Eye in the Sky: Rush Defense

A look at Notre Dame's performance against Purdue's rushing attack in Saturday's 20-17 Irish victory in South Bend.

One week ago, the 2012 Notre Dame football team appeared to have two definitive strengths: its defensive line and offensive front.

One remains.

Notre Dame's front four is the main reason the Irish are 2-0 for the first time since 2008 and its the main reason the Irish have a chance at #10 Michigan State Saturday.

Using a base 4-3 front on 51 of Notre Dame's 69 defensive snaps, the Irish front limited Boilermakers 'backs to 66 yards on 18 carries with a long of just 11 yards.

Below are a collection of film notes covering the Purdue rushing attack:

Calabrese and Lewis-Moore stop Shavers at line for 2 yards…Shembo crashes down to combine with Nix and Day for no gain...Nice play by Fox to hold edge and stop Edison on sprint option... Nix and Day moved out of their gaps on early 4th and 1…Day hustles to help Tuitt - excellent play by the true freshman to limit to no gain…Akeem Shavers gains 4 up the middle - a win for Notre Dame following a first-down sack…Big stick by Motta to stop Shavers strung out wide on a sprint-option: limited to 1-yard…Springmann stops Hunt for four yards on 2nd and 15…

Following Slaughter injury, Notre Dame's first and only 3-5-3 alignment gets blown off the ball for 11 yards up the gut, as two uncovered guards double-team Te'o…Solid hit by Motta to stop Shavers after 4 yards over right side…Ishaq gave up the edge on boundary for a 5-yard gain down to the Irish 5-yard line…Nix controlled on 3rd and 1 at 5-yard line; Tuitt and Fox save a touchdown…1st and Goal, Nix makes the play this time fighting through his block and serving a one-armed tackle in the trenches…Purdue scores on pass to Edison two plays later to tie the score at 7.

Notre Dame a 4-3 base on 27 of the half's 40 defensive snaps. Also employed were two 3-4 front, 5 nickel packages, two dime packages, and a goal line set on three goal line plays. The ineffective 3-5-3 noted above was likely a quick adjustment following Slaughter's shoulder injury.

Second Half Rush Defense

34 of Purdue's 76 rushing yards in the first half came courtesy their mobile quarterbacks (to be highlighted in our next film breakdown). Purdue ran the ball only 7 times not including quarterback scrambles in the second half. (Notes below):

Boilers' read option works for 9 yards as Tuitt hesitates on the edge and Calabrese is a step late in chase of 7 as Tuitt pauses and Carlo a touch late tracking Akeem Hunt (Notre Dame intercepts the next Boilers pass)…

Springmann is sealed inside while Calabrese gets caught in interior traffic -- it looked like that was Springmann's gap, and I hope so, because if not Calabrese made a major error as Shembo and Motta clean up a 7-yard gain…Nix, Springmann and Te'o stop speedster Raheem Mostert at the line with the right edge sealed expertly…

Ishaq Williams injures his elbow (contusion) while aiding the tackle of a 4-yard gain to the right - nice crash down the line by Williams…Calabrese is strong in the hole in combination with Shembo, limiting the gain to three yards on 1st and G from the Irish 8-yard line (ND holds the Boilers to a field goal with QB pressure: 17-10 ND).

Purdue's final legitimate rushing play was a sprint option right by Anatavian Edison who was stopped by Te'o thanks to a nice force on the edge from Shembo. Both Springmann and Nix did their jobs on the play as well.

Rush Defense Notes

Purdue knew well it couldn't run the ball vs. the Irish and did so only to keep Notre Dame's front four from tee-ing off on its quarterbacks. At present, junior Prince Shembo is much better in run support than his sophomore cohort Ishaq Williams. Shembo's stocky build, leg strength, and pure grit make him a viable 4-3 defensive end, though his first true test vs. a power rushing team will be Saturday in East Lansing.

Nix gets moved from his gap a bit too often for a player of his caliber, its likely a matter of focus and technique as he tends to play too high. There's no excuse for Nix who responded to each personal defeat with complete dominance on ensuing play(s), an indication he shouldn't look overmatched as happens on a few snaps per half.

Tuitt protected his legs well vs. the Boilers who had no lineman that could contend with his athleticism - Saturday in East Lansing will be a battle against a team that wants to impose its will in the running game as Tuitt takes on a more physical front from the Spartans.

While Te'o deserves plenty of (weekly) credit for the team's overall performance vs. the run, the game balls for Saturday's win belong to backups Sheldon Day and Tony Springmann -- both were playing their second collegiate games and both were forced into major rotation roles due to injury. Neither was taken advantage of in a way that changed an offensive possession while Day made a game-changing play (applying pressure that led to an interception) and Springmann nearly did the same, diagnosing a throwback screen and nearly making a play on the ball in the backfield (limited to two yards instead).

Of Te'o's requisite 10 tackles, four limited Boilers to gains of two yards or fewer while three of his stops held Purdue players short of the sticks in third down situations.

Note: Part II covering the Irish pass defense will be published shortly.

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