Defensive BackfieldBetween suspension (Keivarae Russell, Eilar Hardy), and season-ending injury (Nicky Baratti, Austin Collinsworth), the unit has survived four losses from its contending two-deep
Top player to date: Cornerback Cody Riggs -- A rugged, consistent, physical, and confident presence at left cornerback while working as the team's lead punt returner and contributing as an occasional nickel, the latter a role he's likely to revisit when the Irish travel to Tempe to take on Arizona State.
On the Rise: Cornerback Cole Luke -- Leads the team in passes defended (8) and interceptions (3), while also forcing a fumble and notching a quarterback sack. A true sophomore, Luke could reach All-America status by the end of 2015.
Sleeper for the final five: Safety Elijah Shumate -- It's clear he's not always assignment correct, but Shumate has stuffed the stat sheet through seven, ranking third in tackles (40), while compiling a sack, an interception, three passes defended, a pair of QB hurries, and a fumble recovery. Shumate added a touchdown that was overturned due to a weak penalty flag.
As important as the numbers noted above, the junior is a consistent tackler in short zone coverage, rarely allowing yards after the catch.
Best game as a unit: Michigan -- Utter dominance, albeit against a pedestrian offense. A quintet of defensive backs (including Nickel Matthias Farley) combined for 25 tackles including one for loss (Farley), with three interceptions, a pair of passes defended, and three QB hurries.
Most Difficult Outing: North Carolina -- Missed tackles, blown coverages that resulted in two touchdowns, and more than 300 passing yards allowed to a quarterback that should not have had aerial success vs. this Irish defense. To be fair, a weak effort by the Notre Dame defensive line contributed heavily to their collective failures.
Toughest Upcoming Test: Arizona State -- The 6-1 Sun Devils rank 19th nationally in passing yards per game and boast an up-tempo attack blessed with multiple game-breakers including Jaelen Strong (scored a 39-yard touchdown vs. the Irish on 4th-and-1 last season) and all-purpose RB threat, D.J. Foster.
Crucial area for Improvement: Defending seams/skinny posts. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's heavy blitz packages at times leaves vulnerable the middle zones (15+ yards downfield). Riggs and the Irish safeties struggled to consistently defend the area in last week's loss at Florida State.
Staying assignment correct likewise remains a challenge.
Quote from the Coordinator: "I thought it was at its best Saturday night, did a much better job. A couple situations where we communicated well and didn’t trust the communication and we just gotta learn to do that. Again, both those players are in the process of gaining experience and becoming more consistent. It was a positive step. It was a positive step for them Saturday night."
-- VanGorder on the Redfield/Shumate safety tandem