Eye in the Sky: Defensive Backs

A full film review of Notre Dame's cornerbacks and safeties in Saturday's win over the Panthers.

Senior Harrison Smith earns the unit's player of the game award. Gary Gray and Robert Blanton both played well in spots, especially in the final period.

Harrison Smith

Stopped Shanahan for 17 yards after a slant and run, the first of Smith's last line of defense stops on the afternoon…Proper angle across the field, good speed and a stand-up tackle of Dion Lewis who had previously made three defenders miss on his cross-field foray…The receiver (Shanahan) slipped in the end zone, so it was inconsequential, but Smith was in jeopardy of giving up a cheap hook route TD (though the senior safety was bearing down on the target).

Right place/right time for his second interception in as many weeks as Shanahan falls again on a downfield cut. Shanahan was open for a too-easy first down throw on 3rd and 7…Drilled Sunseri following a seven yard scramble down the heart of the Irish D…Allowed a 6-yard out to the near side vs. Shanahan; Smith allowed too much cushion vs. a player he should be able to handle in space.

Second Half: Saved TD No. 3 (or at least 20 more yards) tracking and tackling Lewis 30 yards downfield after a 4th and 1 sprint…11th tackle was a solid hit of Graham after he cleared the second level…The correct call negated his game-ending interception downfield but Smith nonetheless played the deep middle correctly, offering Gray help inside vs. the sprinting Baldwin.

Smith was the back seven's player of the game.

Darrin Walls

Fought off a Shanahan lead block to tackle Henry Hynoski on the oddly-favored and oft-used quick throw wide to the Panthers hard-nosed fullback; somewhat weak tackle from the ground but effective…Gave up too much room inside to Jon Baldwin on a 32-yard post; Baldwin's hard step to the flag (sideline) turned Walls' body and caused a near stumble…Beaten badly by Baldwin on the deep sideline but Tino Sunseri is a terrible downfield passer at present (pass fell incomplete out of bounds)…Played Baldwin with too much of a cushion (appeared to have help if not Cover 2) allowing an 8-yard out on 1st Down.

Second Half:Gave up space to Baldwin for an easy 10-12 yard out but Sunseri threw behind him incomplete…Looked exceptionally tentative on a Graham catch-and-run to his side that gained 17 yards. Walls appeared to break down preparing for a block that never occurred as Graham deked him with a "point-fake."

Tough assignment, but Walls will have to play tougher vs. Utah and USC in November if the Irish are to pull an upset over either or both.

Robert Blanton

Forced to allow Baldwin a 7-yard catch (just beyond the marker) with the Irish in Cover 3 (limited help behind him) on 2nd and 6 early…Allowed inside position but was otherwise all over Shanahan on an end zone square in from the 10-yard line (incomplete high and out of bounds)…Not necessarily on Blanton, but how does Shanahan catch a 13-yard stop on the near sideline without anyone near him? Blanton appeared to have deep responsibility with Harrison Smith bracketing underneath and inside him...Caught in a trail position vs. Street from the far slot; Blanton allowed Street to "climb the ladder" far too easily on the 16-yard gain (3rd and 8).

Second Half: Fought through a Hynoski block on the perimeter to drill Baldwin immediately after the catch, stopping the receiver behind the line of scrimmage…Blanton then came uncovered on the far side but missed Sunseri in the pocket; teammate Prince Shembo (interior rush) cleaned up the mess for a half-sack…One series later, stopped Hynoski on the annoying one-step screen, limiting the fullback to one yard on first down; Blanton influenced three successive plays all listed above…Abandoned backside responsibility on Sunseri's walk-in naked bootleg touchdown that cut the Irish lead to 10, 20-10 late in the 3rd Quarter…Played his Cover 2 responsibility correctly, even one step "too" deep on the 56-yard Baldwin touchdown. That was solely Jamoris Slaughter's blown coverage as the far side safety…Made another game-changing deflection, this time on and edge blitz on 3rd and 5 to force a Panthers punt with 3:22 remaining.

Strong overall game though he blew an assignment that resulted in an easy touchdown for Sunseri.

Gary Gray

Late to recover after initial poor footwork, allowing Mike Shanahan a quick slant and 10 yards after the catch; Gray played too far outside even for Cover 2 on that snap…Allowed 5 yards on a far side hook to Devin Street two yards short of the marker on 3rd and 7; Gray might have had a chance at a pick had he looked up a tick earlier. The Panthers were forced to kick an opening field goal 3-0 Pitt

Forced Hynoski inside into traffic (1/11th of the defense), namely Carlo Calabrese and Harrison Smith, on the sideline screen for a minimal gain (#2 of the day)…Read Baldwin's go-route from the jump, sprinting downfield to take away any lane for the athletic receiver as Sunseri's pass landed long and incomplete. Perfect deep coverage by Gray…Allowed consecutive hooks to Baldwin as the Irish defense played back, yielding a field goal attempt but looking to deny a touchdown once Pitt hit the ND 25-yard line near the end of the first half…Good position on a last-ditch lob pass to Baldwin (sailed out of bounds) on the penultimate play of the first half. Gray showed good position and even jumped a possible back-shoulder fade to the taller receiver (Sunseri chose the jump ball throw).

Second Half: Slow and poor form on a failed pass breakup attempt; the resulting out-route gained 21 yards (rather than 10) to help set up the Panthers first TD of the half…Combined with Smith to stop a dancing Dion Lewis for one yard; Lewis made several defenders miss in a small space prior to the solid hit by Gray…Have you noticed that QB scrambles usually end when they come into Gray's tackle box?

Solid hit and tackle on Shanahan to limit the bigger target to six yards on the game's key 3rd and 10 deep in Pitt territory…Gray ended the game with a near-side breakup of a hook route intended for Baldwin. Gray didn't have his best game of the season but he was solid and saved his best for the final quarter and series. He had fine deep coverage on Baldwin on a deep route two plays earlier as well (interception overturned vs. Harrison Smith).

Zeke Motta

Played sparingly in the opening stanza.

Second Half: Excellent play in space, drilling Baldwin on 3rd and short to force the Panthers first punt of the half. Nice read and reaction with a finishing tackle by the sophomore safety…Whiffed on a key 3rd and 8 in space vs. Lewis; the resulting 7-yard gain set up 4th and 1 which the Panthers converted, proceeding to score a touchdown on the drive.

Jamoris Slaughter

Made only downfield, standard stops and not heavily involved (that's sometimes a good thing at free safety) in the opening half.

Second Half: Combined with Harrison Smith for a TD saving tackle vs. Ray Graham. Graham had a head of steam on the 12-yard gain and was long gone if not for the dual-safety effort…Secured the right edge on the following play to allow his teammates a swarming tackle on a Graham toss right on the following play…Missed Lewis on an ankle tackle at the second level but Harrison Smith bailed out the defense tackling the speedy runner 30 yards downfield…As pointed out by Mike Mayock, completely blew a coverage on Baldwin's 56-yard touchdown catch. No Cover 2 safety can come up on a QB boot.

Barry Gallup

Unsung play of the day, stopping punter Dan Hutchins on an ill-advised fake punt to open the half. Gallup stayed home, fought off the first blocker then eluded the second. A+ effort by the well-schooled 5th-year senior to save the first down and more.

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