JARRON JONES: OCTOBULL
Better or just different? That was the pre-game query regarding Notre Dame’s new-look, deeper defensive unit, because for the panacea that was to be the firing of defensive coordinator Score-on-Me VanGorder, the team as a whole was nonetheless just 2-2 since such unexpected late-September joy came to South Bend.
Saturday that question was answered: the Irish defense is better today than it was a month ago. Much better, in fact.
A whopping 23 Stuffs on 77 Miami snaps – a dozen of them tackles-for-loss. The Irish defense stopped a combined 13 of 20 third- and fourth-down conversion attempts by the Hurricanes, and the youth-filled secondary registered eight passes defended, three by backup freshman corner Donte Vaughn.
“They’re going to be some players,” said middle linebacker Nyles Morgan of his young teammates on the backline. “They freshman, bright lights and all, but overall, I’m proud of them. All of them are going to be players.”
Morgan was no slouch himself, posting 9 tackles including three for lost yardage with two sacks and pass defended. That effort paled in comparison to the tour de force put forth by fifth-year senior Jarron Jones, aka, Octobull.
Half octopus, half bull.
“I think that's about as good a performance that we've had in a while here,” said Kelly of Jones’ half-dozen tackles for loss. “Jarron was outstanding. He was awarded the game ball.
Jones was less effusive in his praise.
“I didn’t expect it to this magnitude,” he said of his expectations if the Hurricanes insisted on solo-blocking him. “I knew a couple TFLs would be realistic. But I knew if we got penetration against their offense we could shut everything down.
“I’m still just trying to shake the rust off from injuries and stuff, getting used to playing a large amount of snaps.”
According to Notre Dame media relations, Jones’ six TFLs are the most by an FBS-level player this season. He became the 23rd player in all of college football to record six TFLs in a game since the turn of the century.
After two months of football and three months of practice Notre Dame’s specialty units have proven to be a laugh-a-quarter collection of fumbles, muffs, miscues and rampant mind freezes.
And that’s without the mind-blowing mistakes.
Saturday night’s iteration of error was highlighted by two fumbles by the punt return team – one by blocker Troy Pride, the other by returner C.J. Sanders. The former lead to Miami’s first score four snaps later while the latter resulted directly in seven points as the Hurricanes recovered in the Irish end zone.
That’s what happens when you field a bouncing punt inside your own five-yard line: sometimes things go awry.
In between the kick return crew was victimized by a surprise onside kick, one so unfamiliar to the Irish, notably freshman Jalen Elliott, that there wasn’t a Notre Dame defender within three yards of the football while ‘Canes cover man Jamal Carter waited patiently for the rolling football to travel the requisite 10 yards.
It seemed – as impossible as this may sound – that Elliott was unaware the ball was live as it rolled perilously toward him.
Asked about his special teams, head coach Brian Kelly chose to focus on the systemic faults of his squad rather than drill down to specific issues at hand.
“Look, our whole football team had been battling at times being indecisive in certain areas, whether we were indecisive at the quarterback position, whether we were indecisive as a play-caller, whether we were indecisive at the cornerback position, indecisiveness kind of put us where we are today.”
Kelly’s punt return unit earned the last laugh when backup return man Chris Finke took Miami’s final punt 23 yards to the Hurricanes’ 40-yard line to help set up the game-winning, 23-yard chip shot field goal by classmate Justin Yoon.
LET’S GO STREAKING
To date, the following consecutive point totals have been rung up against Notre Dame:
- 17 by Texas
- 36 for Michigan State
- 17 by Duke
- 17 for Stanford (the last 17, I might add)
- 27 tonight by Miami
On a related note, these are the game-clock scoring slumps by the Irish offense at home this season:
- 34 game minutes against Miami
- 36:49 (the final 36:49) vs. Stanford
- 20:29 against Duke
- 21:50 vs. Michigan State
- Plus 23:44 at Texas
Navy scored 24 consecutive in its near-upset of the Irish two seasons ago in Washington, D.C., turning a 28-7 Notre Dame lead into a 31-28 fourth quarter advantage. It’s a trend worth noting as the Irish attempt to win their fourth game of the season next Saturday in Jacksonville.
GOAL TO GO, UH-OH
Notre Dame’s opening drive concluded with a well-timed, beautifully designed shuffle pass from DeShone Kizer to Torii Hunter, Jr. for a five-yard score.
But its next two such forays inside the Hurricanes’ 10-yard line finished with two field goals rather than touchdowns, the latter of which served as the game-winner, but the Irish were clearly trying to hit pay dirt not just burn clock for the kick as evidenced by tight end Durham Smythe’s fumble attempting to dive across the goal.
That 1-for-3 effort after breeching the Hurricanes 10-yard line comes on the heels of the following:
- 1-for-3 inside the 10 against Stanford (touchdown, field goal, game-ending turnover on down)
- 0-for-1 at N.C. State (interception)
- 1-for-3 vs. Syracuse (turnover-on-downs, touchdown, field goal)
If the Irish are to win two straight contests (or more) for the first time since mid-November 2015, touchdowns rather than field goals when they breech an opponent’s 10-yard line could prove to be the difference.