Notable for their myriad breakdowns in 2013, the Notre Dame secondary bounced back with a quintet of outstanding efforts to start the 2014 campaign. After a step back at home in a sloppy win against North Carolina, and following a more understandable lost battle in Tallahassee, the unit collapsed in November, due in part to the season's most overlooked injury loss, 5th-year senior cornerback and unit rock, Cody Riggs.
Below is a look at a secondary that returns all but Riggs and team captain Austin Collinsworth from its regular competitors for 2015 -- while gaining a host of freshmen and perhaps a senior that will immediately rank among the roster's best players.
The following defensive backs were named as "Top 10" overall players (combined offense/defense) per our weekly post-game film review, "The Eye in the Sky." (HM designates honorable mention, but not among Top 10).
-- Cody Riggs (4 Top 10/1 HM): Rice, Michigan, Stanford, UNC, LSU (HM). Missed most of final 4 regular season games
-- Matthias Farley (6/0): Rice, Michigan, Syracuse, Stanford, ASU, Northwestern
-- Cole Luke (4/3): UM (HM), Stanford, UNC (HM), ASU, Northwestern, Louisville, LSU (HM)
-- Elijah Shumate (3/3): Michigan, Syracuse, Stanford, UNC (HM), USC (HM-effort), LSU (HM-effort)
-- Max Redfield (2/1): Michigan, UNC (HM), LSU
-- Drue Tranquill (0/3): Purdue (HM), Stanford (HM at LB), Navy (HM at LB)
-- Devin Butler (0/1): Purdue (HM)
-- Austin Collinsworth (0/1): Northwestern (HM)
The chart below measures combined tackles-for-loss, sacks, passes defended, QB hurries, blocked kicks, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles, and interceptions as "Big Plays" made by individual defensive backs. The latter pair, FF and INT, count for two rather than one in the final tally as they elicit a change of possession. (A forced fumble is less random than a fumble recovery.)
(For the sake of reference, linebacker Jaylon Smith finished with a combined 23.5)
-- Cole Luke (30): 15 PD, 4 INT, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FF
-- Matthias Farley (25): 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 INT, 5 PD, 2 QBH
-- Elijah Shumate (13.5): 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PD, 2 QBH, 1 FR
-- Cody Riggs (10): 4 PD, 1 INT, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FF
-- Devin Butler (9): 5 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF
-- Drue Tranquill (7.5): 1 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 blk kick
-- Max Redfield (5.5): t1 INT, 3 PD, 0.5 TFL
-- Austin Collinsworth (2.5): 1.5 TFL plus a fumble recovery (and touchdown).
-- Nicky Baratti (1): FR
-- Eilar Hardy (0): Appeared in less than three games from scrimmage
A member (more often, members) of the Notre Dame secondary bore the bulk of responsibility on 19 of the *23 passing touchdowns vs. the Irish defense last fall.
(The number tied for the highest total of the five-season Kelly era as Notre Dame's 2011 pass defense also surrendered 23 scores in 13 games. For the sake of comparison: 19 in 2013; 11 in both 2010 and 2012.)
Below is a look at each touchdown scored through the air vs. Notre Dame last season. Michigan, Syracuse, and Stanford did not dent the Irish for a passing score.
-- Elijah Shumate (deep) and Matthias Farley (slot) combine for a broken coverage and 26-yard post-route score. My film review was definitive that it was Shumate; another site deemed it to be both.
-- Nicky Baratti blows an assignment in garbage time for an easy 53-yard score down the seam
-- Cody Riggs is run over at the goal line on a swing pass to FB Brandon Cotton
-- Riggs again, this time on a beautiful leaping catch by DeAngelo Yancey in which Riggs also interfered
-- Jaylon Smith is beaten down the post by Quinshad Davis for the score. Smith isn't a DB, of course, but it seemed relevant
-- Shorty after he enters the contest for an injured Riggs, Devin Butler bites on a double-reverse throwback to QB Marquis Davis.
-- Shumate beaten for the post-route score of 18 yards. Also flagged for interference.
