Notebook: Greg Hudson has assisted Notre Dame offense as well

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — With each passing day that new defensive coordinator Greg Hudson spends on the job, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is being continually pressed for new ways to describe Hudson’s assets.

Tuesday, Kelly didn’t disappoint.

“His role right now is to be the catalyst for enthusiasm,” Kelly said during another marathon weekly press conference. “He's jumping out of the cake at birthday parties, right? He's the guy!”

Not quite as colorful, but every bit as important, Hudson has even had a hand in the Notre Dame offense’s somewhat-ignored prolific start.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup at North Carolina State (3-1) and facing the nation’s 21st-ranked total defense, the Irish (2-3) are scoring at a school-record pace (39.8) and are coming off only the fourth game of 600 total yards or more in the 20 seasons that have followed the Lou Holtz coaching era.

The Irish amassed 654 in the 50-33 victory over Syracuse last Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., 66 short of the ND school record set in 1969 against Navy.

Among the individual highlights, quarterback DeShone Kizer has thrown for 1,196 yards over the past three games, second-most in school history over any three-game stretch. He’s averaging a school-record 10.38 yards per attempt and is among the FBS leaders in several statistical categories, including ninth in passing efficiency.

Up until Sept. 25, when he stepped in for fired coordinator Brian VanGorder, Hudson was a defensive analyst on the Irish staff. But he didn’t limit himself to that side of the ball.

“Greg really helped me a lot with some self-scout things,” said Mike Denbrock, ND’s offensive play-caller and associate head coach. “ 'Hey coach, here’s a breakdown of your throwing play action with the tight end attached.’ … Tendencies that we have offensively and things like that.

“He would even jump in and help with things like that.”

ND’s analysts and grad assistants help with the deep statistical dive Kelly and his nine on-field assistants don’t have time to get to in the week-to-week grind.

“We’ve got to have those guys there for us,” Denbrock said, “and kind of do the behind-the-scenes stuff that aids us so much in putting a game plan on the board and going out and practicing it.”

Personnel shuffle

That Troy Pride went from a freshman destined for a redshirt season to a cornerback who took 80 snaps in his college debut Saturday against Syracuse, helps illustrate the gulf in how Kelly and VanGorder viewed certain players on the Irish defensive roster.

Pride routinely caught Kelly’s attention in practice on the scout squad, going up against Notre Dame’s No. 1 offense. But until VanGorder’s Sept. 25 purging, Kelly deferred to his defensive coordinator when it came to the final word on defensive personnel.

“I was like, ‘That guy is as good as the guys we go against week-in and week-out.’ ” Kelly said of Pride, a champ in four events last May at the South Carolina AAA high school state track and field meet.

“I really was impressed with him. I wanted to play him. And I thought we should have played him, so I'm making those personnel decisions. His make-up speed is extraordinary. He's smart. He wants to play. Those guys are going to play for me.”

It’s not just vertical depth chart changes, but lateral ones as well. For instance, freshman Jalen Elliott has been primarily a free safety and sophomore Nicco Fertitta solely a strong safety. They’re now each the primary backup at the opposite safety position.

“It's really about the players, not the particular scheme,” Kelly said. “So we're fitting the players to the scheme, not the scheme to the players. So you're seeing some people move around to fit to the way I want our defense to look.”

'Catholics vs. Convicts' 30 for 30 set

The ESPN documentary that brings to life Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship season and has been in the works for months, finally has a title and an air date.

The 30 for 30 “Catholics vs. Convicts” will premier at 9 p.m. EST on Dec. 10 on ESPN. That’s six weeks after the one-time rivals meet Oct. 29 in Notre Dame Stadium.

There trailer can be seen here:

The show is directed and narrated by Notre Dame grad Patrick Creadon, who was a senior at ND during the 1988 season.

Pressure point

The next layer of evolution in Notre Dame’s defense post-VanGorder could be a more effective pass rush, something that was promised but rarely delivered in the deposed third-year defensive coordinator’s scheme.

The Irish were the 128th and final FBS team to record its first sack this season. That came Sept. 24 in a 38-35 loss to Duke, VanGorder’s 30th and final game on the Irish sideline.

Though the Irish picked up just one sack in the Syracuse game last Saturday — linebacker Nyles Morgan now has both — the Irish did register a season-high 11 quarterback hurries.

“I want to be careful that we don't get too caught up in the fact that we're not getting sacks,” Kelly said. “I want quarterback hurries and I want pressures. So that needs to be the focus.

“The vocabulary to me in that defensive room is pressures and hurries. If we can do that and play the kind of coverage that I want, I'm going to be happy with the kind of pass rush that we get.”

N.C. State is the best team in sacks allowed Notre Dame will see in the first half of the season. The Wolfpack rank 29th nationally in that category.

And Wolfpack QB Ryan Finley, a Boise State transfer, hasn’t yet been pressured into an interception. In fact, Yahoo’s Pat Forde points out Finley is one of only three FBS quarterbacks, who have attempted 100 passes or more, who have yet to get picked off.

Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky are the others.

New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Greg Hudson on the field before the Notre Dame-Syracuse football game, Oct. 1 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)