Eye in the Sky: Pass Defense

A film review of Notre Dame's pass defense in Saturday's close call vs. the visiting Boilermakers.

For a full film review of Notre Dame's rush defense vs. the Boilermakers, click here.

Notre Dame fans should get used to this modern reality: teams are going to pass with some success against the Irish. Whether that success is relative, damaging, or directly relates to an Irish defeat is the only question.

And part of that relative success will always be short routes to the flat in which defenders are expected to make tackles short of the marker. As illustrated below in film notes that tracked each of Purdue's 37 passes and quarterback scrambles, the latter issue is one of chief concern as the Irish head into Week Three for their annual battle with the Spartans.

Below are full film review notes of Notre Dame's pass defense vs. Purdue:

- Kapron Lewis-Moore puts initial pressure on Boilers QB Caleb Terbush's bootleg to the right side; pass dropped on the sidelines with Carlo Calabrese there to apply the hit…Te'o's pass drop appears a bit too deep on 3rd and 11 as TerBush sprints up the vacated middle for first down yardage…Two plays later, Te'o gets caught up in traffic (with Jamoris Slaughter) as Purdue's wheel route from the backfield on 3rd and 7 gains 22 yards down the left side…Bennett Jackson misses a tackle in space on 3rd ad 4 but Zeke Motta delivers a great cleanup hit to force 4th and 1 (Boilers convert on run up the gut)...

Nice pressure by Kona Schwenke to force TerBush to roll and throw incomplete…Safety Matthias Farley helps Slaughter cover a curl route to force punt a Purdue punt. Credit Slaughter for adjusting Farley's coverage responsibility late in the cadence. Defensive end Sheldon Day was held on the play, no call… Notes: Notre Dame's nickel defense was used twice on Purdue's opening drive, allowing 37 yards on two plays: a QB scramble (15) and pretty wheel route (22). The Irish employed seven defensive ends on the drive; Lewis-Moore was lost for the game due to injury.

An Antavian Edison "Smash" route beats Dan Fox to the boundary for 13 yards - that's a tough mismatch in space for the Irish though running a base 4-3 D on first down is tough to avoid…Louis Nix dominates his man to force TerBush up in the pocket but the play gains 7 yards…O.J. Ross secures another 7 yards on 3rd and 3 with a nice high grab of TerBush's hitch pass…Prince Shembo applies late pressure and Motta has a chance at a deep pick but initially turns over the wrong shoulder and can't recover. That ball was in the air way too long to fall to the turf…A well-timed blitz by Te'o on 3rd Down and a diving pass defended by freshman nickel Elijah Shumate forces a Purdue punt - The Irish need more of those plays from Te'o, who expertly delayed his blitz over right guard…THe Irish nickel defense goes 1 for 2 on the drive, allowing a 7-yard conversion but also forcing a punt…

Nix collapses the pocket for a monster sack of Marve early in the second quarter…Marve responds with an NFL style strike from the right hash to the left sideline, beating Bennett Jackson for a 10-yard gain on 3rd and 9. Perfectly run comeback route and an amazing throw…The Irish run three and provide decent pressure with redshirt-freshman backup Tony Springmann getting credit…Stephon Tuitt pressures with a bull rush as well to move Marve but the play gains 10 yards…Te'o cleans up a short crossing route on 3rd and 11 to force a punt as Notre Dame debuts its dime defense (used just twice during the contest)….

Shembo provides pressure on Marve who looks to throw a deep corner route (incomplete). Freshman cornerback Keivarae Russell there late but it's the 4-man rush makes the play - a great throw would have connected for 20-plus yards…Calabrese is caught flat-footed as Marve scrambles but this is a recurring problem with ND's 4-man rush lane discipline - appeared to be Day's responsibility in this instance? Calabrese is beaten badly on a wheel route down the right side but Slaughter absolutely lights up tight end Gabe Holmes, a player 65-70 pounds heavier. Slaughter is out for the rest of the game with a shoulder injury and Notre Dame has run its last dime package of the afternoon...

In a rare instance in which the Irish used a 3-4 front, outside Cat 'backer Ishaq Williams is beaten on boundary out, but the pass is again dropped on third and 4… Facing 4th and 4, Marve makes an incredibly athletic throw back across his body while rolling left; Calabrese had solid (perfect?) coverage vs. tight end Crosby Wright but the pass is completed low and away - easily the backyard pass of the season to date vs. the Irish…Two missed tackles on the ensuing play, the first by KeiVarae Russell at the catch, turns a 10-yard gain into 16 O.J. Ross…

Four runs gain 11 yards and the Boilers are face with 2nd and Goal from the ND 2-yard line: Ishaq WIlliams shows good discipline with a controlled rush outside and Nix breaks up Marve's pass with a delayed push up the middle…On 3rd and Goal, Purdue runs a play utilized for about 50 touchdowns by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice: a motion sprint from left to right vs. man coverage for an easy pitch and catch to the front pylon as cornerback Jalen Brown is caught in traffic trying to follow Edison to the front corner. The play is used by every high school and flag football team in America and can't be covered with man; outside defender Bennett Jackson needs to recognize the motion and check to "inside-out" coverage pre-snap. A clear instance in which an opponent took advantage of inexperience in the secondary...?

Perhaps the most frustrating score allowed of the young season.

Of Purdue's 40 first-half snaps, I have the Boilermakers "winning" 17 of them, including two big plays (conversions or long gains) and four huge plays (touchdown or plays in which the Boilers O was in a major disadvantage but beat the Irish defense anyway).