-- Cole Luke is beaten for a 10-yard skinny post TD vs. standout Rashad Greene. (Greene is a dynamite route-runner)
-- Midshipmen receiver Thomas Wilson blatant pushes off vs. Riggs for a 26-yard touchdown in full view of the referee. A later Navy score beats the entire left side of the Irish defense on a QB boot to fullback Chris Swain (perhaps Greer Martini/Nyles Morgan).
-- Jaelen Strong scores on a 15-yard corner courtesy a one-handed, acrobatic toe-tapper vs. Devin Butler
-- Cameron Smith hits for a 43-yard touchdown down the post vs. Butler.
-- Demario Richard scores on a goal line swing pass that fooled either/both Max Redfield (late) and Nyles Morgan (bit on QB bootleg action)
-- Kyle Prater beats Drue Tranquill to the corner for a 4-yard score in an ill-conceived, one-on-one coverage assignment for the dime-linebacker curiously-turned starting safety.
-- On one of the few plays in which he was not covered by Cole Luke, All-America DeVante Parker beats Butler with a double move to the corner for a 21-yard TD.
USC (AKA: EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY DAY)
-- A go-route by George Farmer beats Luke with a sideline go route for a 48-yard score. Of note, Luke made his first start at left corner; he later moved back to his usual right side for the duration.
-- Adoree Jackson beats Greer Martini on a wheel route from the backfield. Redfield is 15 yards away as Jackson hits pay dirt. If Martini was actually assigned to cover Jackson as it appears, this one's on Brian VanGorder.
-- Farmer again, this time with a 31-yard post route on the left side past Butler
-- Darreus Rodgers scores on a 6-yard skinny post vs. Butler who had decent coverage (nice throw)
-- Nelson Agholor delivers on a 14-yard catch and run through Eilar Hardy, Martini, Shumate, and Smith.
-- TE Randall Telfair beats Morgan, Hardy, and Shumate on a skinny post from 16 yards out. A stutter-move beat Morgan while Telfair split the safeties.
-- TE John Diarse runs untouched for a 75-yard score -- it appears Shumate fails to communicate with Redfield.
Included are declined pass interference calls as the reception resulted in a larger gain than the 15 yards awarded by the flag. ("P.I." equals Pass Interference)
Cody Riggs (3): P.I. (Purdue-TD); P.I. (UNC); P.I. (FSU, 3rd-and-goal)
Elijah Shumate (3): Unsportsmanlike Conduct (PU); Pass Interference (UNC-touchdown); Pass Interference (ASU)
Max Redfield (2): Personal foul vs. UM (well worth it); Personal foul vs. PU (ejection)
Drue Tranquill (1): P.I. Northwestern (two-point conversion)
Matthias Farley (1): Defensive holding (FSU-Declined, 21-yard gain)
Cole Luke (1): P.I. (Syr-Declined)
-- Unit MVP: Cole Luke
-- Most Improved since 2013: Matthias Farley
-- Most Improved since August 2014: Luke
-- Best Finish Compared to his Start: Luke, sans USC, he was great late
-- Best Start Compared to his Finish: Cody Riggs (injured late)
-- Saved the Most Big Plays with PD: Luke
-- Saved the Most Touchdowns with tackles: Max Redfield
-- Best in run support: Riggs followed by Shumate
-- Best Blitzer: Drue Tranquill
-- Most Versatile: Farley, Riggs
-- Most Reliable: Riggs
-- Best Cover Man: Luke
-- Toughest: Riggs, Collinsworth
-- Underused: Redfield
-- Overused: Austin Collinsworth. Toughness for days; but too injured -- both patently obvious.
-- Biggest Hitter: Shumate
-- Biggest Trash Talker: Shumate
-- Best with the ball in the air: Luke
-- Best Future Linebacker: Drue Tranquilll
-- Best Future Pro: Luke
-- Fastest: Redfield
-- Most Room to Grow for 2015: Redfield
-- Best Bet to Join the Lineup in 2015: KeiVarae Russell