The Syracuse Orange (2-2) take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-3) at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. While SU is a significant underdog in the contest, a lot of Orange fans (self included) were excited about the possibility of facing a very bad Irish defense. Even in a loss, it would’ve seemed plausible that Syracuse could put up some points in the process.
Unfortunately, for both him and us, Notre Dame relieved defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder of his duties yesterday.
Under VanGorder this year, ND had allowed 33.5 points per game (and 41.3 vs. Power 5 opponents). They were also allowing 454 yards per game, the 103rd-”best” figure in the country. As a group, Notre Dame only recorded one sack in four games. The Irish’s rushing defense is ranked 96th, and the passing D is 87th. None of these numbers are good.
In VanGorder’s place, defensive analyst Greg Hudson will take over as the new defensive coordinator. Hudson’s last role was as Purdue’s defensive coordinator from 2013-2015. Under Hudson, Purdue’s defense never ranked higher than 83rd in total yardage allowed (and finished as poorly as 111th, in 2015).
It’s unlikely the Irish undergo a complete and utter scheme change with Hudson -- especially in a single week. Plus, Hudson’s previous defense was a similar 4-3 to what Notre Dame ran with VanGorder. All things point to a more motivated group, however, and one that can create a true pass rush on the edge (not the case at all through four games).
But can they actually be better this year? Going into 2016, everyone knew they’d lost quite a bit of talent from last season and struggled to stop the run. The linebacker position basically hit reset and lacked much depth. Notre Dame’s secondary was inexperienced and young (sound familiar). Still, Bill Connelly saw reason to be optimistic.
Ends up the reasons to doubt were right to be there (no fault of Bill’s or any other media predictions). Despite Jarron Jones’s return from injury, the line got more porous and is even worse against the run than they were last year. That secondary is getting carved up, and it’s largely a result of a lack of pass rush. Hudson’s teams at Purdue weren’t necessarily able to generate pressure either. Though admittedly, that was with significantly less talent on the roster.
Notre Dame did have one quality game this season, a 39-10 win over Nevada. But the difference in that contest — other than the level of opponent -- was that the Fighting Irish found ways to disrupt the Wolf Pack’s offense. Perhaps that’s a result of a “lesser” opponent compared to the other three teams they faced: Texas, Michigan State and Duke. But in any case, ND managed to create turnovers and a safety during a high-water second quarter in that game, virtually sealing the result. Given that he was on staff already, Hudson knows about that quarter. And it’s likely he’ll try to replicate it repeatedly in his renewed defensive focus. That sounds easier than it actually is. It’s still what he’ll be tasked with doing, though.
So we don’t know exactly what this Hudson-led defense will look like yet, but we do know what it aspires to. The talent’s clearly on the roster to succeed in this goal... even if we wish it wasn’t. Sure, it would have been more fun to face a dejected VanGorder defense coming off a home upset loss to Duke. Instead, we get a possibly re-energized group looking to right the ship on a disastrous start to the year.
Let’s see how this goes...