Defensive Skill Positions StartersThe Irish rank 62nd overall vs. the rush despite holding six of eight foes well below their season average. Notre Dame ranks 34th vs. the pass but has allowed 14 passing scores – three more than it allowed in 13 games last season.
Left Defensive End #19 Aaron Lynch: 6'6" 265-pound true freshmen is expected to start his fourth consecutive game in place of injured senior Ethan Johnson. Lynch leads the Irish with 11 QB hurries this season and ranks second with 3 sacks.
Nose Guard #9 Louis Nix: Ceded his starting role to senior Sean Cwynar last week but then enjoyed his most productive game since the season-opener, tying his career-high with six tackles while playing an instrumental role in shutting down Navy's fullback and inside running attack.
Cwynar is not expected to start but the senior should receive the fourth-highest number of snaps among defensive linemen tonight,
Right Defensive End #7 Stephon Tuitt: Has posted back-to-back seven tackle games (career bests) vs. USC and then last week vs. Navy in his first starting role. The 6'7" 295-pound freshman has 23 tackles and two QB hurries; numbers accrued mostly over the last three games.
CAT Linebacker #45 Darius Fleming: Likely the best front seven defender in the Game Seven loss to rival USC, Fleming ranks fifth on the squad in tackles, third in tackles for loss and second in QB hurries.
MIKE Linebacker #5 Manti Te'o: A Butkus, Bednarik, Lott, and Lombardi award semi-finalist, Te'o was the team's MVP in last week's win over Navy. He's registered 10 or more tackles in six of eight games this season.
WILL Linebacker #48 Dan Fox: Splits time at the position with classmate (#44) Carlo Calabrese. The pair has combined for 57 tackles including three for lost yardage with a sack and two passes defended, between them.
Dog Linebacker #55 Prince Shembo: Started at defensive end last week in Notre Dame's 4-3 base defense – could be headed back to a rush end/defensive end/CAT linebacker role next fall as the sophomore has struggled covering the field-side flats at times this season – his first year in any form of coverage role.
Free Safety #26 Jamoris Slaughter: One of the team's top performers over the last month, Slaughter is the key to this year's nickel defense, rotating inside to cover opposing slot receivers and pressing the line of scrimmage when needed. The senior has three passes defended, an interception, and a tackle-for-loss over the last three contests.
Free Safety #17 Zeke Motta: Returned last week after missing most of the USC contest due to a concussion. The junior has started three times and played nearly half of the team's defensive snaps this season, recording 23 tackles and an interception.
Strong Safety #22 Harrison Smith: Second on the team with 58 tackles and first on the squad with 9 passes defended. Smith is five PD shy of tying the program's all-time record held by Clarence Ellis (1969-71). He entered the season as the only player in program history to record more than 200 tackles, 15 PD, and 15 tackles-for-loss, since adding to the totals each week. Smith has not picked off a pass in eight games after intercepting seven in his final nine last fall – oddly, the only seven of his collegiate career.
Boundary Cornerback #4 Gary Gray: Ranks fourth on the team in tackles (40), second in passes defended (6) and is tied with senior Robert Blanton for the team lead with two interceptions. Gray had 12 tackles vs. USC, his second double-digit tackle game of the season (Michigan State).
Field Cornerback #12 Robert Blanton: Has 16 total "Big plays" to his credit through eighth games: 2 INT, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 5 PD, 1 QBH, and 1 FR, and ranks third on the team with 50 tackles. Blanton ranks as IRisheyes.com No. 3 overall player on the roster through the season's first two months.
Ethan Johnson: Senior has missed the last three games due to a high ankle sprain suffered early in Week Five at Purdue. Backups Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt have played well in his stead but the Irish defense will need all hands healthy and on deck for the season finale at powerful Stanford. Look for Johnson to return next week when the Irish take on Maryland.
Defensive Lineman #50 Chase Hounshell: Returns after what looked like a bad shoulder injury last week vs. Navy. Has played in three straight after sitting out the first five contests and adds valuable interior depth along the shifting defensive front.
CAT LB #1 Ishaq Williams and DOG LB #13 Danny Spond: Both could see more snaps this week vs. what should be a pass-heavy Wake Forest attack. Williams could be called upon to lend an additional edge-rushing presence; Spond to help cover the short zones as Wake Forest stretches the field both vertically and horizontally with myriad targets.
Cornerback #23 Lo Wood: No. 3 cornerback has played sparingly this fall though he should also see first-half rotation time Saturday night.
Defensive Lineman #94 Hafis Williams: Has appeared in each of the last three contests and started vs. Michigan in place of injured Sean Cwynar.
Others who could see scrimmage action: Freshman DOG linebacker Troy Niklas, sophomore safety Austin Collinsworth, senior MIKE linebacker Anthony McDonald.