Shaun Crawford

Notre Dame defensive back Shaun Crawford (20) tackles Stanford’s Michael Wilson (4) on Nov. 30, 2019. As part of Notre Dame's COVID-19 safety protocols, photojournalists were not allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

The challenges Shaun Crawford faced in his first two games as Notre Dame’s starting strong safety were what could be expected.

Undersized for the position at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Crawford struggled with the physical responsibilities required as a safety. The graduate senior missed four tackles in the first two possessions against Duke and rarely brought a presence against the run.

Crawford notably missed a tackle that resulted in the Blue Devils turning a short completion into a 55-yard gain on third-and-5. Wide receiver Eli Pancol hauled in quarterback Chase Brice’s pass on a slant route before evading tackles from Crawford and fellow safety DJ Brown and turning upfield. The play set up Duke’s opening field goal.

USF’s longest play against Notre Dame came after linebacker Drew White and Crawford failed to tackle elusive running back Johnny Ford. He broke loose for a 42-yard run on the play.

Covering receivers on the wide side of the field or in the slot has not been too challenging for Crawford. He operated as Notre Dame’s nickelback and field cornerback prior to this season. Durability and the physical aspect of playing safety have been the concerns.

Defenders were likely to whiff on some tackles at the beginning of the season. Limited contact opportunities and canceled spring football this offseason made rustiness a potential issue. Crawford also only moved to safety full time and won the starting job during preseason camp.

The Irish missed 21 tackles combined in their 27-13 win over the Blue Devils and 52-0 romp of South Florida, according to Pro Football Focus. So Crawford was not alone in his mistakes. But his errors were glaring enough that he will need to play better against improved competition.

The Tribune analyzed Notre Dame’s defense’s first two games. Below is a breakdown of how the group performed individually and collectively.

Snap counts

Rotations have been a large part of Notre Dame’s defensive identity so far, even without the blowout factor against USF. Cornerback was the only position that did not regularly alternate.

A total of 11 defensive linemen saw action in Notre Dame’s first eight defensive plays against Duke: Defensive ends Daelin Hayes, Ade Ogundeji, Isaiah Foskey, Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola, defensive tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Howard Cross III, and nose guards Kurt Hinish, Jacob Lacey and Ja’Mion Franklin.

Sophomore Marist Liufau started at buck linebacker against Duke but alternated some possessions with junior Shayne Simon. Middle linebacker Bo Bauer displaced starter Drew White for certain situations in both games. Starting rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah came out for Paul Moala in both games but not often.

Safeties Kyle Hamilton, DJ Brown, Shaun Crawford and Houston Griffith rotated against Duke. Hamilton (ankle) did not play against USF, but the other three safeties still rotated. Cornerback Cam Hart saw time during third-and-long situations once Hamilton went down in the third quarter of game one.

The defense faced 135 snaps combined in their first two games. Only three players surpassed 70 snaps because of the rotations and blowout win over the Bulls: cornerback Nick McCloud (82), Owusu-Koramoah (86) and Crawford (88).

Among Notre Dame’s scholarship players on defense, all but two defensive ends (injured NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Kofi Wardlow), one linebacker (Osita Ekwonu) and one safety (Litchfield Ajavon) played in the first two games.

Here’s the snap count breakdown (Duke snaps + USF snaps = total snaps), per Pro Football Focus:

