Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Bye week evaluations: Defense
By Matt Fortuna
Our series continues today with the defense, which brought back seven starters from a unit that finished second nationally in scoring defense in 2012.
Summary: Notre Dame's defense has been the team's biggest disappointment this season, as it has allowed 34 or more points in three of six contests so far. Of course, some of that is on the offense, too, particularly in the Oklahoma game. But this was a unit that was expected to continue the dominant tone set last season, when the Irish never gave up more than 26 points in a regular-season game. (And Pitt even needed three overtimes to reach that total).
The pass rush was virtually non-existent for five games, until Prince Shembo and company turned it up a notch against Arizona State and tallied six sacks (three by Shembo). The defensive line has been negated for much of the early going, with offenses doing everything they can to get away from Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt.
Depth among the front seven has taken a hit, too: First with the Eddie Vanderdoes transfer to UCLA this summer, then with the retirement of Danny Spond and season-ending knee injury suffered by Tony Springmann in camp. Sheldon Day's ankle sprain has essentially kept him out of the past three games, while Jarrett Grace's season-ending knee injury against ASU is another big blow, especially to a thin inside linebacker corps.
Tackling, though, especially in the secondary, was less than great at Michigan and at Purdue, a sign of some of the ordinary things that Brian Kelly said his team needed to do better after the Oklahoma loss. Perhaps the defense turned a corner against the Sun Devils — Kelly said he's not doing jumping jacks just yet — but the overall body of work through six games has been mediocre, not particularly great or bad.
Notre Dame is 50th nationally in total defense (374.5 yards per game) and is 58th in scoring defense (25.5 ppg). And the Irish are tied for 86th in turnovers forced, with just seven takeaways on the season. They will be tested by skilled (USC) and complex offenses (Air Force and Navy) in the next three weeks so they need to become more reliable as the season progresses. That includes limiting big plays or forcing more turnovers to put the offense in a better position to succeed.