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No. 7 Irish defense shows talent and depth, USF up next

By JOHN FINERAN

Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) A week ago, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was looking ahead to Notre Dame's season-opening game against Duke and had a prediction.

"If our team chemistry continues to get better, we'll be an even better team and an even better defense than the one last year," the 6-foot-1+, 215-pound senior rover said.

Things didn't start so well for defensive coordinator Clark Lea's unit, which finished last season ranked 18th nationally in surrendering 321.6 yards per game. After losing practice time to the pandemic, Lea's defense gave up 334 yards - 259 through the air - in the 27-13 win over the Blue Devils.

Still, the numbers tell a story that got better as the game went on: After the Fighting Irish (1-0 ACC) allowed 151 total yards (39 rushing, 112 passing) in the first quarter, Lea made his adjustments and his defense showed its quickness, talent and depth.

Over the final three quarters, the Irish allowed just 183 yards and only 88 after halftime while forcing a pair of fumbles. One of them was forced by Owusu-Koramoah early in the third quarter that led to an Irish touchdown and a 17-6 lead.

"The adjustments we made, I think, that was the best aspect of us playing our defense today," said Owusu-Koramoah, who last season tied for the team lead in tackles and quarterback sacks. Against Duke, Owusu-Koramoah finished with a team-high nine tackles, including a sack of quarterback Chase Brice late in the game.

Coach Brian Kelly acknowledged Lea's adjustments and complimented his third-year coordinator, who is 38 and potentially an attractive candidate for a head coaching job elsewhere. Kelly also pointed to the unit's talent and depth as the seventh-ranked Irish gear up for a Saturday visit from South Florida, which is coming off a season-opening 27-6 defeat over The Citadel.

"Clark is really good at seeing things as the game unfolds," Kelly said. "We played a lot of players. Getting that many guys in the rotation allows us to develop our football for the duration of the season."

"We played 11 defensive linemen, four linebackers and a number of players on the front seven," Kelly said. "We've got to play more guys on the back end of the defense. That is the directive and the goal, and we'll achieve that this weekend."

Owusu-Koramoah's fellow rover Paul Moala and inside linebacker Drew White had five tackles each. Kelly also liked the play of the cornerbacks - grad transfer Nick McCloud (five tackles, one pass defended) and junior TaRiq Bracy (four solo tackles, two passes defended) - and sixth-year player Shaun Crawford, who had four tackles and a fumble recovery in his first start at strong safety.

Sophomore backup end Isaiah Foskey opened a lot of eyes with his play that included two quarterback hurries, a pass defended and a 10-yard sack of Brice in the second quarter that forced Duke to settle for a field goal. Owusu-Koramoah called him a "ball hawk."

"Some people would be happy that (Foskey) would be their featured player and he's a depth player for us," Kelly said. "What we are blessed with is great depth, and you could kind of start to see that show itself in the third and fourth quarter where we started to take the game over."

Notes: The Irish may be without sophomore free safety Kyle Hamilton, who had seven tackles, one pass defended and one quarterback hurry against Duke before limping off with an ankle sprain.

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Updated September 15, 2020

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