during the week leading up to the game he wanted to feature more players. He mentioned junior defensive lineman Jay Hayes and sophomore linebacker Asmar Bilal specifically, and followed through on his plan by rotating in nearly his entire defensive bench. Both Jay Hayes and freshman Dae- lin Hayes (no relation) saw time at the defensive end spots, as well as first-year player Khalid Kareem. Ju- nior Jonathan Bonner and sophomore Elijah Taylor rotated at the interior positions. Bilal and junior Greer Mar- tini saw extensive time at linebacker. Freshman cornerback Troy Pride Jr. traveled with the team and made his first career appearance. Freshman safety Jalen Elliott, sophomore safety Nicco Fertitta and sophomore cor- nerback Ashton White all saw the field. The Irish were able to play more young defensive backs by slid- ing senior corner Cole Luke to nickel. After playing just 19 defensive players against Texas and Michigan State and 20 against Duke, the Irish reaped the rewards of the deep bench. "We have so many young players, they can't sustain 70, 80 plays," Kelly said. "They're going to be good for 20, 30 plays, and we need to keep rolling guys in. We have a lot of depth. … We have a lot of really good players that deserve to get on the field, and that's the kind of defense this is going to be. "There's going to be a lot of players playing in this defense." Even a player like senior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell felt the impact of the rotation. After four games of full-time work, Rochell was spelled for several stretches against Syracuse. As a result, he said he was more effective in the second half. "It's not so physically exhausting," he said. There will be growing pains with the rotation, and there were some against Syracuse, including Love mistiming his jump on a long touch- down to Orange star receiver Amba Etta-Tawo. The freshmen defensive backs, especially, will have their share of errors. "We have some young guys that made some mistakes, and we've got to make sure those aren't catastrophic mistakes," Kelly said of his young sec- ondary that allowed 363 yards through the air. "Unfortunately, the positions in which they play they tend to be big mistakes. "They're going to be really good players, and we're stick- ing with them." As Tranquill said after the game, they don't know any better. "Obviously there's some growing pains, and we've seen that in the secondary. We'll continue to improve on that," Tranquill said. "A lot of posi- tive vibes." Notre Dame was without Studstill for most of the game after he was ejected for targeting in the second quarter, a call Kelly was skeptical of afterwards. Despite the loss, it came down to Notre Dame's young talent making plays. "Guys just felt comfortable and we got back to doing what we've done for 10, 15 years of our lives, and that's playing football," Tranquill said. "Playing a lot of guys, keeping guys fresh allowed us to play top- down defense and not give up as many explosive plays." The new faces also brought an in- tangible factor. Kelly pleaded for his team to play with more energy and passion, something he felt would im- prove the other aspects of the defense. Morgan said the young, deep rota- tion more than succeeded in that area. "We made sure everybody touched the field and brought their own little chunk of energy," Morgan said. "We put it all together and made it work." ✦ ON THE IRISH BEAT MATT JONES Matt Jones..... Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2016. He can be reached at mjones@blueand- A Deep Bench Gives The Irish A Boost Notre Dame played a season-high 25 players on defense against Syracuse, which paid off in the second half when the Irish limited the Orange to six points and 165 total yards. PHOTO BY RICK KIMBALL

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