Notre Dame’s Kelly likes what he sees in Lea, defense
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — If 36-year-old Clark Lea had butterflies calling signals during his first game ever as a defensive coordinator, it wasn’t apparent to his boss, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
“You don’t know if a bomb has gone off in the coach’s box because he has such a calm demeanor at all times,” Kelly said Sunday, a day after No. 12 Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over No. 14 Michigan. “As you know, he very stable in all situations. It makes it very easy to work with Clark in communication.”
Lea, who came to Notre Dame from Wake Forest prior to 2017 with defensive guru Mike Elko to coach linebackers and then got a promotion following the 10-3 turnaround season when Elko joined Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Texas A&M, had to like what he saw from Notre Dame’s 4-2-5 defense.
Returning nine starters, the Irish defense withstood Michigan transfer quarterback Shea Patterson’s 227 passing yards with three sacks and two turnovers, the final one when senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery stripped the football and senior linebacker Te’von Coney recovered with 46 seconds left.
“We went into the week knowing that we had to contain the quarterback,” said the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Tillery, who had the third QB sack.
Coney had 10 tackles, junior defensive end Khalid Kareem had nine including two sacks and junior strong safety Alohi Gilman, a transfer from the Naval Academy making his first start had seven tackles with two passes broken up for a defense that limited Michigan to 58 rushing yards on 33 attempts and 307 yards total in 69 plays.
“The scary thing is we haven’t reached our peak or potential,” the 5-11, 202-pound Gilman said as Notre Dame turns its attention to an instate clash Saturday against Ball State, which totaled 652 yards in offense during its 42-6 victory over Central Connecticut State last Thursday.
“Our kids have really taken hold of our scheme,” Kelly said. “They have been fundamentally sound. Look it’s not rocket science here, right? You’ve got to be disciplined, you’ve got to be physical at the point of attack. Our guys clearly understood that discipline in their pass-rush lanes and in coverage, staying plastered on their receivers. We did a really good job except for one drive where we got out of what we had done all game, and that is staying disciplined.”
Players from both teams had cramping issues in the game played on Notre Dame Stadium’s artificial turf on a hot and humid night.
Kelly reported that the only significant injury for Notre Dame was the broken foot suffered by Tillery’s backup Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who broke a fifth metatarsal bone and will have surgery Monday and be out 10 weeks. Seniors Micah Dew-Treadway and Jonathan Bonner and true freshman Jayson Ademilola will get looks as Tagovailoa-Amosa’s replacement.
“I don’t know that there’s a group that didn’t play with that kind of grit and toughness,” Kelly said about Notre Dame’s play on both side of the line of scrimmage.