At Their Best: Irish DL

Irish fans have high hopes for the future of what is a youth-filled, inexperienced roster heading into 2014. With the best likely yet to come, we review the best single-game efforts to date from players in each position group.

Below is a look at the best efforts to date by Notre Dame's defensive line, a group that will add up to seven competitors this fall including incoming freshmen Andrew Trumbetti, Daniel Cage, Jay Hayes, Pete Mokwuah, Jonathan Bonner, Grant Blankenship, and Jhonathan Williams (one or more from the latter trio has a future at OLB).

Also awaiting his debut is redshirt-freshman Jacob Matuska. Senior Ishaq Williams and junior Romeo Okwara, both defensive ends for 2014, were reviewed with the linebackers, their previous position.

Junior Sheldon Day

Day's 2013 season was beset with ankle issues, but when upright, he showed to be a player on the rise, especially in a 28-21 loss at Pittsburgh in late November (more on that below). He shined in a backup role as a true freshman (2012) as well, especially in back-to-back outings vs. Big 10 rivals Michigan State and Michigan.

First in East Lansing, in a game dominated by the Notre Dame defensive front, Day shined early, posting a sack and pass breakup on successive plays that forced the Spartans -- previously ready to breach the Irish red zone -- back to deep field goal range.

Day came back one week later against Michigan to record similar successive standout snaps, first recording a solo tackle for no gain vs. Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson, then sacking Robinson on the game's decisive sack, taking down Robinson with a sack and loss of eight yards on the ensuing snap. Michigan's 1st and Goal at the 7 quickly became a field goal from 31 yards out.

Last fall, Day's best statistical outing came against Pittsburgh when he recorded three tackles-for-loss on a career-best five solo tackles, albeit in defeat. Day's evening though -- along with the rest of the defensive unit's -- was sullied by a missed opportunity: neglecting to pick up a fumbled football that would have given the Irish position on their side of midfield. The Panthers scored the game-winning touchdown less than four minutes later.

Junior Jarron Jones

The redshirt-sophomore (his first collegiate action came last season, and was at first, sporadic) has a small sample size from which to choose, but it was likely his first career start, a Senior Day win over Brigham Young in mid November, that sets the bar entering 2014.

Jones recorded a career-high and tied game defensive MVP Stephon Tuitt for for a DL-best seven tackles vs. the Cougars including five stops that limited BYU runners to one yard, no gain, or loss, the first of which occurred on 4th and 2 to keep the visitors short of the first down marker.

Jones added a fourth quarter blocked field goal with the Irish leading 23-13, a standout individual effort that sealed the Irish win. It was arguably the best game by an Irish defensive lineman not named Stephon Tuitt in 2013.

Senior Tony Springmann

A redshirt-junior in terms of eligibility, Springmann missed all of the 2013 season due to surgery to repair his knee, injured during August camp. As a rookie (redshirt-freshman) in 2012, Springmann surprisingly shined as the team's No. 5 defensive lineman in a six-player rotation, his best outing occurring in East Lansing in the aforementioned upset of Michigan State.

Springmann tallied two tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup vs. the Spartans, nearly turning his pass defended into a one-armed backfield interception. It was his second straight outing in which he received film review honorable mention from this site for his efforts. Springmann also showed well in a 20-17 win over Purdue, previously, recording a QB pressure and crucial play in the backfield that negated an otherwise well set-up screen.

5th-year senior Justin Utupo

Utupo has played sparingly from scrimmage during his Irish career, receiving his largest share of snaps in last year's 38-34 win over Navy in early November. He likewise played extended minutes the following week at Pittsburgh, recording a career-best three tackles in relief of ejected teammate Stephon Tuitt.

Utupo's best single play to date occurred on special teams when he delivered a vicious, de-cleating blow to USC coverage maven Nick Perry, blowing up the would-be tackler to pave an early path for Irish return man George Atkinson en route to a 96-yard touchdown.

Senior Chase Hounshell

Has not played since his true freshman season of 2011 with his top effort that year occurring near mid-season in a 59-33 win over Air Force. Well-versed against the triple-option, Hounshell received his initial playing time of the season (Game Six) and recorded the only four tackles of his collegiate career to date, two of which limited Falcons ball carriers to two-yard gains.

Sophomore Isaac Rochell

A true freshman last fall, Rochell relied on brotherly love -- not to mention a wide scoring margin -- to post his best effort to date, a four-tackle afternoon, including one tackle for no gain, in Colorado Springs against his brother, left tackle Matt Rochell, and the AIr Force Academy.

Note: For previously reviewed players, click the links below:

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends



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