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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame football grades: Defense bends, breaks against Cardinals

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Irish graduate student linebacker Jack Kiser makes a tackle during Notre Dame's 33-20 road loss to Louisville on Oct. 7.


For the first time all season, the Notre Dame defense allowed more than 24 points in a game. Saturday's 33-20 loss to Louisville was only the second time an opponent cleared the 20-point threshold against the Irish all season. Defensive coordinator Al Golden's unit didn't get much help from its offense — 10 of Louisville's points came from turnovers. And that doesn't even include the three resulting from Notre Dame's unsuccessful fourth and 11 in the fourth quarter.

But that doesn't mean the Irish defense is blameless. A deflating loss like this one almost always has more than one cause, and this was no exception. The Irish made some plays, but ultimately the Cardinals were able to find a way when they needed to.

Defensive Line

Notre Dame was able to get to Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer for a couple of sacks, making good on all of the pressure they've generated this season. However, they didn't have a single other hurry on the night, making their pass rush arguably less impactful than it has been in other games when they generated consistent pressure without the big stats to show for it.

More importantly, Louisville's Jawhar Jordan gashed the Irish for 143 yards on the ground at an average of 6.8 yards per carry while finding the end zone twice. While the Irish held Louisville as a team under its season average for yards per carry, Jordan's performance was too much to overcome on its own. His 45-yard dash in the back half of the third quarter gave Louisville the lead for good, and his work down the stretch helped put the game out of reach. It was a slightly worse showing than the Ohio State game for Notre Dame's run defense, which makes for a slightly worse grade.

Weekly Grade: C; Season Grade: B-

Linebackers

Always a tricky group to measure, graduate students JD Bertrand, Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser made their marks, combining for 21 tackles, 10 of which were solo. Bertrand also notched a sack and another half tackle for a loss. However, Notre Dame's lack of depth at the position remains a concern, with sophomore Jaylen Sneed largely a non-factor. Of course, it's the tackles you miss that matter as much as the ones you make. Missed tackles have plagued the Irish as of late, and that was an issue once again. Jordan was able to churn forward for critical yards after contact on multiple occasions, keeping the Cardinals' offense moving.

Weekly Grade: B-; Season Grade: B+

Secondary

Making his third start against Notre Dame at as many different schools, Plummer delivered a good but not great game. In fact, his QBR of 70.7 was nearly identical to his mark two years ago when he was with Cal (70.8). However, Plummer had 21 incompletions in that game (plus an interception that was wiped out because of a targeting foul on the play) compared to just seven on Saturday. Plummer also converted three of six third downs when he kept the ball in his hands (excluding one picked up via penalty). He made the throws he needed to and his receivers did enough to support him — unlike Notre Dame's. Missed tackles also hurt the secondary.

Weekly Grade: C; Season Grade: B+

Special Teams

Look, a unit that performed well on Saturday! This grade is mostly due to the right leg of Spencer Shrader, which has often been the case this season. The Irish kicker may be inconsistent, but his strength is no joke. Shrader tied his own school record on a 54-yard make after hitting from one yard shorter earlier. Sophomore running back Jadarian Price also delivered a 57-yard kick return, the longest of Notre Dame's season. Combine that with a non-existent Louisville return game, and at least Marty Biagi has something to smile about this week.

Weekly Grade: A+; Season Grade: B