Ask any Irish fan to rank Notre Dame’s best defensive players through seven games this fall and three names are likely to pass the lips of each:
Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, and Isaac Rochell.
Due to Day’s senior season ascent, choosing the best of the trio becomes a pick-your-preference situation between the initial pair, while Rochell is invariably listed third.
But in one critical category, the versatile junior defensive lineman ranks atop the list:
Stuffs – i.e., tackles after gains of 0, 1, or 2 yards that don’t result in an opponent’s first down.
Along with beating his blocker to the punch off the snap, Rochell credits a technical aspect of his game for a litany of wins at scrimmage this season.
“It’s definitely hand placement, and it’s something we’ve really put emphasis on,” he offered. “You have to win with your hands inside. College O-Linemen are experts at holding. You can’t allow yourself to get held. You can’t complain about it because they don’t call it so you have to play around it.
“Hands and footwork are really important up front.”
Asked who among his current teammates or foes faced to date are the most adept at the dreaded, uncalled hold, Rochell wisely deferred to the pack rather than an individual.
“It’s safe to say all O-Linemen are professional holders, and some are really good at it,” he joked.
As detailed below, they’re less successful in that regard against Rochell than any other Irish defender to date.
THE RIGHT STUFF
The list below combines each players Tackles-for-Loss (and Sacks) plus Stuffs, the best statistical indicator we use at Irish Illustrated to determine which defenders have made the most – and the most important – plays near scrimmage.
Any indication of .5 means a Stuff/TFL was shared with a teammate.
Isaac Rochell (16.5) – Topped out with 4.5 Stuffs against USC and has 8.5 over the last three outings (Clemson, Navy, USC)
Jaylon Smith (14) – Posted 8.5 over the first three games but has just 5.5 since. Only game without a Stuff was timely (UMass).
Sheldon Day (11.5) – Best outing was 3.5 Stuff performance vs. Navy. Also posted two vs. Clemson and 1.5 last week vs. the Trojans.
Romeo Okwara (10) – Has improved of late with six of his 10 Stuffs occurring over the last three games including three vs. the Trojans.
Joe Schmidt (10) – Nearly half (4.5) came at the expense of Georgia Tech, a game Schmidt dominated.
Greer Martini (9.5) – 2.5 of the sophomore Stuffs occurred in non-competitive game action, but his 7.5 in limited action is notable nonetheless. Posted three vs. the Yellow Jackets and 2.5 vs. Navy.
Elijah Shumate (8) – Opened the season with a combined five over the first two games (2.5 vs. Texas and vs. UVA) but has just three since.
James Onwualu (7.5) – Starred against the Minutemen with 4.5 and added another 1.5 vs. USC. Onwualu has also posted a forced fumble among his 7.5 Stuffs to date.
Daniel Cage (5.5) – Back on track with two Stuffs vs. USC after posting three in the first four games.
Jerry Tillery (4) – Two from his quartet came at Clemson in Death Valley.
Drue Tranquill (3.5) – Includes 2.5 in the first half vs. Ga. Tech before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Cole Luke (3.5) – Has three over his last four outings, all solo.
KeiVarae Russell (3.5) – One against Virginia (with a forced fumble, to boot), 1.5 vs. Ga. Tech, and one vs. USC
Andrew Trumbetti (2) – One at Virginia plus another against Navy late.
Max Redfield (1.5) – Only solo stuff of the season occurred at Clemson to forced the Tigers final punt on third down, affording the Irish offense a chance to tie.
-- Reserves Te’Von Coney, Jonathan Bonner, Nyles Moran, Doug Randolph, Jacob Matuska, Nick Watkins (0.5, actually) and Matthias Farley (0.5 with a forced fumble) have each contributed to a Stuff as well. Only Farley’s occurred when a game’s outcome was in doubt.
-- 4.5 Stuffs ranks as an individual game high among Irish players through seven outings. Rochell (USC), Schmidt (Ga. Tech), and Onwualu (UMass), each posted the total while Day (3.5 vs. Navy), Smith (3 vs. Texas), and Martini (3 vs. Ga. Tech) have recorded the next highest single-game totals.