CB Cole Luke on Notre Dame defense's critics: 'They can talk all they want'

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Cole Luke hears you.

You: the frustrated football fan. You: the anonymous Twitter troll.

You, who watched in abject horror as the Notre Dame defense all but disintegrated in the third quarter of last weekend’s loss to Michigan State. You, whose bubbling grievances spilled like lava onto social media, incinerating everything in its path.

You, who takes solace in publicly assigning blame to maligned defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

You, with the torches and pitchforks.

To you — all of you — Luke has something to say.

“We think it’s funny, because the people that are talking want to be in our shoes, but they couldn’t handle the pressure that we have,” Notre Dame’s senior cornerback said on Wednesday night. “They think our job is easy, which it’s not. We’d pay money to see them do what we do, which we know they can’t. They can talk all they want. We don’t mind it. We actually think it’s entertaining.

“If that’s what they want to do, go ahead.”

Luke can be assured that they will. Considering that Notre Dame’s defense currently ranks 104th in fourth down defense, 103rd in pass efficiency defense, 102nd in total defense, 100th in tackles for loss, 99th in rushing defense, 94th in scoring defense, 93rd in red zone defense, 89th in third down defense and 89th in turnovers gained, the critics will clamor. That’s what happens when you’re 1-2, when you allow an average of 32 points per game, when you concede more than 500 total yards and 200 rushing yards to both Michigan State and Texas.

At Notre Dame, everything gets magnified — success, and especially failure.

“I think it’s going to be (tough) regardless of your age or your development or your time in the game,” Luke said of coping with disappointment. “Now it’s a little bit harder. It’s difficult to go through because that shouldn’t really happen to me personally.”

It shouldn’t, but it did.

In Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss to Michigan State last weekend, Luke took an unexpected step backwards. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior was in position to rip away an interception in the second quarter, but freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley snatched it out of his grip for a touchdown instead. As the Spartans celebrated around him, Luke stayed on his knees in the end zone, furiously clapping the hands that had inexplicably let him down.

“I just didn’t bring it down fast enough,” Luke said. “That’s point blank, period.”

Then, he was called for a pass interference penalty for essentially tackling Michigan State wide receiver R.J. Shelton.

Then, he blew a tackle on Shelton, and the Spartans scored on the following play.

All things considered, it was perhaps the most disappointing outing of Luke’s otherwise impressive Irish career.

“Cole is a good player. He's the smartest defensive player we have,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday. “He's got to play with a sense of urgency. He's got to catch that football. He's got to make that tackle. He's got to stay above the cut and be in good position to break on (the wide receiver). He's got to do all those things, and he's capable of doing them, and he knows that.

“All I've told Cole is that he's a really good football player. He's put himself in good positions. He's just got to go make some plays. We've got to rely on him because he's a three-year starter for us out there, and he's got to be able to play better for us, and I'm confident he will.”

But is Luke confident? Can any player stay confident after so publicly stubbing their toe?

“It’s very difficult (to move past it),” Luke admitted. “I talked to (defensive backs) coach (Todd) Lyght and he said, ‘I can tell that you haven’t dropped it yet.’ I want to say I have, but it’s (tough). Whenever you make a mistake or don’t capitalize, it’s going to be (tough).”

Right now, that’s what it is. For the players. For the fans.

The best remedy, of course, is to play another game. Luke plans to bury his blunders under a pile of future plays.

“This situation and this opportunity that we have is not going to be here forever,” he said. “Football is only here for four years of your long life. Playing football here is such a short moment. Don’t take it for granted.”

The Chandler, Ariz., native will take that mindset into Saturday’s game against Duke, which limps into South Bend with a 1-2 record as well as plenty to prove. Redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones is tall on talent, but has coughed up both a fumble and an interception in each of his last two games.

If Luke struggles, he’ll hear the critics — none louder than himself.

“When you come here, you hold yourself to a gold standard,” Luke said. “That’s what you come here for. Anything less than that, you’re cheating yourself.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Michigan State wide receiver Monty Madaris stretches for yardage past Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)