One of the key reasons the Irish were comprehensively bested by Alabama in the 2012 title game was the superiority of the Crimson Tide’s defensive line. A strong defensive line takes the line of scrimmage away from the offense, disrupting the timing of the running game and taking away the holes through which the backs are meant to run. A dominant one collapses pockets and generates batted balls, tackles-for-loss, and quarterback sacks. They demoralize an inferior offensive line and ultimately keep the opposing quarterback looking over his shoulder and begging for better protection.
For the 2015 Fighting Irish, the defensive line is a position group that could have been one of the greatest of all time if commitments were carried through, talent had been lived up to, and injuries and academics not nipped and nicked. Eddie Vanderdoes bolted for UCLA. Jarrion Jones was done in by a knee. Ishaq Williams saw his last chance to live up to his outlandish potential scuppered by the NCAA. What was once a position of considerable strength is, six days from the season, one of semi-uncertainty.
The Irish: While I am probably most interested in and intrigued by the promise offered by Jerry Tillery, Sheldon Day, a 2015 Bronko Nagurski Award watch listee, is the best player on the Irish line. One of five team captains, and one of only twenty two-time captains in Notre Dame history, the 6’2″, 291 pound senior, is a force along the line and in the locker room. In 2014, he registered forty tackles and was second on the team in hurries and tackles for loss. Day played in every game his freshman year, 2012, and picked up three tackles against Alabama. As a sophomore, he lost two games to injury, but turned in notable performances against BYU, Stanford, Rutgers, and Pitt.
Day’s best performances in 2014 came against Rice, Michigan, Navy, Florida State, and Arizona State. Against Northwestern, though, he suffered a knee injury that saw him side-lined until the Music City Bowl. There, Day notched two tackles and a fumble recovery as the Irish defeated the LSU Tigers in a clash of FBS foes.
The Enemy: While Clemson loses a lot along the line heading into 2015, Shaq Lawson, a 6’3″, 275 pound junior, is a returning force and may be the best individual opponent the Irish will face all season. Lawson is a Bednarik Award watch listee with tremendous speed and strength. Though he only started one game in 2014, Lawson converted his opportunities, as evidenced by his performances against North Carolina and Georgia: four tackles and one sack for a safety in twenty-one snaps, four tackles and two pressures in thirty-three snaps, respectively. Overall, he finished with forty-four tackles, eleven tackles for loss, three and a half sacks, and a forced-fumble. In Clemson’s bowl game, the Russell Athletic Bowl against Oklahoma, Lawson blocked an extra point, caused a fumble, and recorded four tackles in only nineteen snaps. In short, Lawson was a critical cog in a terrific unit on the country’s best defense last year.
- Finding Flaws in a Diamond: Clemson’s Rushing Offense - December 17, 2018
- Why Nobody Will Cotton to Notre Dame - December 3, 2018
- Irish Finish Regular Season Perfect 12-0 - November 26, 2018