Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Week 2 Notre Dame football grades: Defense and special teams earn high marks

Senior defensive end Jordan Botelho rises up to the deflect the ball in Notre Dame's 56-3 victory over Tennessee State on Saturday.
Senior defensive end Jordan Botelho rises up to the deflect the ball in Notre Dame's 56-3 victory over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Notre Dame continued to dominate on both sides of the ball in its return to South Bend on Saturday. Defensive coordinator Al Golden's unit improved off its strong showing against Navy in Dublin. Here’s a deep dive into what the Notre Dame defense and special teams showed us in the home opener.

Defensive Line

Though Notre Dame’s defensive front registered just one sack on the day, it was far from a poor outing for Notre Dame's most unproven defensive unit. Limiting any opponent, even an FCS one, to just 2.5 yards per carry is always a good start. Both of Tennessee State’s interceptions were aided by the Notre Dame pass rush getting a hand up in quarterback Deveon Bryant’s face.

Statistically, no one member of the Irish defensive line flashed in a major way, though graduate student nose tackle Howard Cross led the team in tackles with six. With junior Gabriel Rubio still sidelined due to injury, Cross figures to be set for an even more crucial role against NC State. Sophomore Joshua Burnham enjoyed an impressive second half with the second unit, looking to assert himself as the unquestioned No. 2 at the vyper spot. It was Burnham who had the pressure leading to senior cornerback Clarence Lewis’ pick-six. Senior Jordan Botelho, the No. 1 option at the vyper spot, also picked up his first sack of the season in the rout. 

Weekly Grade: A-; Season Grade: A-


It was a generally slow day for Notre Dame’s linebacker unit, as six different players found the final stat sheet in a largely rotation-based effort. Assigned the difficult task of stopping Navy’s unique and multi-faceted triple option attack in Dublin, the Irish linebackers enjoyed a much more traditional test this week.

The unit passed this test without much issue. Graduate student JD Bertrand had five tackles, including one of four Irish tackles for loss on the day. Freshman Jaiden Ausberry and Preston Zinter each earned their first collegiate tackles as part of a low-stress day all around for Notre Dame in the linebacker department.

Weekly Grade: A; Season Grade: A/A-


Notre Dame’s best defensive unit on the day, the Irish secondary was lights out throughout the contest. Tennessee State attempted 22 total passes, and completed just eight, totaling all of 67 yards on the day.

Among those failed passing attempts were a pair of Notre Dame interceptions: a diving effort in the first half by Ramon Henderson, and Lewis’ aforementioned pick-six in the second. Marcus Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden rotated heavily throughout the second half, and Notre Dame will enter a matchup with NC State quarterback Brennan Armstrong on a high. 

The only knock was Antonio Carter’s targeting penalty late in the first half, though even that didn’t matter much with the Irish playing a much younger unit in the second half.

Weekly Grade: A; Season Grade: B

Special Teams

Other than Devyn Ford’s potentially-targeting-induced kickoff return fumble, special teams were a positive for the Irish on Saturday. Graduate student kicker Spencer Shrader has remained automatic on extra points, far from a given in college. Jason Onye rose up to block a kick in the first quarter, stopping any Tiger momentum that had been building. Bryce McFerson got to punt for the first time in his collegiate career as well, averaging 43 yards a boot.

Weekly Grade: A-; Season Grade: A-

Sign up for our Observer Sports newsletter!Have an Irish sports question? Ask it for our Observer Sports mailbag!