The Notre Dame defense was as stout as usual against BYU this past Saturday in South Bend. Manti Te’o and company allowed less than 250 yards of total offense for the Cougars and shut them out in the second half. They also had four sacks to go along with seven quarterback hurries, making it very difficult for BYU quarterback Riley Nelson to get settled in the pocket for most of the game.
Let’s take a series-by-series look at what the Irish defense did well and not so well in their victory that kept them undefeated at 7-0.
1st Series (9 plays – Result: Interception)
Good – The sixth play of the drive, a second and five, defensive linemen Tony Springmann and Kona Schwenke run a double-twist stunt and pressure Nelson into throwing an ill-advised pass that should have been intercepted by Dan Fox.
The eighth play of the drive BYU runs a naked bootleg, leaving Stephon Tuitt unblocked with a clear path to Nelson, who gets sacked for a 16-yard loss. Tuitt, at over 300 pounds, looks like a defensive back when tracking down Nelson.
The ninth play of the drive the Cougars run a well designed fake double-screen with a tight end delay that is tipped and intercepted by Te’o. He does a great job of reading the play, not biting on the fakes, and going after the ball aggressively.
Bad – The first play of the series Kapron Lewis-Moore and Tuitt miss a golden opportunity to sack Nelson who eludes the rush and throws a 20-yard completion.
The seventh play of the drive, a third and five, BYU runs a shuffle pass and linebacker Ishaq William has a chance to make a play, but takes a poor angle which causes him to miss the tackle.
Ugly - The Irish take their time settling in and allow four BYU first downs through the air. Doesn’t really invoke warm fuzzy feelings when it comes to stopping Oklahoma’s passing attack this Saturday in Norman.
The fourth play of the drive BYU runs a screen and linebacker Carlo Calabrese does a nice job reading the play, but gets pancaked by a Cougar lineman.
2nd Series (3 plays – Result: Punt)
Good – The defense seems to settle down and get in a bit in a groove as they cause their first of two three and outs in a row.
On third down Williams and Lewis-Moore get a great push through both A gaps which collapses the pocket and gives Lewis-Moore his first sack of the day.
Bad - Nothing
Ugly – Nothing
3rd Series (3 plays – Result: Punt)
Good – Springmann is really becoming a nice player for the Irish. He’s big, long, technically sound, and is really a tough kid to move off the ball. The first play of the series really shows the strength and technique needed to be a solid defensive lineman as he bench presses BYU’s tackle and slides of into the running lane to make the tackle.
On third down Fox takes advantage of the outside pressure applied by Lewis-Moore and sacks Nelson for a two-yard loss.
Bad - Nothing
Ugly – Nothing
4th Series (8 plays – Result: Touchdown BYU)
Good – The first play of the series CAT linebacker Prince Shembo slow plays the speed option perfectly, confusing Nelson into not knowing whether he should keep or pitch. Nelson pitches and Shembo is in position to make the tackle.
Bad - The second play of the drive, a first and ten, BYU runs an outside zone and Tuitt misses the tackle in the backfield. BYU’s offensive line does a good job on everyone else and the back breaks it open for a 13-yard gain.
The final play of the drive, a BYU touchdown, Mathius Farley, a deep half player, jumps on the inside route, leaving the BYU receiver over the top wide open for the touchdown. (I will highlight this play on Chalk Talk today or tomorrow.)
Ugly – The fifth play of the drive, a second and 11, BYU runs a toss and cornerback KeiVarae Russell gets caught inside, leaving the sideline open for a 21-yard gain. On the same play Farley runs the BYU back out of bounds and throws him on the ground causing a roughing penalty to be called by the referee.
5th Series (5 Plays – Result: Touchdown BYU)
Good – The first play of the series Lewis-Moore gets up-field, knocks the back off his path on a shuffle pass, and causes as incompletion.
Bad – The third play of the drive Tuitt gets sucked in on play-action, loses contain, and allows Nelson to gain 8 yards.
