Film Evaluation: The Notre Dame Defense

GoBlueWolverine's Josh Turel breaks down the Notre Dame defense by analyzing the Irish personnel, schemes, and tendencies coming off their victories over Georgia Tech and Penn State.

Statistical Leaders:

Maurice Crum Jr.- 20 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Tom Zbikowski- 15 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Chinedum Ndukwe- 11 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 interception

Defensive Strategy:

This year the Michigan Wolverines will see one of the most athletic and aggressive Notre Dame defenses they've seen in a long time. The defensive line is active and the Irish utilize plenty of inside twists and double line twists with the ends and tackles. The Irish also like to combine line movements with linebacker blitzes with most of the blitzing come from the edges.

Notre Dame has the advantage of having two solid run supporting safeties in Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe. The Irish won’t hesitate to blitz either one of them. They’ll mix up the fronts and mix up the coverages. You will see man coverage when they blitz and also some zone blitzing with one of the back seven defenders blitzing and a defensive lineman dropping off. In the nutshell, you’ll see a wide variety of things from this defense.

Defensive Line:

#95 Victor Abiamiri  6-4, 265, Sr.
#90 John Ryan  6-5, 244, Fr.
#94 Justin Brown  6-3, 249, Jr.
#53 Morrice Richardson  6-2, 222, Fr.

#99 Ronald Talley  6-4, 262, Jr.
OR #75 Chris Frome  6-5, 266, Sr.
#94 Justin Brown  6-3, 249, Jr.
#97 Kallen Wade  6-5, 240, Fr.

#98 Trevor Laws  6-1, 294, Sr.
#91 Travis Leitko  6-5, 270, Sr.
#92 Derrell Hand  6-3, 287, So.

#66 Derek Landri  6-3, 283, Sr.
#96 Pat Kuntz  6-2, 272, So.
#93 Paddy Mullen  6-3, 269, Fr.

On film, the Notre Dame defensive trench shows the potential to be very good. One thing you notice immediately is their aggressive style. This can be a double edged sword, however. While they clearly can get up field to make plays in the backfield, they sometimes take themselves out of plays.

Defensive end Victor Abiamiri has the talent to be a dominant pass rusher, but he just doesn’t have the consistency you would like. His frame, arm length, and athletic ability make him a tough match-up for any offensive tackle but he seems to fall out of rhythm too often.

At the other end spot, the team will use a rotation of Ronald Talley and Chris Frome. Up to this point, Frome has seen a great deal of playing time at the spot. The two share the similar trait of being better run stoppers than pass rushers. Frome is limited athletically and he does his best work anchoring the line. Also watch for freshman Morrice Richardson to come in on pass rush situations. He doesn’t have the size to be an every down player yet, but he is a very good athlete that can get after the quarterback.

In the middle, the Irish start Derek Landri and Trevor Laws. Landri is a relentless player that works hard to get off blocks and get to the play. So far this year Landri is off to a slow start.  That said, he still he has the tools to be a tough match-up. Laws is a compact athlete on the interior that plays with great intensity. He has solid strength, but does his best work pursuing the play. Both are at their best when twisting or stunting inside and using their quickness.


Strongside Linebacker
#47 Mitchell Thomas  6-3, 236, Sr.
#54 Anthony Vernaglia  6-3, 233, Jr.

Weakside Linebacker
#26 Travis Thomas  6-0, 207, Sr.
#52 Joe Brockington  6-2, 232, Sr.

Middle Linebacker
#40 Maurice Crum  6-0, 225, Jr.
#49 Toryan Smith  6-0, 244, Fr.

This is decent group of linebackers for the Irish. Given the amount of nickel situations they have faced, Crum and Thomas have seen the majority of time, while Thomas has got on the field in more balanced offensive sets. Crum is obviously still getting accustomed to the blocking angles and nuances of playing middle linebacker. He is a very good athlete that pursues plays well and is the best linebacker at blitzing, but he could stand to improve his block shedding and pursuit angles to the outside.

 Thomas is a hard-hitting two-way player that also helps the team out at running back. It is obvious on tape that he has a tough time shedding blocks, but he pursues and covers well with his speed. You can see that he has a few brain freezes out there, but he is getting use to the position.

As was stated previously, the amount of nickel situations has limited playing time for Mitchell Thomas.  He clearly could use more experience, but it is obvious that he has the physical tools needed to play the position.

Overall the group has very nice athletic ability but their block shedding skills have been exposed the first two games this year.


Left Cornerback
#22 Ambrose Wooden  5-11, 190, Sr.
#2 Darrin Walls  6-0, 174, Fr.

Right Cornerback
#30 Mike Richardson  5-11, 182, Sr.
#20 Terrail Lambert  5-11, 191, Jr..

Free Safety
#18 Chinedum Ndukwe  6-2, 209, Sr.
#28 Kyle McCarthy  6-0, 200, So.

Strong Safety
#9 Tom Zbikowski  6-0, 216, Sr.
#6 Ray Herring  5-10, 190, So.

The secondary for the Irish is a solid one. The strength of the unit is at safety.  Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe both do a great job in run support and blitzing.  They each hit like wrecking balls. They are better in zone coverage than man, but overall this is a reliable combo.
The cornerbacks are a mixture of experience and youth. Ambrose Wooden lacks great speed but is a good open field tackler and has improved his play from last year. Mike Richardson will come early and often on the blitz, and he has been a factor in that role. Like Wooden, his coverage skills have shown some progression with time. The fastest player in the secondary is easily Terrail Lambert. He doesn’t have great size, but you won’t have much luck beating him in a foot race down field. Also look for freshman Darrin Walls to see some playing time as well.

Special Teams

#45 Carl Gioia  5-11, 177, Sr.

Kick Returner
#11 David Grimes  5-10, 174, So.
#19 George West  5-8, 188, Fr.

Punt Returner
#9 Tom Zbikowski  6-0, 216, Sr.
#11 David Grimes  5-10, 174, So.

#17 Geoffrey Price 6-3, 193, Sr.

Kicker Carl Giola is 2/4 in field goal attempts on the year, missing from 42 and 36 yards against Georgia Tech. Giola rebounded against Penn State hitting two 35 yard attempts. He doesn’t have a great reputation as a consistent kicker, so no kick will be a "gimme" for him.

Punter Geoffrey Price has been excellent so far, averaging 48 yards a punt including three punts inside the 20.

The kickoff coverage units have been very strong so far this year, limiting the longest return to 18 yards.
Punter returner Tom Zbikowski is tough and a good athlete but hasn’t had much opportunity to make an impact on returns so far this season. David Grimes is a compact sized speedster who could be a factor on kickoff returns.

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