Notebook: Linebacker JD Bertrand finds himself in the middle of everything for ND defense

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s JD Bertrand (27) sacks Toledo's Carter Bradley (2) during the Notre Dame vs. Toledo NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — The wound on JD Bertrand’s forehead won’t seem to go away. 

Seemingly every practice or game, the cut reopens and prevents it from healing. The Notre Dame linebacker might have to wait until season’s end until his forehead returns to normal. 

“It was closed up, but …" Bertrand said when asked about the gash after Saturday’s 32-29 victory over Toledo in Notre Dame Stadium. 

… But Bertrand keeps putting his nose in the middle of opposing offenses’ business. Six days after recording a game-high 12 tackles in the 41-38 overtime win at Florida State, Bertrand recorded another 11 tackles for a game high Saturday against Toledo.

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The junior from Atlanta had amassed seven career tackles coming into this season.

Bertrand’s latest performance, for which he received the game ball from head coach Brian Kelly, was even more dynamic than the first. He tallied three tackles for a loss, including one sack, and recovered a fumble when defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa stripped quarterback Carter Bradley to secure the victory for the eighth-ranked Irish with 25 seconds left in the game.

“That’s credit to Myron,” Bertrand said. “Guys were covered. They had to scramble, and Myron was there to strip it. Obviously, it’s a team sport, and I’m just trying to do my part.” 

Bertrand’s part has been much greater than anticipated. His rise up the depth chart to surpass senior Shayne Simon as the No. 2 will linebacker was an impressive enough development for the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Bertrand. 

Then Bertrand was forced into the starting lineup when fellow junior Marist Liufau was lost to a season-ending ankle injury late in the preseason. Bertrand lost his backup for the season, too, when Simon’s shoulder injury from the Florida State game was diagnosed as a torn labrum during the week. 

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The workload for Bertrand has been heavier than expected, but he embraced the opportunity. 

“You know there are going to be injuries and at the end of the day it’s a process,” Bertrand said. “I just made sure to follow my process and put my trust in God. Marist and I talked about this before, that we just need to trust God, and everything happens for a reason.” 

Bertrand, like the rest of the defense, hasn’t been flawless in his first two career starts. He couldn’t break free from a block to stop running back Bryant Koback from scoring a TD on an eight-yard shovel pass on third-and-goal in the fourth quarter. Then Bertrand allowed himself to be pinned inside on the third-and-1, quarterback keeper that Toledo’s Dequan Finn ran for a 26-yard touchdown to give the Rockets a 29-24 lead with 1:35 left in the game.

The defense responded when it needed one last stop after the Irish regained a 32-29 lead with 1:09 remaining. Toledo’s last-ditch drive netted just 12 yards before the play that ended with Bertrand’s fumble recovery. The Rockets finished with 353 yards of offense, 133 of which came on two plays (a 66-yard pass and a 67-yard run). 

“This was a good game for us in the sense that we’re going to be able to learn this,” Bertrand said. “It was kind of an eye-opening game and was bittersweet. We’re going to be able to take it from here and identify that, ‘OK, we need to get better.’  

“Everyone knows that they need to look at their own play and visualize where they can get better and go from there.” 

Career firsts for Buchner, Colzie and Styles

Quarterback Tyler Buchner wasn’t the only Notre Dame freshman to log some career firsts on Saturday. Freshman wide receivers Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles Jr. secured their first career catches on back-to-back plays. Quarterback Jack Coan hit Colzie for a seven-yard gain on first-and-10 before connecting with Styles for two yards on second down. 

Buchner’s debut included his first career rush (26 yards), first career completion (15 yards to wide receiver Braden Lenzy) and first career touchdown pass (55 yards to running back Chris Tyree).  

Not bad for a quarterback who hadn’t played in a game since Nov. 29, 2019. That’s the day Buchner’s junior season at La Jolla (Calif.) Bishop’s School ended with a 75-59 loss to El Camino High in the San Diego Section Division II championship. 

Linebacker Prince Kollie, who moved up the depth chart as the No. 2 will linebacker this week following an injury to to Simon, didn’t make his expected debut Saturday. He was declared unavailable prior to the game. No details were provided on his absence. 

Sept. 11 tribute at Notre Dame Stadium

On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Notre Dame president the Rev. John Jenkins offered a pregame prayer in Notre Dame Stadium before the game. He honored the four Notre Dame alumni who died on 9/11 — the Rev. Francis E. Grogan ('51), Robert Ferris ('62), Dora Marie Menchaca ('77), Army lieutenant colonel S. Neil Hyland Jr. ('77) — and others who died in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Flight 93 crash near Shanksville, Pa. 

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. says a prayer during the Notre Dame vs. Toledo NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Notre Dame raised the American flag at half-staff for the national anthem. At halftime, the Notre Dame Band played “Amazing Grace,” which was played in Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 22, 2001, the day the Irish football team took the field for the first time after the attacks, to play Michigan State. 

NFL eyes watching 

Four NFL teams were listed on the press box seating chart with personnel in attendance for Saturday’s game: Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Football Team. General manager John Schneider was the Seattle representation.