Ugly – DOG linebacker Danny Spond gets called for a defensive holding on second and ten which gives BYU 10 yards and an automatic first down. However slight the hold may have been it did prevent the receiver from continuing his route up the field.
6th Series (3 plays – Result: Punt)
Good – This series was right before half and after a BYU roughing penalty the Cougars seemed content to run as much clock off and punt the ball away to the Irish.
Bad - Nothing
Ugly – Nothing
7th Series (6 plays – Result: Punt)
Good – The first play of the series is the same toss play BYU ran for a big gain in their fourth offensive series, but this time Russell stays to the outside and the back cuts it right into Te’o, Shembo, and Lewis-Moore.
The fifth play of the series, a second and seven, Shembo does a great job of rushing up-field, falling back inside when Nelson takes off, and making the tackle for a one-yard gain.
The final play of the drive Spond has blanket coverage on the BYU tight end and tackles him just short of the first down forcing a punt.
Bad - Nothing
Ugly – Nothing
8th Series (9 plays – Result: Missed field goal)
Good – The third play of the drive, a first and ten, Louis Nix III gets penetration and forces the back outside which allows for Spond to make the tackle for no gain.
The very next play BYU runs a swing pass to Russell’s side and he beats the lineman who had released to block him making the tackle for a two-yard loss.
The final play of the drive Nix, who is basically becoming one of the most dominant defensive linemen around, bull-rushes the center and forces Nelson into throwing an incomplete.
Bad – The fifth play of the drive Russell is in man coverage, gets turned around, and gives up a 20-yard pass for a first down. Farley was free in coverage and bailed too quickly - he could have helped Russell over the top.
Ugly – Nothing
9th Series (3 plays - Result: Punt)
Good – The first play of the series Shembo does a nice job of staying home on the bootleg, pressuring the quarterback while keeping contain, and forcing Nelson to throw the ball away.
The third play, a third and three, Nelson anticipates pressure that doesn’t really materialize and throws the ball high and out of bounds. It seems to me that Nelson is developing a case of happy feet.
Bad - Nothing
Ugly – Nothing
10th Series (13 plays – Result: Punt)
Good – The first play of the series Nix beats the guard to the gap and tackles the back for a two-yard loss. Someone that size cannot possibly be that quick – just so much fun to watch.
On the fourth play of the drive, a first and ten, Spond is in the flat on coverage and when the ball is released he drops in the passing lane and tips the ball. He showed great instincts and athletic ability getting to that football.
The twelfth play of the drive, a first and ten, Carlo Calabrese blitzes A gap and forces Nelson into the waiting arms of Tuitt for a nine-yard loss.
Bad – The fifth play of the drive, a third and five, BYU runs a quarterback draw and the Irish have no one in the middle of the pass rush. BYU does a nice job of walling off the Notre Dame defensive line and Te’o and Fox both cover the back out of the backfield.
Ugly – The third play of the drive, a third and 15, Nix reaches out and grabs Nelson’s facemask giving BYU 15 yards and an automatic first down. I really got the sense the game had swung completely into Notre Dame’s favor at that point and had the defense forced a punt the game would have been over.
The ninth play of the drive Zeke Motta and Bennett Jackson get crossed on a coverage and BYU’s wide receiver is alone down the middle of the field. Nelson misses his mark and the Irish avoid a huge bullet.
11th Series (1 play - Result: Interception)
Good - Nelson scrambles around the pocket with 12 seconds left and throws an interception to Spond which seals the Irish victory.
AFTERWORD
After watching the replay of this game the staples of the Irish defense continue to be stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. The defensive backs made a few mistakes against BYU and those will need to be cleaned up by this weekend for Oklahoma. I like watching this unit and the way they play together and with confidence. Credit BYU for scoring 14 points and getting some key first downs when needed, but in the end the Irish talent was just too much.


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