Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day anchor Notre Dame defense
Notre Dame’s defense put together another impressive performance in their win against Wake Forest on Saturday. The unit, led by linebacker Jaylon Smith and tackle Sheldon Day, allowed only one touchdown as the Fighting Irish defeated the Demon Deacons 28 to 7. Although the entire defense played well and missed only three tackles throughout the game, it was their two defensive stars who stood out yet again.
Jaylon Smith is currently our fourth-highest graded linebacker, and his play has been really balanced grading above +5.0 while defending both the run, the pass as well as rushing the passer.
While Smith has yet to record a sack this season, his pass rush productivity rating is seventh among 4-3 outside linebackers. His coverage skills are highlighted by the fact that although he is the 21st most frequently targeted player at his position (8.1 cover snap per target), he allows only 0.61 yards per cover snap, which is the 26th-lowest figure among his peers.
Smith was at it again on Saturday against Wake Forest as he picked up a grade of +4.9 and graded above +1.0 in all three facets of the game. While he led his team with 12 solo tackles — six of them being stops without missing a tackle — he also recorded one quarterback hit and one hurry as well as a batted pass. In coverage, he managed to allow only two receptions and 16 yards on three targets. He also recorded five quarterbacks hits and five hurries on 34 pass rush snaps.
The other leader of the defense is undoubtedly Sheldon Day, who currently ranks second amongst defensive interior players with a grade of +42.5. Similarly to Smith, Day’s game is also very balanced as he is one of only two players who earned a grade above +20.0 for both rushing the passer and defending the run. He is especially effective in going after the quarterback as he ranks sixth in pass rushing productivity rating among defensive tackles with a score of 9.3. He has recorded 33 total pressures, which is the fourth-most at his position.
Of Day’s 33 total pressures on the season, five came against the Demon Deacons. He was constantly in the Wake Forest backfield as he picked up a quarterback hit and four hurries. Day’s efficiency is also highlighted by the fact that all four of his tackles were stops and only Smith recorded more stops than he did.
As it was showcased on Saturday, it is really difficult to put up points on the board against Notre Dame when Smith and Day are playing at their best. As we get closer to the College Football Playoff, the Fighting Irish have to be excited that their defense is anchored by two of the best defensive players in the nation.