CB Julian Love finding new challenges in Notre Dame's defense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

There are hazards in trying to cover Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool on a daily basis.

With most Notre Dame football practices closed to reporters, those moments can go unknown to the public. But that’s not always the case when the Irish social media team is on the scene.

Even though cornerback Julian Love deletes Twitter and Instagram from his phone during preseason camp, he’s aware his lowlights are shared online.

After the first practice of the preseason at Culver Academies, a photo shared on the @NDFootball Twitter account showed Boykin stretching his arms over Love to make a leaping catch. The latest clip of a Love loss came Thursday night on the @NDFootball account. A video shows Claypool making a back-shoulder catch on a perfect pass from Brandon Wimbush. It’s unclear what, if anything, Love could have done to stop it.

There’s a good chance Love heard about the clip being online from his girlfriend. Any time he shows up in a picture or video, she tends to mention it.

“When she doesn’t say what the picture is of me, I know it’s something bad,” Love said last week. “She’s like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s you. It’s Miles making a good catch.’”

Love could have had a great day, but one single moment could make it seem otherwise.

“You hate to see it. You hate to post about it. I told her to stop tagging me in anything bad,” Love said. “But he’s doing a great job. You have to love it.”

The evolution of Notre Dame’s top receivers has made life a bit harder for the junior cornerback. Even coming off a season in which he set a Notre Dame record with 20 pass breakups, Love was challenged in the spring. Trying to blanket a pair of 6-foot-4 targets is a tall task for a 5-11 defender.

“Part of the reason why I didn’t have the spring I wanted to have was because of Miles and Chase,” Love said. “They’re so big, and they’re so strong. But they’re so fast.”

The other factor in Love’s unsatisfying spring? He was trying to make too many interceptions.

“He was thinking more about making plays as opposed to playing with technique and playing the scheme of the defense,” said cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght. “That’s where he got away from himself a little bit. We reeled him back in.

“I said, ‘Listen, you have to play the game organically. You have to carry out your assignment. The plays will come. If you try to force the plays, that’s when you’re going to get into trouble.’”

Easier said than done. Love established himself as Notre Dame’s top cornerback last season. The next step, in his mind, was taking the ball away from the offense. His interceptions returned for touchdowns against Michigan State and N.C. State were a preview of what he wanted to do more often.

Those interceptions were also a chance for Love to show off his running back skills from his days at La Grange Park (Ill.) Nazareth Academy. As a senior, he rushed for 1,067 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“It’s hard to tell somebody who wants the ball on defense, ‘All right, let the game come to you.’ It’s tough,” Love said. “Coach Lyght is heavy on me. (Defensive backs) coach (Terry) Joseph’s doing a great job with me. We’ve developed a good relationship this summer.”

With the help of a little film review, Love realized all three of his interceptions last year came as a product of staying within the system.

“I’m set up to do well in this defense,” Love said. “They rely on me heavily in this defense in a lot of one-on-one situations. I just need to do my job and do my assignment. Those are the interceptions.

“When you look at Michigan State, I was playing the defense. N.C. State, I was just playing the defense and the ball was thrown to me. Wake Forest, I was in man and made a play on the ball.”

Listening to Lyght, who intercepted 11 passes in his Notre Dame career, should put Love in a position to make plays naturally.

“For a guy of Julian’s talent, he has great playmaking skills, great ball skills, can tackle on the perimeter in one-on-one situations, defeat blocks,” Lyght said. “He has the total package that you’re looking for in terms of playmaker at the cornerback position. It’s just getting to understand to play within the defense and the plays will come. He understands that.”

Focusing on playing within the defense rather than trying to make interceptions doesn’t mean playing cornerback is any easier for Love heading into his junior season. Even though defensive coordinator Mike Elko left the Irish in the offseason, the scheme has remained the same with Clark Lea taking over the defense.

That’s allowed for Love to have a better knowledge of the defense, but he still finds himself on an island at times asked to cover bigger, stronger or faster receivers.

In two weeks, when the Irish host Michigan in the season opener, at least the receivers Love has to cover won’t be Boykin or Claypool.

“I thought it’d be easier. But there’s a good balance, because the better you do, the more is expected of you,” Love said. The coaches “have really challenged me this spring, this summer to take everything in my game to the next level. That’s what I’m trying to do.

“I want to say it’s easier. I tell myself it could be easier, so I get to calm down, but they challenge me in a great way. That makes me better.”

Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love intercepted three passes last season, including this one on Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford on Nov. 5. Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin