Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah can't hide his talents against Clemson

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Forgive those who don’t know about Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah yet.

Not everyone in the college football landscape has been locked in on Notre Dame yet this season, which has allowed the Irish rover to remain under the radar in various pockets across the country.

That should change Saturday night when No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) hosts No. 1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0) in the biggest game of the weekend (7:30 p.m. EST on NBC).

The praise for the senior linebacker started earlier this week as folks prepared for the big game.

“Watching Notre Dame defense & cant take my eyes off 6…” ESPN and SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic tweeted Wednesday. “This Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a damn missile!”

That same day, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called Owusu-Koramoah “a freak show.”

An impressive start to the 2020 season has seemingly solidified Owusu-Koramoah as a first-round pick in almost every major mock NFL Draft for 2021. His name doesn’t surface in national statistical rankings, because the starting Irish defense hasn’t been on the field long enough to record gaudy numbers.

Through six games, Owusu-Koramoah has compiled 26 tackles, six tackles for a loss, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. Owusu-Koramoah’s first career interception came two weeks ago at Pittsburgh.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “All glory to God. It was a good feeling to get your first interception. With patience, things will come.

“My coach always tells me, ‘Don’t try to make a play for yourself. The plays will come.’ It’s just about following your responsibilities and doing your due diligence and the plays eventually come around to you.”

While that’s a noble cliché, it’s not exactly how anyone would describe Owusu-Koramoah’s play. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker wasn’t described as a missile and freak show because he waits for the football to come to him. He tracks it down and makes offenses painfully aware of his presence.

Just ask Notre Dame slot receiver Avery Davis.

“I know from competing against him every day the kid’s a freak athlete,” Davis said. “He looks deceptively not that strong, but he’s like a tree trunk. You can’t move him. He’s very powerful and he’s fast.

“He’s just the ultimate weapon on defense. He can guard you in the slot. He can stop the run and he can fill the gap. The dude’s special. He’s different.”

Notre Dame will need all the special performances it can get Saturday against Clemson. The most electric matchup of the night might be Owusu-Koramoah trying to keep running back Travis Etienne in check.

Etienne holds the career rushing yards record in the ACC (4,644) and the career games with a touchdown record in the FBS (42). This season Etienne’s averaging 5.88 yards per carry and 14.97 yards per catch. He’s a big play waiting to happen — like his 62-yard touchdown run against Notre Dame in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal.

“He’s a fast guy,” Owusu-Koramoah said of Etienne. “He’s like a rover on offense. He’s all over the place. We were watching film (Monday) and we saw him out there on the No. 1 wide receiver on a go route. He’s all over the place.

“We want to really contain him. I told you earlier that he would be a main focus for us. We stop him, we’re in good shape. Fast guy, elusive, big, gritty guy as well. He’s ready to attack, but we’re also ready to attack as well. We’ll see what plays out.”

Owusu-Koramoah didn’t play in the 30-3 Notre Dame loss. He was still sidelined from a broken foot that knocked him out for the season in September. The Hampton, Va., product wants to serve a bit of revenge for his former teammates this Saturday.

“Back where I’m from, there’s a saying, ‘They have a problem with you, they have a problem with me,’” Owusu-Koramoah said. “Or ‘If you don’t like them, I don’t like them.’ It was kind of like a brotherhood thing for me.

“You think about those guys that don’t get to play them again and you carry that on your back as well. You want to do it for them as well. This is a great opportunity for that.”

This Notre Dame team has some redemption to seek for last season too. In the two biggest games of the season — at Georgia and at Michigan — the Irish came up short.

That could be a reason for doubt to creep in across the team. It will be a test of confidence and an examination of whether that confidence has been earned.

“You become a product of your environment,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “The more that you are around guys that are confident, the more that you’re around guys that love to build, the more that you love being around guys that like to compete, the easier it is. You feed off of the ones that are around you. You feed off the leaders on the team.

“Everybody is an anchor on our defense. Everybody is an anchor on our team. And I believe that going into this game is a great opportunity to face a No. 1 team. You don’t get that opportunity a lot. In this game you’re looking to lean on the energy of our teammates and what’s deep inside of us.”

Confidence shouldn’t be hard to find for a guy like Owusu-Koramoah. His athleticism should allow him to feel comfortable in any competition.

The increased observations of Owusu-Koramoah appear to be nearing consensus.

“JOK continues to make plays that others simply can’t physically,” wrote Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus when recently ranking Owusu-Koramoah as the No. 20 overall prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Swinney sounded like he was already convinced of Owusu-Koramoah’s talent. If anyone else around Clemson has doubts, Owusu-Koramoah will have a chance to teach them Saturday.

Maybe they’ll start sounding like a physics teacher when talking about Owusu-Koramoah after the game too.

“He has an explosiveness to him that shows itself in the weight room,” Kelly said recently when asked to explain how Owusu-Koramoah hits so hard. “A vertical jump that shows a power that he exerts against the ground that he is able to translate onto the football field.

“When he puts his foot in the ground, he’s able to exert so much force that he can obviously bring his size of 215 pounds and snap as if he’s 230 or 240 pounds. It’s that force and that strength that he has.

“A lot of it he’s built, but some of it was genetic as well. He’s taken both of those and he’s relayed that to the football field. Not a lot of people do that.”

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah during warmups before playing at Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) will play a big role in trying to limit Clemson’s offense.