Analysis: How a double dose of Ademilola helped Notre Dame defense hold off BYU
LAS VEGAS — Jayson Ademilola was credited officially with just two tackles in Notre Dame’s 28-20 win over BYU.
By now it should come as no surprise that both took place on Saturday's game-saving set of downs.
“At the biggest moments, he shows up,” Irish coach Marcus Freeman said of the senior defensive tackle. “He’s going to make sure he makes a play.”
Listening to Freeman from the back of the interview room, Justin Ademilola nodded and smiled at this apt description of his twin brother. A little later Justin, a defensive end, recalled the brief but memorable exchange the twins had during the timeout BYU took to consider its options on fourth-and-1 from the Irish 27.
“I think I got the stop on the third down,” Justin said of a 1-yard run when the Cougars needed 2, ”and then I said, ‘Jay, go get it right now. Let’s win it. Come on. Let’s seal it off.’ “
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After spotting the Irish a 19-point lead early in the second half, the 16th-ranked Cougars and their vocal fan base roared to life at rollicking Allegiant Stadium. A 27-yard pass over the middle hadn’t just cost Notre Dame its slot cornerback, TaRiq Bracy, who walked off with two trainers after grabbing his right hamstring.
It gave a surging BYU team a fresh set of downs as it drove for a potential game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
An interior defensive line already missing starter Howard Cross III, whose high ankle sprain didn’t respond favorably in pregame warmups, and senior run-stopper Jacob Lacey, who announced plans to enter the transfer portal during the week, was about to be challenged yet again.
'A very emotional guy'
Three runs by Cal transfer Christopher Brooks chewed up 9 of those yards. Now the Cougars sent 210-pound senior Lopini Katoa up the middle, only to find 285-pound Jayson Ademilola waiting for him.
With help from Nana Osafo-Mensah, No. 57 stopped Katoa cold.
And then Ademilola went racing over to the far end of the home bench, where former Irish teammate Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, a rookie defensive lineman on the Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad, and the rest of Ademilola’s big-bodied contemporaries engulfed No. 57 in a torrent of helmet slaps and congratulatory hugs and shoves.
Al Washington, Notre Dame’s first-year defensive line coach, was right there in the mix and as jubilant as the rest.
“What coach Freeman just said, I heard it,” said Justin Ademilola, whose five tackles were one behind safety Brandon Joseph’s game-high total. “Jay’s a very emotional guy. Every game he puts ‘FTB’ on his wrists, on his arm, all over his body.”
That acronym represents “For the Brotherhood.” The Notre Dame brotherhood, not just the one back home in northern New Jersey, where the twins starred at St. Peter’s Prep.
“When it’s time to go get it for the brotherhood,” Justin said, “he’s going to go get it done for the brotherhood.”
The larger lesson, Freeman said, is that Jayson Ademilola — whose surname translates from Nigerian as “My crown is honorable” — didn’t do anything out of character or try to go beyond his limits on that play.
“It isn’t like he does something extraordinary,” Freeman said. “He just does his job really, really well. That’s what our guys have to understand. We don’t have to ‘go make a play.’ You have to do your job really, really well and then the plays usually come to you.”
That was the case on the game’s first defensive snap as quarterback Jaren Hall floated a wounded duck downfield that Bracy hauled in with ease for the first Irish interception of the season. Just three other FBS defenses entered Saturday without a pick this year: Michigan State, Fresno State and Ohio.
What could have been the day’s second interception (and a likely 35-yard touchdown return) clanged off the hands of veteran cornerback Clarence Lewis in the second quarter. Lewis’ game-sealing interception late in the win over Cal on Sept. 17 was wiped out by penalty.
Even with the missed opportunity, Bracy’s pick still fit the running narrative in this Shamrock Series.
Not only is Notre Dame still perfect through 11 editions since the neutral-site showdown began in 2009, but the Irish defense has 18 interceptions and a plus-9 turnover margin in the series.
That includes five interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Total distance of those pick-6 returns: 227 yards, a gaudy statistic boosted greatly last season in the 41-13 laugher over Wisconsin at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Jack Kiser, whose 66-yard interception return served as a companion piece to that of then senior captain and fellow linebacker Drew White (48 yards), spoke earnestly during BYU week about the need for Al Golden’s first Irish defense to boost its paltry takeaway total.
“Great defenses have ways to impact the game,” Kiser said after Tuesday’s practice, “and turnovers certainly do that.”
So do safeties, which technically don’t count as takeaways but seem even better since they result in an automatic two points. Kiser’s second-quarter sack in the end zone, with a major push up the middle from Jayson Ademilola, made it two safeties in as many seasons for this defense since Freeman’s arrival.
Notre Dame also had a safety in last year’s speedboating of Navy.
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What changed on that final defensive stand, other than both Ademilolas taking charge and having a hand in the tackle of all four running plays once the Cougars reached Irish territory?
“We just had to tweak and adjust a few things, get back on top of some stuff,” Justin Ademilola said. “We switched a few calls and started running a little more stunts to close out the (line gaps called) A’s and B’s. Once we found our tempo and our rhythm, we just sealed it off.”
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.