1 – THE SCHMIDT SITUATION
Notre Dame message boards have found a new whipping boy in former favorite son Joe Schmidt this season. Perhaps overstated, Schmidt nonetheless statistically been far less effective post ankle injury this season than prior last fall.
Schmidt posted 17.5 of his combined 19.5 tackles-for-loss/Stuffs last season during Notre Dame’s 6-1 start. (He added two more against Navy in Game #8 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.)
Through the squad’s 6-1 start in 2015, Schmidt has posted a just 10 TFL/Stuffs, a statistical indication – not foolproof, but indicative of a player’s impact near scrimmage – that the fifth-year senior captain was indeed a more productive player last year.
Schmidt finished 2014 (7.5 games played) with 65 tackles including 19.5 Stuffs, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, three QB hurries, and a trio of passes defended. Through seven games this season he has 41 stops, 10 Stuffs, a trio of QB hurries, one pass defended, and no turnovers created.
2 – THOSE WHO FORGET THE PAST…
As a unit, Notre Dame’s defense yields a modest 29 percent success rate on third down, good for 14th nationally and second only to Clemson among teams in the A.P. Top 20. It allows 4.3 yards per carry vs. non-option teams and just 6.6 yards per pass attempt overall. (The 2012 defense yielded 6.0 for the sake of reference.)
Without Schmidt in the final five games last season (including the Music City Bowl), Notre Dame’s defense surrendered first downs on 48 percent of its third-down opportunities and yielded 5.0 yards per carry with a whopping 8.1 yards per pass attempt.
It’s likely true that Notre Dame’s middle linebacker play must improve for the Irish to win out (I’m including beyond November). But it’s readily apparent that the squad doesn’t have a preferred alternative in the eyes of the coaches that evaluate competitors such as Nyles Morgan (a future standout), Jarrett Grace (valuable niche player), and Greer Martini (working at Sam ‘backer) on a daily basis.
It’s thus up to Schmidt to reach the level he’s previously proved capable.
3 – FULL RECOGNITION
In terms of national recognition, former offensive tackle Zack Martin owns the honor as the program’s most underrated/undervalued player of the modern era.
Dating back to the outset of the 2014 season, junior wide receiver Will Fuller is giving Martin a run for his money.
On a related note, below is my short list of undervalued entities during the Kelly era:
-- Isaac Rochell in 2014…and 2015
-- The effects of copious amounts of pasta on the human body in 2013
-- Kapron Lewis-Moore in 2012
-- Robert Blanton in 2011
-- Brian Smith and Sean Cwynar in November 2010.
And to round out the new millennium: Mike Richardson (Nickel, 2006), the 2005 Offensive Line (but decidedly NOT in 2006), Gerome Sapp (2002), and Anthony Denman (2000).
Sapp would look nice at free safety right about now, eh?
4 – MATT RULES
Raise your hand if at any point during this past pre-season you had Temple undefeated at 7-0 entering the Owls forthcoming matchup with the Irish…
Congratulations to Owls head coach Matt Rhule who impressed the media horde two years ago in South Bend with his post-game demeanor, not to mention resilient performance of his squad following the initial minutes in which Notre Dame raced to a 14-0 lead (later winning 28-6).
No one in the room that evening would have forecasted the then 38-year-old Rhule would have his team among the nation’s Top 20 entering his ensuing matchup with the Irish in Philadelphia, but most saw an upwardly mobile head coach likely to find his way back to Notre Dame Stadium (or The Big House, or Beaver Stadium, etc.) in charge of a high-profile program.
5 – KEIVARAE’S CORNER
Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell ranks second on the squad this season with 43 tackles. The breakdown of each is as follows, and is notable:
-- 6 in kickoff coverage including one that saved a touchdown (Navy) and a second that saved more Adoree Jackson running in free space (which basically equates to a touchdown). His remaining KR four tackles stopped foes prior to the 25-yard line, including once at the 12.
-- 5 Stuffs/TFL including two on pass plays, plus another (third-down sack) that forced a fumble.
-- 15 total tackles before the first down marker. 10 vs. pass; 5 vs. rush.
-- 3 third-down tackles after receptions, but short of the first down
-- 9 tackles following pass plays that resulted in opponents’ first downs including four vs. Virginia and three more against UMass. (And one crucial allowance against Clemson.)
-- 5 tackles against the rush after the opponent gained a first down. On two of these, Russell was the last tackler and saved a touchdown. (Not necessarily his fault the opponent scored thereafter in both instances.)
Additionally, Russell has an interception and four passes defended, has yielded a 48-yard post-route vs. Texas that led to a field goal, and has been flagged twice for pass interference including on third down late at Clemson.
The third down penalty at Clemson is relevant – it’s one of only two third-down pass plays on which Russell has been beaten in 2015.
What’s my overarching point?
Turns out Russell was right – rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I’ll be back Monday with the regular Morning Musings…