Personnel Points: Defensive Backs

A full film review of Notre Dame's defensive backs in Saturday's loss to Michigan

Darrin Walls

Dropped Odoms immediately after the catch but the 2nd and 6 was converted into a 7-yard first down…Another immediate hit on Odoms after the catch, but another 9-yard gain on 1st and 10 (actually had decent coverage)…Allowed another Odoms catch and first down, this time for 11 yards on 1st and 10; Walls was instructed to play soft, but his 1st quarter approach was ultra-conservative against Robinson/Odoms…

Appeared to have deep third zone responsibility on ND's second main breakdown, a 31-yard seam route to the Irish 1-yard line. Walls was the only player on that side in man coverage (outside) while the seam receiver ran down his side uncovered. Either an awful design (asking Neal to turn and run 30 yards) or Walls was in the wrong coverage as it certainly looked like Cover 3 to me, which would make Walls responsible for that deep third of the field (other guilty party could have been Motta, below).

Second Half:Engulfed by an outside block (the same happened on Robinson's 87-yard touchdown), this time allowing a 9-yard gain to his wide side for another first down, midway through the 3rd Quarter…Defeated Odoms' block later in the quarter to cut down a sprinting Roundtree after a 5-yard gain on 1st and 20 at the Irish 35-yard line…Immediately on Odoms after a 7-yard sideline hitch route but the pass was again complete.

Harrison Smith

Good speed in run support to help limit Michael Shaw to a 1-yard gain on 2nd and 6; Shaw had bounced outside…Shook to the ground by Denard Robinson in a short space, turning a 4-yard gain into a 9-yard highlight…Saved a potential 92-yard touchdown on Michigan's first play of the 2nd Quarter, running down (angling) Robinson on the far sideline after a gain of 36; great hustle by Smith who might bet the only Irish defender capable of such a play…Cut down by a pancaked Te'o on Robinson's 87-yard touchdown run; Smith should have probably avoided that but had he stopped running, Robinson would have sprinted by him with ease.

Second Half: Combined with Robert Blanton as a last line of defense tackle vs. Robinson following a 19-yard gain…Shut off an outside lane for Robinson and combined with Calabrese for a stop after a minimal gain…Drilled Roundtree after a 10-yard slant gain on the next play (good design by UM and a nice grab by the receiver as Smith laid the wood on him)…Provided deep help for Te'o on a seam-route to the goal line intended for Michael Shaw (UM punted on the next play).

4th Quarter: Good form tackle on Vincent Smith to limit a 6-yard gain…Maintained the edge to stop Robinson for a one-yard gain as the Irish attempted to gain possession, trailing 21-17…Committed the Cardinal sin of inside man coverage – allowing the slot receiver room to the post – and Roy Roundtree took advantage, securing a 15-yard completion on 3rd and 5 to set up the ensuing game-winning touchdown run. Decent coverage but poor technique by the senior safety in a difficult matchup.

Observations: Only one major error but it will permeate the minds of Irish fans until the next victory. Smith's a better player than he was last season.

Zeke Motta

Lined up way too far outside on Michigan's easy-as-pie opening touchdown: a 31-yard uncovered slant/post to Roy Roundtree. Motta had no chance to cover the middle zone due to his alignment, though part of the problem could have been a miscommunication with same-side drop linebacker Brian Smith (see Smith's review). The Irish were outnumbered 3 receivers to 2 defenders as Smith never dropped into coverage.

Also involved in Michigan's second 31-yard gain, this time down to the ND 1-yard line. Motta was aligned as a solo deep safety (which suggests Cover 3 and Motta covered the deep middle by design) and was nowhere near the left side seam route caught by Odoms. If Motta was expected to cover that space he lined up much too far inside, but Motta never even looked to the sideline route until the ball was in the air.

2nd Quarter: Good downfield coverage vs. slot receiver Darryl Stonum; Robinson's hurried throw sailed deep and wide…Came under control on a delayed blitz, taking away a Robinson roll to the right and knocking down the pass at the line; fine play by Motta vs. the world's best athlete…Cut down by slot receiver Roy Roundtree on Robinson's 87-yard touchdown run…

Fine coverage on an incomplete deep corner route on a crucial 3rd and 4 early in the final period; the catch should have been made on a great throw by Robinson, but Motta can't be asked to do much more one-on-one vs. a hot receiver (and showed good sense not to panic and interfere with what needed to be a perfect pitch-and catch)… Stopped Michael Shaw two yards short of a 1st down midway through the 4th; the QB threw incomplete on the next play, forcing a punt.

Second Half: Athletic stop of Robinson, one-on-one on the edge as Motta dove into Robinson, initially missed, then jumped up to make the hit just when it appeared the elusive QB would find a lane to the outside; stop for no gain on the perimeter on 1st and 10.

Gary Gray

I can't recall a single pass thrown to his side (the boundary side) during the first quarter; Robinson tends to attack the wide side with multiple receivers…Defeated a block by RG Perry Dorrestein in space to limit Robinson to a 14-yard gain over the short side (could have been trouble had Gray not made the ankle stop).

Second Half: Solid coverage and a decent tackle in the air but gave up a 12-yard gain to Darryl Stonum on a key 3rd and 3 to open the final period…Nice tackle in space of Robinson on the edge after the QB made Calabrese miss…Slipped and was too soft vs. Darryl Stonum on a 16-yard gain on the final drive…missed at tackle on Stonum, allowing two extra yards on the next play.

Robert Blanton

Diagnosed a near-side wide receiver screen and defeated a pulling block in space to drop Darryl Stonum (a good runner after the catch) for a two-yard loss on 3rd and 5; excellent play recognition and nice form tackle by Blanton.

Observations: Why isn't he involved in the team's nickel defenses, is it merely a matter of run support? I can't imagine the Irish using an OLB on obvious passing downs rather than Blanton vs. modern offenses.

Darryl Stonum was also open on a shallow cross on the game's decisive pass completion to the Irish 2-yard line. Why Robert Blanton wasn't in the game on 3rd and 5 as a nickel defender is a mystery to me. The Wolverines also had a receiver break open to the deeper post (behind the play) vs. Zeke Motta. Notre Dame kept its third best cover man on the bench in favor of Calabrese, Motta and Smith (The latter two should have of course remained in the game, but Blanton could have matched up with a starting Michigan wide receiver). Top Stories