S Shaun Crawford: 60 + 28 = 88

ROV Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 63 + 23 = 86

CB Nick McCloud: 68 + 14 = 82

LB Drew White: 46 + 24 = 70

S DJ Brown: 30 + 38 = 68

DE Ade Ogundeji: 46 + 20 = 66

CB TaRiq Bracy: 66 + 0 = 66

DE Daelin Hayes: 46 + 19 = 65

DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: 44 + 16 = 60

NG Kurt Hinish: 39 + 14 = 53

S Houston Griffith: 12 + 40 = 52

CB Cam Hart: 4 + 44 = 48

DE Justin Ademilola: 20 + 27 = 47

DE Isaiah Foskey: 14 + 32 = 46

LB Jack Kiser: 4 + 40 = 44

S Kyle Hamilton: 42 + 0 = 42

LB Bo Bauer: 22 + 15 = 37

NG Jacob Lacey: 15 + 21 = 36

CB Clarence Lewis: 0 + 33 = 33

LB Shayne Simon: 32 + 0 = 32

LB Marist Liufau: 27 + 0 = 27

DT Rylie Mills: 0 + 26 = 26

ROV Paul Moala: 5 + 19 = 24

S KJ Wallace: 0 + 24 = 24

LB JD Bertrand: 0 + 22 = 22

LB Jack Lamb: 0 + 21 = 21

DT Howard Cross III: 4 + 16 = 20

DT Jayson Ademilola: 20 + 0 = 20

NG Ja’Mion Franklin: 12 + 7 = 19

CB Isaiah Rutherford: 0 + 19 = 19

DE Jordan Botelho: 0 + 18 = 18

DE Alexander Ehrensberger: 0 + 14 = 14

DE Ovie Oghoufo: 12 + 0 = 12

ROV Isaiah Pryor: 0 + 11 = 11

NG Aidan Keanaaina: 0 + 9 = 9

CB Ramon Henderson: 0 + 9 = 9

CB Caleb Offord: 0 + 3 = 3

Coverage

Without knowing the responsibilities of each defender every play, tracking coverage targets requires some guessing.

Crawford’s rough start showed up in coverage, too. He yielded 97 yards on 4-of-6 passing in the first half against Duke. But for passes that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage in both games, the Irish yielded just one completion on 10 attempts for 36 yards.

Here’s the coverage breakdown tracked by passes traveled relative to the line of scrimmage (Duke numbers + USF numbers = total numbers):

Behind the line to 0 yards: 4-of-5 for 0 yards + 2-of-3 for -7 yards = 6-of-8 for -7 yards.

1-5 yards: 5-of-12 for 96 yards + 3-of-5 for 25 yards = 8-of-17 for 121 yards

6-10 yards: 5-of-8 for 54 yards + 4-of-6 for 40 yards = 9-of-14 for 94 yards

11-15 yards: 3-of-6 for 49 yards + 2-of-6 for 31 yards = 5-of-12 for 80 yards

16-20 yards: 3-of-3 for 60 yards + 0-of-1 = 3-of-4 for 60 yards

21-30 yards: 0-of-3 + 0-of-3 = 0-of-6

31-plus yards: None + 1-of-4 for 36 yards = 1-of-4 for 36 yards

Yards after catch: 129 + 33 = 162

Individual coverage

Good coverage tends to discourage a quarterback from throwing toward that defender. So tracking targets comes with the caveat that plays with good coverage do not always show up on the stat sheet.

Here's a breakdown of Notre Dame's defenders who covered at least one pass thrown to their man or direction:

ROV Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 6-of-7 for 57 yards with a holding penalty + 2-of-2 for 18 yards = 8-of-9 for 75 yards with a holding penalty

S Shaun Crawford: 4-of-7 for 97 yards + 0-of-1 = 4-of-8 for 97 yards

CB Nick McCloud: 4-of-7 for 39 yards + 0-of-3 = 4-of-10 for 39 yards

CB Clarence Lewis: 0 + 3-of-6 for 34 yards = 3-of-6 for 34 yards

ROV Paul Moala: 2-of-2 for 20 yards + 1-of-1 for 4 yards = 3-of-3 for 24 yards

S Kyle Hamilton: 1-of-4 for 7 yards + 0 = 1-of-4 for 7 yards

S Houston Griffith: 0-of-1 + 2-of-3 for 5 yards = 2-of-4 for 5 yards

LB Bo Bauer: 1-of-1 for -3 yards + 1-of-1 for -3 yards = 2-for-2 for -6 yards

CB Cam Hart: 1-of-1 for 23 yards + 2-of-5 for 50 yards = 3-of-6 for 73 yards

KJ Wallace: 0 + 1-of-1 for 17 yards = 1-of-1 for 17 yards

DE Daelin Hayes: 1-of-3 for 19 yards + 0 = 1-of-3 for 19 yards

CB Isaiah Rutherford: 0 + 0-of-4 with a pass interference penalty = 0-of-4 with a pass interference penalty

CB TaRiq Bracy: 0-of-2 + 0 = 0-of-2

LB Shayne Simon: 0-of-1 + 0 = 0-of-1

LB Drew White: 0-of-1 + 0 = 0-of-1

LB Jack Kiser: 0 + 0-of-1 = 0-of-1

Pass rush

Notre Dame produced 17 pressures on Duke’s 43 dropbacks (39.5%) and 12 pressures on 32 dropbacks (37.5%) against USF. Backup defensive end Isaiah Foskey led the group with six pressures.

Here’s a breakdown of those pressures (Duke pressures + USF pressures = total pressures):

DE Isaiah Foskey: 3 + 3 = 6

DE Daelin Hayes: 4 + 0 = 4

LB Drew White: 2 + 2 = 4

ROV Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 3 + 0 = 3

LB Jack Lamb: 0 + 2 = 2

DE Alexander Ehrensberger: 0 + 2 = 2

LB Jack Kiser: 0 + 1 = 1

S DJ Brown: 0 + 1 = 1

DE Ade Ogundeji: 1 + 0 = 1

NG Kurt Hinish: 1 + 0 = 1

DT Jayson Ademilola: 1 + 0 = 1

S Kyle Hamilton: 1 + 0 = 1

ROV Paul Moala: 1 + 0 = 1

DT Howard Cross III: 0 + 1 = 1

Run defense

Notre Dame’s run defense bottled up Duke (30 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown) and USF (106 rushing yards on 33 attempts).

Advanced metrics measured by Football Outsiders also indicated the Irish defended the run well. Here’s how Notre Dame performed in three different metrics (Duke numbers + USF numbers = total numbers):

Opportunity rate (the percentage of carries, when four yards are available, that gain at least four yards): 8-of-25 + 11-of-31 = 19-of-56 (33.93%). West Virginia’s offense (36.3%) ranked last in opportunity rate in 2019.

Power success rate (the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown): 1-of-1 + 2-of-4 = 3-of-5. An offense at 60% would have tied for No. 110 in power success rate last season.

Stuff rate (percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage): 6-of-20 + 11-of-26 = 17-of-46 (36.96%). Akron’s offense (26.8%) finished last in stuff rate in 2019.

Third-down package

In 2019, Notre Dame featured a special dime package during third-and-long situations.

That look involved four defensive linemen, one linebacker (usually Jack Lamb) and six defensive backs, including three safeties. The Irish used special packages for third-and-long situations during their first two games again, but they weren’t like last season’s dime defense.

Before Hamilton’s injury, Notre Dame most commonly used a group that included three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. Ogundeji, Hayes, Tagovailoa-Amosa, Bauer, Owusu-Koramoah, McCloud, Bracy, Hamilton, Brown, Crawford and Griffith comprised the group. Hart replaced Hamilton in that defense against Duke after he permanently left the game.

Duke went 0-of-4 on third downs against that look, rushing for nine yards on two carries and completing 1-of-2 passes for minus-three yards.

Third-and-short meant the Irish used their base defense.

Improved play

Overall, Notre Dame’s defense made amends from their struggles in the first half against Duke.

The Irish yielded 246 yards on 42 plays across seven possessions to the Blue Devils in the first two quarters. They also allowed 106 yards after catch before yielding just 56 YAC in their last six quarters.

Notre Dame’s starting defensive rotation lined up for 12 possessions from the second half against Duke through USF’s opening series of the third quarter. The group allowed only 207 yards on 59 plays and seven points across those 12 possessions.

Kiser (seven tackles) and Lewis (five tackles, three pass breakups) impressed in their increased roles against the Bulls.

ckarels@sbtinfo.com

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Twitter: @CarterKarels