SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame's pass rush was supposed to be a strength this season. Despite season-ending injuries to Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes, two of the top three Irish defensive ends, they have still managed to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, averaging more than 21/2 sacks per game.
The ability to essentially shrug off the loss of a pair of pass-rushers as talented as Okwara and Hayes, who combined for six sacks and 10 tackles for loss before getting hurt, is a testament to the depth the Irish have built at that position in recent years. Career backups like Jamir Jones and Ade Ogundeji have stepped in and produced.
Jones burst on to the scene in Notre Dame's win over Virginia with a game-turning strip-sack, and Saturday against Boston College it was Ogundeji's chance for a star turn. The 6-foot-5, 253-pound redshirt junior turned in three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and forced a fumble for good measure. He did not have a sack all season before Saturday.
“It feels amazing,” Ogundeji said of his career-best performance. “This was for the seniors who have worked their butts off for four years. It meant a lot for me, for my brothers and guys who weren't out there like Julian and Daelin, all the guys who worked their butts off.”
Ogundeji, a former three-star recruit from West Bloomfield, Michigan, racked up six tackles against the Eagles, including five of the solo variety.
The first sign that he was in for a big day came in the first quarter when Ogundeji read a misdirection play perfectly and knifed through the line to bring down speedy Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers for a 4-yard loss.
Late in the second quarter, he helped the Irish pick up an extra field goal before halftime when he broke through the Eagles protection on third-and-8 and sacked quarterback Denis Grosel, prying the ball free as he did so. Boston College jumped on the loose ball, but the Eagles had to punt, and Notre Dame added three points to go in at halftime ahead 16-7.
Early in the third quarter, with the outcome still in doubt, Ogundeji struck again, first stuffing running back A.J. Dillon for no gain and then adding his second sack on the next play to put the Eagles in third-and-long. Another punt led to another Irish field goal.
“He's come in and he's been all over the field,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.
Kelly did not seem surprised by Ogundeji's huge performance against the Eagles. In the coach's mind, many of the players among that talented defensive line group can wreak havoc if they get a chance to see the field.
“It's opportunity,” Kelly said of Ogundeji's success. “He's getting much more of an opportunity to play. He's just got a great motor. He's long, he's relentless. He's just got all those intangibles that you want, plus physicality, athleticism.
“He's fun to watch, fun to have on the sideline, he's always animated. Anytime he gets to play, he gets excited and gets the guys around him excited.”
Notes: Kelly announced that starting defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who suffered a soft-tissue injury in his leg against Boston College, was to have a precautionary MRI on Sunday afternoon, but the injury is not believed to be serious. ... Notre Dame's regular-season finale against Stanford on Saturday will kick off at 4 p.m. Eastern.