Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey Making A Difference
Amid all the data from Notre Dame’s 27-13 victory versus Duke last weekend, one on defense particularly jumped out: Per Pro Football Focus, sophomore defensive end (vyper) Isaiah Foskey played only 14 snaps out of the 68 possible on defense.
Dominant with his pass pressure and vast wing span in the first half, and conspicuous by donning jersey No. 7 along the defensive line (Foskey was No. 94 last year), it appeared Foskey was in at least twice that many snaps, if not three times the amount, because of his constant visibility.
Yet of the 11 defensive linemen rotated in by defensive line coach Mike Elston versus the Blue Devils, Foskey had the eighth most snaps.
It is a classic case of quality over quantity, and making most of the opportunities presented. This was especially true in the first half while the Notre Dame offense was sputtering and the defense was caught some on its heels.
• On Duke’s second series, it drove to a third-and-goal when Foskey recorded his first hurried and incomplete pass with his rush off the edge. That limited the Blue Devils to a field goal and a 3-0 advantage.
• A series later another forced hurry and incompletion by Foskey helped result in a punt.
• In the second quarter, on third-and-goal from the Notre Dame two-yard line, Foskey recorded his first career sack to limit Duke to another field goal and reduce the Irish lead to 7-6 instead of regaining the edge on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils never went ahead again.
“At first I didn’t even know it was a sack until I went to the sideline,” said Foskey of the officials reviewing the play in that interim. “It was electric, it was fun being out there trying to make plays. Coach [Clark] Lea and Coach Elston put me in the right position to make a play…
“What Coach Elston always says is we’re only one of 11. You do your job and your job only. That will set up you to probably make the play if you do your job and everyone else [does] their job … you don’t have to [be the one to] make the play every single play.”
Even last year, the currently listed 6-5, 257-pound Foskey was second only to 2019 Freshman All-American safety Kyle Hamilton in Notre Dame’s 22-man class when it came to acing the “eye test” with his physical dimensions. Like another recent Irish defensive lineman who donned No. 7 — second-round pick Stephon Tuitt (2011-13) — Foskey possesses the "that's what I'm talking about!" build and wing span that comprises a roster of a championship level college football program.
Unlike with Hamilton, though, and because defensive end was replete with future NFL talent such as senior captains Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, among others, the coaching staff opted to preserve a year of eligibility for Foskey, thereby limiting him to four game appearances.
Even that was judiciously and tactfully utilized. Sensing they would need the Antioch, Calif., native in the regular season finale at Stanford, the staff opted to use that homecoming as Foskey’s fourth game.
The move proved to be providential when a sluggish Notre Dame team trailed 17-7 in the second quarter. That’s when Foskey broke through to block a Stanford punt that was recovered by the Irish at the Cardinal one-yard line. It was one of the top two or three momentum-changing plays of the year as Notre Dame then rolled to a 45-24 victory.
“It was just a great moment, like perfect timing for everything to turn around,” Foskey said.
The playmaking pattern has become noticeable already in the young career of the four-star prospect from superpower De La Salle High School located in Concord, Calif. He refers to the Roman Catholic school a smaller version of Notre Dame, which is what attracted him to sign with the Irish as an ideal personal fit.
Originally considered and recruited by many schools as a tight end prospect, Foskey developed a hankering to play more on the other side of the ball.
“Defensive end for me just comes more natural,” he said. “I feel like if you make a play on defense, it’s a lot more electric for the fans, for people on the sidelines.”
Against Duke, Lea and Elston noticed a specific scheme run by the Blue Devils that left them vulnerable on the edge.
“They told me during practice throughout the whole week that one of the defensive ends is going to be unblocked on some of these plays,” Foskey said. “I was just lucky to be the one that was unblocked. They told me not to hesitate, just go straight right for the quarterback… They made the right call for the situation and it worked out.”
Making a beeline for the ball is intrinsic to Foskey.
“All I’m thinking when I’m past the tackle or anybody is — Coach Lea has a turnover circuit we work on — you just try to go for that ball,” he said. “…I’m just trying to go for the ball, try to get a turnover or bat the ball down, or get the ball up in the air to get interceptions where anybody could grab it.
“That’s just me — I’m going straight to the ball. If I get the sack I get the sack, but I’m trying to go for the ball, get the turnover and get us off the field.”
What has helped him improve most in that area, in addition to spending his first full year in a college strength and conditioning program, is better understanding how to use his hands. Throughout the summer, he specifically worked on that skill set with current starter and graduate student Ade Ogundeji.
“That’s the problem I had last year, not getting extension or keeping a guy too close to me,” he said of improving his technique. “…My mentality is to just fire off the ball, be explosive and to use my hands a lot more. That’s the problem I had last year, not using my hands.”
At many schools, Foskey already would be a feature performer. At Notre Dame and behind the likes of NFL prospects Ogundeji and fellow grad student Daelin Hayes, it’s first about finding his niche and then continuing to build on it.
“We think he can be a very special player,” head coach Brian Kelly said last November. “He can impact our sub package in particular and be a starter in that sub package. He can influence the pass rush for us in a positive way.”
“Most people say it’s their family, or they have someone they do it for,” Foskey told Blueandgold.com this summer. “What drives me is just myself. It’s like having a job you like. I don’t want to go on the field and not be ready.”
From the early returns, that shouldn’t be an issue, no matter how many snaps he will be called upon to handle in a given game.
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