SOUTH BEND – There were snapshots of ability that flashed before everyone's eyes five months ago during the Blue-Gold Spring football game at Notre Dame. So the Fighting Irish faithful wondered when they'd get a full montage of Aaron Lynch and the havoc that he can wreak on the field.
Saturday was the answer for those in wait. The freshman defensive end had his coming out party in the 31-13 victory over Michigan State.
“Aaron Lynch was outstanding,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “There were a number of times when (Michigan State) was forced to throw. We were able to pin our ears back and Aaron is an outstanding pass rusher. I think he showed that today.”
After racking up just one tackle in the first two games, Lynch accounted for five total tackles and a sack of Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins. In a game that had a combined 13 quarterback hurries between the two squads, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound youngster had six of those himself.
“If (Lynch) didn't get to the quarterback, he got held,” Kelly said.
With the Notre Dame defense making the Michigan State running game completely ineffective (29 yards), the Spartans were forced to go to Plan B, which was to try and pass their way to a win.
“(Michigan State) threw the ball over 50 times,” Kelly said. “We were still able in our four-man rush to get a pass-rush within there. I think right now Aaron shows himself very well as a guy that can just get after the quarterback.”
Lynch made his presence felt during the Blue-Gold game (seven tackles, 1.5 for a loss) last April, but the coaches talked of his lack of discipline within the defensive structure. Too often, he was getting by on sheer athleticism and strength, rather than following his responsibilities.
“I'm not surprised,” Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees said of Lynch's performance Saturday. “Since the day he's walked on campus, he's been a good player.”
Though he was a heralded recruit (ranked 15th nationally by ESPNU), it is still unusual for a true freshman to have such an impact against a team the caliber of 15th-ranked Michigan State in just his third week of college. Most 18-year-olds don't have the technique, mental or physical ability to do so at this stage of their development.
“He's relentless and very, very physical,” Kelly said. “He doesn't beat you necessarily with speed off the edge; he beats you with power. He's just a relentless player.”
With his continued development, Lynch should expect to become a fan favorite among the Irish Nation. He already has the respect of his opponents.
“Notre Dame got a push out of their defensive front,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Cousins was on his back a lot after throwing the ball. If you hit the quarterback 20 times in a game … that can take an effect on somebody.”