If you compare the current level of play by the Notre Dame defense to how the unit was performing a month ago, the growth is monumental. However, if you just watch the actual games, it is painfully obvious that the Irish aren’t where they need to be quite yet.But without question they are improving on that side of the ball.
In the team’s recent win against Miami (Fla.), the Notre Dame pass rush had its best statistical day in 11 seasons. But it wasn’t just the front of the defense that was performing well; the incredibly young secondary was solid for portions of the game, as well.
"Miami tried to throw the ball every which way they could down the field," Irish coach Brian Kelly said, "and the best they could muster was 24 yards in terms of an explosive play."The Hurricanes didn’t generate any points in seven of their initial eight offensive series, as the Irish built a 20-7 lead, and that was in large part due to the play of the true freshmen-laden Notre Dame secondary, which included starting cornerbacks Troy Pride and Julian Love, as well as Donte Vaughn.
"You’re certainly playing a lot more man coverage," Kelly said of utilizing so many young players, "and you just have to be a little bit more disciplined. I think these kids have shown some really good discipline."
Notre Dame is limiting the "coverages and variation coverages," Kelly explained, in order to keep the game simplistic and allow the athletes to play freely. That emphasis on freedom was productive against Miami.
Vaughn had three pass break-ups, while Love added on and Pride registered five tackles.
"They both play the ball well down the field," Kelly said of Vaughn and Love. "They were both tested, because that was the (Miami) game plan. They had been much more of a curl flat team, but that wasn’t what they wanted to do against freshmen corners. They wanted to push the ball down the field and (the young Irish players) were up to the challenge."
Love was making his fourth consecutive start, while Pride made his second. In the case of Vaughn, he has started twice in the last month and their development is slowly coming.
"As long as they carry the same kind of eye discipline that they have shown over the past month," Kelly said, "they should be able to do a good job (in upcoming games) against Navy and Army, as well."
Of the 12 defensive backs listed on the Notre Dame depth chart, seven are in their first year of college football competition.
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