2020 Notre Dame Football Season Preview: Defense

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2019 for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ended on a high note. The team finished the season 11-2 with a dominant 33-9 victory over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl, and ranked 11th and 12th respectively in the final AP and Coaches polls.

The 2020 season for Notre Dame will be a strange one. The peculiarity of only 20% capacity being allowed in to the stadium, the mandatory face coverings and social distancing guidelines required for the lucky few in attendance and the lack of tailgating on campus this autumn will pale in comparison to Notre Dame joining a conference for the first time in 42 years. 2020 will be the year of coronavirus and the Fighting Irish of the ACC.

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2020 Notre Dame Season Preview: Offense

2020 Notre Dame Season Preview: Depth Chart, Projected Record

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea has been a welcome addition to the coaching staff. In 2019, the Irish finished 18th in the nation only allowing 322 yards and 18 points per game. Of the aforementioned twelve players entering the NFL, eight came from Lea’s defense.

The defensive line and secondary lost the most talent and it will be up to defensive line coach Mike Elson and new cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens to shore up the defense.

Freshmen will be expected to make an impact this year at defensive end and cornerback this year for the Irish.

Defense  

Brian Kelly kept emphasizing the physicality, closing speed and tackling of this year’s defense during his press conference. Up front the Irish have lost the tremendous production of Jamir Jones, Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara (23.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks) and will need Daelin Hayes to recover from his shoulder injury and return to his 2017 form when he had 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.

Across from Hayes, Adetokunbo Ogundeji will look to build on his 2019 performance of 5.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Expect to see true freshmen Rylie Mills and Jordan Botelho on the field this year to supplement Hayes’s and Ogundeji’s pass rushing.

Regarding the pair Kelly said: “He’s [Mills] ready to play this year […] really good pass rusher at his size, 6-foot-6. He has some unique traits to him and he can make an impact.”

As for Botelho: “he’s very twitchy, closes really well. He has a good IQ for the game.” The interior will be anchored by junior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and junior Kurt Hinish. While neither are star pass rushers, they’re strong inside and balanced against the run and the pass.

At linebacker, senior outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah returns along with senior inside linebacker Drew White. The pair combined for 159 total tackles, 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

They will provide a veteran presence while junior Jack Lamb and senior Genmark-Heath compete for the other outside linebacker “Buck” position.

Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens played for coach Kelly from 2005-2008 at Cincinnati where he racked up 14 interceptions during his career. Hopefully he can bring some of his ball hawking knowledge to the Irish secondary that only had nine interceptions in 2019.

Kelly highlighted Mickens’s communication style and commended his teaching saying, “He’s got a great style that is unique in a sense that he’s a really good communicator in terms of what he wants from you every snap.”

“When I say every snap, I don’t necessarily mean every scrimmage snap, I mean every rep. Every single practice rep there is some form of communication as to what he wants from you. There’s a lot of dialogue. There’s a lot of teaching but we’re moving well”.

Communication will be key for an Irish secondary that will be bracketed by graduate transfer Nick McCloud (whose two interceptions would have tied for second most on last year’s defense) and junior TaRiq Bracy.

Kelly said both McCloud and Bracy have benefitted from coach Mickens joining the defensive staff.

Kelly continued to mention Shaun Crawford playing safety opening the door for a freshman cornerback to step up and gain valuable playing time.

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The coaching staff would love for one of those freshmen cornerbacks to make a name for themselves the way Kyle Hamilton did at safety last year. Hamilton did not throw away his shot, to make a name for himself. 

Hamilton was seventh on the team in tackles (41), tied for second in passes defended (6), led the team in interceptions (4) and scored the only defensive touchdown in 2019. Entering his sophomore season, Hamilton appears to be asserting himself as one of the leaders of the defense.

Sure, there’s still a million things he hasn’t done, but just you wait, just you wait.

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Kelly noted: “He has a presence about him. He even has exhibited leadership qualities already in just a second year here. I would say night and day would be the best way to describe Kyle Hamilton […] he certainly shows up in 7-on-7. But I think off the field, physically he’s stronger and he has a presence about him in our program, and in particular of showing strong leadership capabilities.”

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