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Notre Dame’s defense will be the first real test for Vanderbilt’s revamped run game

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If Vanderbilt can run the ball on Notre Dame, this will be a fun year.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Shawn previewed the Notre Dame offense and came away with the conclusion that the Irish issues on the offensive side of the ball give Vanderbilt a chance on Saturday.

Here’s the problem: The Irish defense is legitimate. It might well be the best defense that Vanderbilt will see all year, and yes I realize that we play Georgia.

In 2017, the Irish defense allowed 21.5 ppg, and if anything this year’s defense might be even better. Through two games, Notre Dame’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns (Michigan had a special teams TD), and hasn’t allowed a single touchdown prior to the fourth quarter. Michigan averaged less than 2 yards per carry running the ball; Ball State was somehow slightly more successful (47 carries for 169 yards), but nobody has had much success running on Notre Dame.

That run defense starts up front with a pair of experienced defensive tackles: senior Jerry Tillery, at 6’7” and 305 pounds, in addition to being a massive human being is now in his third year as a starter, and Jonathan Bonner, at 295 pounds, is also a senior and in his second year as a starter. Once you figure out how to block those two, you have to slow down a good pair of defensive ends (Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem) and then deal with what might be one of the nation’s best linebacking corps: senior Te’von Coney has 18.5 tackles for loss in his career, and Drue Tranquill has 17. If you can run on these guys, you can run on anyone.

Notre Dame’s pass defense is a weakness only in comparison to the run defense, and it’s helped tremendously by the front seven getting pressure and forcing offenses into a lot of third-and-longs. Cornerback Julian Love has four career interceptions and while the secondary has a lot of experience, it’s not a big-play unit. While Andy Ludwig might like to establish the run game first, he might be better off trying to hit some big pass plays to open things up.