Eye in the Sky: first half defense

A look at Notre Dame's stout defensive effort in the opening 30 minutes Saturday.

First half observations of the Irish defense in Saturday's win over No. 14 Utah.

Linebackers

Manti Te'o continues to learn in zone coverage; he'll be a force next fall against the pass after a terrible coverage effort as a freshman. It's perhaps the biggest improvement among any Irish player from 2009 to 2010….Te'o overran his gap late in the first quarter but is bailed out by a Harrison Smith tackle eight yards downfield.

Nice coverage: terrible hands by Brian Smith on what should have been a pretty interception touchdown…On the ensuing series, Smith bailed out freshman Prince Shembo who lost outside containment on the edge vs. the read-option. Hustling run to the sideline by the Irish senior limited the play's gain…Smith has performed admirably during his stint as an inside ‘backer but the Irish need Carlo Calabrese back for the contest in the Coliseum in two weeks…Excellent pursuit by Brian Smith after coming under a block (an error) to pull down Matt Asiata after a 5-yard gain on 2nd and 20.

Shembo gave himself up (took out two blockers) so Brian Smith could make an easy stop on the read option…Two plays later, Shembo fired off the left side to force an incomplete pass (should have been intentional grounding, at least in terms of the common sense interpretation of the rule). Shembo brings some heat and power on a blocker's outside shoulder.

The team's outside linebackers are still failing to re-direct slot receivers is still an issue after 10 games and nearly five months of practice.

Defensive Line

Cwynar plays with his hands well; he's an interesting albeit undersized nose guard prospect over the next two seasons, especially if Louis Nix can eventually split reps…Cwynar and Ethan Johnson both contributed to a hustle tackle downfield after Kerry Neal failed to seal the outside edge.

Hafis Williams played off a block early to skate down the line and stop Eddie Wide for a minimal 1st Down gain…Hafis won't be penalized by many "loafs" as the first-year contributor consistently hustles after plays downfield (screens, shuffle passes, etc.).

Johnson fought off a solo block and received help from nose guard Hafis Williams on the next run over the right side, but both were controlled on a 3rd and 1 the following play for a Utah first down up the gut…Johnson beat his man in a "Drop 8" 2nd and long which is key to the ploy (you can't have your three-man rush completely blocked)…Good outside pressure after a swim move to force QB Jordan Wynn out of the pocket and Te'o cleaned up the rest, forcing an early slide by Wynn short of the marker. Wynn was not an impressive competitor Saturday.

Kapron Lewis-Moore came unblocked with a chance to sack Wynn; he didn't, but worse he gave up the outside and Wynn had several seconds to convert a 3rd and long downfield as a result. Outside containment is the key as he obviously had help inside…Emeka Nwankwo was held (no call) on a pass rush over the left side…Excellent interior push by KLM to force a poor throw (should have been intercepted by Brian Smith). KLM deserves a QB pressure for his looping stunt and push inside…Lewis-Moore showed good penetration again, beating a double team to interrupt an inside run (gain of just two yards) near the end of the 1st Quarter.

Freshman Kona Schwenke made his presence felt in a three-man rush, bursting through and running over the running back to pressure Wynn into an incomplete pass. Johnson also shoved the right tackle into the backfield on a bull rush.

Defensive Backs

Just a tremendous interception by Harrison Smith (including the catch) midway through the first quarter: Smith came from the far left hash across the field to the Notre Dame sideline to step in front of a pass intended for Jereme Brooks who crossed the entire field on a designed roll-out by the Utes. You might not see that sprinting effort on an interception for five more years…Recognized a toss sweep, defeated the block and made the stop after a two-yard gain (though it was a first down).

Zeke Motta's learning in his first season as a safety: excellent recognition of a wheel route by the slot receiver in the opening period…Motta appeared to hurt his shoulder when teaming with Kerry Neal for a perimeter tackle late in the first quarter.

Gary Gray is a true weapon in run support as the boundary cornerback. His return next season for a 5th-year is essential as the defensive perimeter is much more physical due to his presence…Incidentally, Gray's barking has increased with his consistent level of play this fall…Gray occasionally loses his man downfield in man coverage but has been bailed out by an errant throw (Saturday) and drop (vs. Tulsa). Both would have resulted in touchdowns.

Excellent support by Darrin Walls on a late first half screen to the right side and a perfect form tackle in space by the Irish senior, resulting in a 5-yard loss…OLB Kerry Neal was also there to make the play.

Nice fill in run support by Jamoris Slaughter though the apparent big hit was aided by a slipping runner. Still a nice play by Slaughter, just not as vicious as it appeared live.


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