Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji ready for increased workload

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND

Adetokunbo Ogundeji wants to put the Michigan loss behind him.

The senior Notre Dame defensive end already has in many ways. But it’s hard for a kid who grew up in Michigan to avoid contact with Wolverines fans.

“After that game I had a lot of texts from people back home giving me a lot stuff,” Ogundeji said. “That was a part of it. I was talking some trash. They were talking some trash. It was mutual. I definitely got the wrong end of the stick there. I have to accept it.”

Ogundeji doesn’t need gentle smack talk to remind him of what happened in that 45-14 loss on Oct. 26. The Walled Lake (Mich.) Central product remembers the outcome while also trying to forget it.

“I’m not ever thinking about Michigan. All that’s behind me,” Ogundeji said. “But at the same time, I am going to know that we can’t play like that. I can’t play with the effort that we played with or the lack of execution we played with against Michigan ever again.

“That’s out the window. We’ve learned from that, and now it’s on to the next three weeks.”

The task at hand this Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC) demands maximum focus from CFP No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2). The Irish will host No. 23 Navy (7-1) in Notre Dame Stadium. The Midshipmen have reloaded after bottoming out with a 3-10 record last season.

Navy’s triple-option offense is humming this season. The Midshipmen lead college football by a wide margin with 357.9 rushing yards per game. Only one other team — Air Force at 323.1 yards per game — is averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game.

Ogundeji, who did not record a tackle in last season’s 44-22 victory over Navy, said he’s ready for the challenge.

“They’re going to scramble a lot of things at you, so you have to keep your eyes ready and do your job,” Ogundeji said. “They have a lot of different wrinkles. They do a lot of different things. They have the dive, the quarterback, the pitch. If you get too worried about different things, you’re going to fall apart. It’s just worrying about and focusing on what you have to do.”

At defensive end, the responsibility changes depending on the defensive call and the offensive formation. On different plays, Ogundeji could be responsible for shutting down the fullback, the quarterback or the slotback.

“For us, it’s all three phases. We have to be on it every single play,” Ogundeji said. “We have to see the call, know what we have to do and assess it real quick. It’s an in-depth kind of game plan, but it’s good for us and it helps us.”

The Irish defensive line will have to make those assessments while trying to avoid cut blocks. At 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, Ogundeji is a big target to chop down at the line of scrimmage. But he can also use his long arms to fend off cut block attempts.

“Those definitely suck,” Ogundeji said. “The biggest thing coach talks about is staying on your feet. If you go down on the ground, they’ve done their job. It’s always staying on your feet, staying upright, getting your hands on them so that you won’t get cut. That’s definitely the most difficult block getting cut like that.”

Ogundeji’s workload will likely increase the rest of the season after defensive end Julian Okwara broke his fibula last weekend against Duke. Okwara became Notre Dame’s second weakside defensive end to be lost for the season with an injury. Daelin Hayes was ruled out with a torn labrum in his shoulder in the Virginia game.

Though Ogundeji typically backs up Khalid Kareem at strongside defensive end, head coach Brian Kelly said this week that Ogundeji will be asked to play both positions. Against Navy, the two defensive end positions won’t be that much different, Ogundeji said. In future weeks, playing both spots will be a tougher task.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to be doing it to the best of my ability,” Ogundeji said. “It’s definitely a lot, learning from both sides. It’s a big challenge for me, and I’m not going to back off from a challenge.”

After starting the season making impact plays, Ogundeji’s production has slowed down a bit in recent weeks. In the first five games of the season, Ogudenji recorded 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries. In the last four games, Ogundeji made seven tackles and registered one quarterback hurry.

With the Irish now left to play without two of their best pass rushers in Okwara and Hayes, pressuring the quarterback could be an issue moving forward. Notre Dame’s sack totals already have decreased from last season when it averaged 2.62 per game. The Irish have tallied 2.44 sacks per game this season.

Contributions from fellow senior defensive end Jamir Jones, who was originally a candidate to redshirt this season earlier this year, have allowed the Irish to still be productive. Despite playing in only seven games, Jones is tied with Okwara for second on the team with four sacks. Ogundeji has yet to record a sack this season.

“We can always still do more,” Ogundeji said. “At the same time, guys have stepped up. At the end of the day when guys go down, you have to have the next-man-in mentality. No matter what’s going on.

“Jammer (Jones) has stepped up tremendously throughout the season. He’s come in and done his job. Guys have really stepped up and done their job. That’s the biggest thing.”

Notre Dame’s coaching staff could call on freshman Isaiah Foskey to help bolster the depth. Foskey even saw action in the Duke game after Okwara went down with his injury. But with three games played this season, the opportunity to redshirt Foskey still exists.

Kelly hasn’t made clear a final decision on Foskey yet, but he indicated the freshman likely wouldn’t play against Navy.

Ogundeji, who redshirted as a freshman and played in only five games as a sophomore, said he’s spoken with Foskey about being patient.

“I was roommates with him in fall camp, so I got to know a lot about him,” Ogundeji said. “I was telling him, this first year on scout team and all that, it’s going to suck. But at the same time you’re learning. You have to learn from whatever you’re doing. Make sure that you’re doing it to the best of your ability. Because you’re going to get your chance.”

Ogundeji had to wait until his junior season for his chance to be a part of the defensive line rotation. But that delay also means he can return to Notre Dame next season for a fifth year. In the final games of this season and next, Ogundeji can prove his development was worth the wait.

“I’m very grateful. I’m blessed,” Ogundeji said. “Most kids don’t want to redshirt now. The thing is, it’s going to get you better. You’re learning. You’re getting better. You’re getting stronger in the weight room. It definitely helps you.

“People see the negative side to it, but I always see the positive side to it. It definitely positively affected me.”

Notre Dame’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji (91) brings down Duke’s Quentin Harris (18) during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC.
Notre Dame defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji recovered a fumble against Virginia earlier this season.
Notre Dame’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji (91) picks up a fumble during Notre Dame’s victory over Virginia Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium.