Notebook: Notre Dame defense must adjust again after losing CB Shaun Crawford

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the immediate aftermath, sophomore Nick Coleman played with a redemptive swagger for the most part as Nevada’s offense struggled to find and expose the flaws Texas had done so easily just six days earlier.

But Shaun Crawford’s extended absence from the Notre Dame defensive lineup adds a significant layer to Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s charge of coaxing a positive evolution of his defense long term.

When Crawford suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon midway through the first quarter of 18th-ranked Notre Dame’s 39-10 victory over Nevada Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, it wasn’t just about losing a top-flight cornerback.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore was a cornerstone in advancing a defensive scheme that wasn’t flexible enough to deal with elite slot receivers last season. That was in large part due to Crawford’s 2015 season ending before it could get started, with a torn right ACL in August training camp.

The mindset stays the same! With the support of family, friends, teammates, and fans this will be minor.! GO IRISH pic.twitter.com/I7BFHmkFlK

— Crawf (@Shaun20Crawford) September 11, 2016

Plan B moving forward without Crawford has more options than last season, but the initial look will probably be a bit of mix and match.

Coleman will fill in, as he did Saturday, when duty calls for an outside corner. Freshman Julian Love will get the bulk of the work inside at nickel. Fellow freshmen Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. are on the cusp of high-leverage snaps.

The Irish may get an experience cornerback back from injury, in junior Nick Watkins, though, later this month.

“I thought Nick did some really good things,” ND coach Brian Kelly said of Coleman, six days after having to bench the sophomore for ineffectiveness. “He was on body. He fell down on that one opportunity they had a big pass completion in the third quarter.

“But Nick played with much better technique, a lot better confidence. He's got to be that kind of player for us now with Shaun now lost for the season.”

After the game, Crawford scurried up the tunnel on crutches faster than most able-bodied people were able to walk. Sadly, perhaps it’s because he has had so much practice on them.

“I’m so sad it had to happen to him,” said senior cornerback Cole Luke, who started opposite Crawford the past two games. “Honestly, God has a plan, and if anybody can get through it, Shaun can.

“It’s just super frustrating, because he went through it last year. He has to go through it now again. He’s a tough kid, so he’s going to get through it.”

Pros and cons

Even if ND’s protracted quarterback competition had gone Malik Zaire’s way, the buzz from pro scouts would be very different from the first-round chatter junior DeShone Kizer is generating.

Analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com, projects Kizer as the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and offensive guard Quenton Nelson are also projected first-rounders.

Zaire, even if he regains his starting status at ND or somewhere else, is not looked upon as even a draftable prospect.

“I think he’d probably qualify as one of those guys who is a good college player, but question mark as a pro prospect for a number of reasons,” Wright said. “And it’s not that he can’t pass at all.

“He doesn’t have the prototypical height that you look for (6-0). Even if he had won that job and excelled throughout the season, I don’t think he was going to emerge as a top pro prospect as Kizer has, is, however you want to term it.

“It’s just because he doesn’t have those natural physical tools that teams look for.”

Zaire entered the Nevada game Saturday at the 3:45 mark of the third quarter and promptly connected with freshman Kevin Stepherson on a 22-yard pass for a first down. He converted a nine-yard pass on fourth-and-eight later in the drive, again to Stepherson.

Running back Dexter Williams capped the drive with a one-yard scoring run, his second collegiate TD.

Zaire finished 4-of-9 passing for 49 yards, and carried the ball five time for five yards.

Squibs

• Senior cornerback Cole Luke got the honor of wearing the No. 1 jersey, following linebacker James Onwualu in that rotation for the weekly honor.

• Nose guard Jarron Jones collected his first interception, to which Kelly responded, “Now he wants to play tight end.''

• For the second week in a row, the Irish didn’t allow any big-chunk plays in the running game. The long Saturday by Nevada was 17 yards. Texas’ long was 19.

• Saturday marked the 250th consecutive sell-out at Notre Dame Stadium.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Shaun Crawford (20) leaves the field with an injury during the Notre Dame-Nevada NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN