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Spring Jersey Scrimmage Analysis: Defense

Written by Connor D'Aquila ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X: @ConnorDaquilaIT

Photo by The Irish Tribune


On Saturday, the media had the pleasure of watching the annual "jersey scrimmage" in Notre Dame Stadium. We got to see the offense and defense faceoff for about 80 plays as Coach Freeman reported after the game. Without Riley Leonard in at quarterback, it was tough to get a true sense of how the offense will eventually look, but there was a lot to be excited about on the defense. For a more detailed review of the offense, be sure to check out our article from Saturday here. Below, I will detail the biggest standouts of the day, and then do a position-by-position breakdown. 





Who Stood Out

A couple of young players looked very promising in the front seven, first and foremost being Boubacar Traore. We heard rumblings of how dynamic of a player he can be, and that became obvious in the scrimmage. Mostly playing on the outside, Traore was all over the field, getting pressure on the quarterback and making stops in the run game. The quarterbacks had red jerseys on, so we couldn’t see him make too many hits, but he flashed some impressive spin moves and carried the combination of strength and agility that should make all opposing offensive lines nervous. 


Another young guy who made waves was Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, who excited a lot of ND fans with his commitment this past summer and has looked good throughout the spring. The combination of intelligence, athleticism, and size jumps out with KVA. At times, we got to see him in coverage, staying in coverage with Jaden Greathouse 30 yards downfield, while on another play, he lined up on the edge and came up with a sack after stunting inside. His delayed blitzes from the linebacker position also looked good, and his impact on the run game was massive. The versatility was great to see, and I believe he has the ability to bring an unprecedented level of excitement to the defense.  


Rounding out this list is Jaiden Ausberry, a highly touted linebacker out of Baton Rouge. Coach Freeman could not talk highly enough about him in the postgame press conference, and it was evident why throughout the scrimmage. Coach Golden generally had him in a rover-like position, but he also frequently dropped into coverage and got in on the pass rush. After, Freeman would say that they feel they need him on the field somewhere and will work to find what capacity that should be in. With his combination of athleticism and strength, they should be able to fit him in, and he was exciting to watch all day. 





Defensive Line

I already touched on Traore, but this group was impressive as a whole. They never left the quarterback much time to get comfortable, and it was evident as the offense never seemed to get in a groove. Jordan Botelho showed some flashes that were promising for a hopeful bounce-back year. Generally well-rounded, his day included a potential sack (not ruled dead by referees), a very nice run stop, and a good rep after dropping into coverage on a quick out route. On the other end, we got our first live glimpse of RJ Oben, the transfer from Duke. While he did not have the greatest or flashiest game, he got some pressure on the quarterback and did not have any concerning lost reps. Junior Tuihalamaka also got a fair amount of time on the edge and was involved in a number of run stops, showing some good quickness as a bit of a smaller lineman. Bryce Young played a similar role and had one good pressure, which was great to see. His length also jumps out while watching.


On the inside, the run-stopping ability was exceptional. Throughout the scrimmage, they stifled the offense’s talented running back room, and aside from a couple of runs toward the end, limited almost all big plays. Donovan Hinish had a particular play where he was able to burst through the line and get to the quarterback, while freshman Sean Sevillano also got a pressure that was well-received by the bench. This was a very strong all-around performance by the unit, and with Rylie Mills and Howard Cross anchoring them, there should be few concerns. 


Linebacker

As I said, KVA and Ausberry were very impressive throughout the scrimmage, but for a unit with a lot of veteran talent leaving, they left a lot to be excited about. Jack Kiser was solid as expected, but newer contributors like Jaylen Sneed and Drayk Bowen showed the fruits of Marcus Freeman’s recruiting work to bring in more athleticism. Sneed finally showed the polish that had been missing from his game while Bowen was all over the field making some strong tackles. Recently returning to the team, Kahanu Kia had a very nice pressure after lining up on the edge, which was great to see. I hoped to see a little bit more of Preston Zinter, but he was not overly impactful. 


Aside from a couple of plays, tackling also looked to be very good by the group and was especially impressive in the run game. I credited the defensive line with a lot of the success, but the linebackers were equally impactful. Any time a play got to the second level, they were there. All game, they read plays well and put themselves in the right positions. I have been excited about Coach Bullough for some time, and the game only confirmed what I thought. This was a well-coached unit that came ready to play. 





Defensive Backs

Two pick-sixes and another interception with limited scoring from the offense should tell most of what you need to know about this group’s performance. Starting with the cornerbacks, it was obviously a limited view without Morrison, but I was left very excited about Jaden Mickey and Christian Gray. Both were very solid and had the wide receivers struggling to find separation. Mickey’s pick-six was a perfect read, as he jumped a simple out route on Angeli and had a free path to a touchdown. Micah Bell got some time as well and had one play called a holding, which I thought was solid coverage, but nonetheless, he seemed to hold his own. We know the speed he has, but he also played with a level of physicality that I liked to see. Chance Tucker got a lot of time, and it was certainly a mixed bag. The most exciting touchdown of the day, from CJ Carr to Cam Williams was his blown coverage, but he did have a good breakup while defending Deion Colzie and appeared to be vocal throughout the day. 


As for the safeties, they showed a lot of promise. Xavier Watts and Adon Shuler accounted for the other two interceptions of the day, both of which were great reads. We know what Watts is capable of, and it was great to see him ever-present around the ball. A lot of the newer members of the team got plenty of time as well, and they were fun to watch. Luke Talich’s build is impressive, and he made some nice tackles. I also expect Adon Shuler to get time this season, which would be a great piece to add. Devyn Ford appeared low on the depth chart after moving from running back, but I noted a couple of nice tackles from him. Kennedy Urlacher appeared a bit undersized, but he definitely held his own and was involved frequently. At one point he jammed his receiver at the line and took him out of the play, while another time he trailed a go route all the way and prevented a completion. Jordan Clark played a lot of nickel but had a couple of blitzes as well and looked really solid throughout. The general lack of big plays is a positive sign for the group, and it will be interesting to see what the final depth chart looks like behind Watts, especially once Rod Heard and the other freshmen arrive on campus. 


Overall, this was a fantastic showing for the defense. Coach Freeman spoke about the benefit of entering a third year with the same staff on that side of the ball, and it was evident. Coach Denbrock’s frequent motion could not fool them, and they were playing fundamentally well all day. I believe this could end up being one of the strongest defenses in the country, and with the amount of young talent, ND fans have much to look forward to.


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