I credited the Irish with 16 "wins" (5 big plays, no huge, momentum changers) and there were five plays with no major advantage gained (the standard 3-yard gain on 1st and 10, etc.). Purdue also dropped two passes to round out their 40 snaps.

As noted below, the Irish defense fares much better in the second half.

Second Half Pass Defense

The Irish dominate from the outset, with Shembo applying pressure after staying home vs. a bootleg to the right…Shembo then limits TerBush to a yard despite being cut down at the snap, nice recovery by the junior pass-rusher. Credit Day and Nix for initial pressure and Tuitt for recognizing a backfield escape by the running back….A tunnel screen on third down goes through the hands of Bush - it appeared Purdue might have had something brewing there as Te'o was uncharacteristically blocked on the tunnel action…The D-Line wins big on Purdue's opening drive of the second stanza...

Following a 1st down gain of nine yards, Day makes the play of the day with pressure TerBush forcing a 2nd and 1 interception by Bennett Jackson (good concentration/athleticism on the high catch)… ND only manages a field goal despite starting field position at the Purdue 20-yard line. Notre Dame 17 Purdue 7

After a pair of runs gain 7 and 0 yards, respectively, Nix breaks through again to knock down another pass at the line. The massive nose guard had previously recorded a tackle for no gain to single-handedly force a Purdue 3-and-out - notable on the 3rd Down play was Tony Springmann as well...

Tuitt hurries Marve while chasing him to the right sideline but the Boilers respond one play later, firing a simple quick look to the sideline to O.J. Ross. Ross then slips a tackle from cornerback Jalen Brown (who grabbed his jersey), Calabrese (who failed to bring his feet) and Farley (ditto/lunghing) for a 27 yard gain down the sideline as Motta saves a touchdown with a diving tackle…Two plays later, Fox misses tackle in space vs. a bubble screen to Ross; credit Jackson for cutting off the outside lane by taking on a block - Ross gains 13 yards…Another short pass and the poor tackling continues as a hesitant Russell gives up position and loses his feet on a lunging attempt that results in 20 yards down the sideline, setting up the Boilers with 1st and Goal at the Irish 8-yard line…

Following a short gain, Purdue (logically) goes back to the well but a bubble screen to the left is stopped by Russell, Farley, and Calabrese on the sidelines as the Boilers move to the Irish 1-yard line…The visitors are saddled with a delay of game penalty (Wow) bringing the pigskin back to the Irish 5-yard line for a 3rd and Goal - Tuitt plays the hero role, destroying his man on play-action for the sack and 10-yard loss, but the play was made possible when Shembo flushed Marve away from his right side roll and receivers options - Williams showed the same discipline in the shadow of the Irish goal late in the second quarter. Tremendous discipline/coaching by the Irish…

Notre Dame 17 Purdue 10 as the Boilers settle for a field goal. Of note, prior to Purdue's timeout, Notre Dame showed a 4-man front with 7 defenders across the line; following the timeout, the Irish switched to a 6-man group with Carlo Calabrese serving as a spy on Marve.

The Irish defense forced another 3-and-out to start the 4th Quarter, keyed by an unblocked Shembo providing backside pressure on first down with Springmann diagnosing a throwback screen opposite Shembo's side. Springmann nearly made a play on the ball in the backfield, just missing a deflection while still limiting the play to two yards…Shembo provided pressure on the ensuing 2nd Down snap, forcing a throw-away by keeping his feet in a cut-block attempt….On 3rd and 8, nickel defender Elijah Shumate was beaten by a wheel route from the tight end but the pass fell deep and incomplete to force a punt…

The ensuing series resulted in another three-and-out with Tuitt providing immediate pressure and a first down sack - he's a monstrous force as a true sophomore: too big and too quick on this outside move…Shembo forces Marve to move up in the pocket two plays later for a 10-yard gain on 3rd and 11, forcing another punt, but the continuous escapes up the middle of the Irish nickel defense by decisive quarterbacks could come back to haunt Bob Diaco's unit in the near future...

Following Everett Golson's fumble, Notre Dame's base 4-3 defense held the Boilers for three consecutive plays - its the fourth that's been debated since:

  • A cornerblitz off the boundary by Russell diving into Marve could have caused a fumble as Nix hit the quarterback from the backside. A great blitz call by Diaco - only the second I noted on thee ay, forces Purdue into a 2nd and 23 situation, and the return of TerBush as Marve injured his knee on the hit…
  • The Irish allow 12 yards on 2nd and 23 (about 5 too many for comfort) but it was simply a case of a great throw and catch beating decent coverage by Dan Fox on Edison…
  • Te'o appeared beaten on third down, along tight end Gabe Holmes a free run through the third level of the Irish defense but TerBush airmailed the potential touchdown down the post into the stands…
  • Following a Purdue timeout, the Boilers lined up five receivers with an empty backfield on 4th and 10 at the Irish 15-yard line: three receivers to the right and two to the left. The Irish responded with four defenders to the right and three to the left: That's 4-on-3 and 3-on-2 in Notre Dame's favor and a four-man pass rush of Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Prince Shembo.

Purdue predictably works over the Irish backer in man-to-man coverage as Edison takes Calabrese to his right with a shoulder fake and step-cut, then turns it back to the post for the score as Motta came over late (not his responsibility) to apply a big hit at the goal line. (TerBush received quality protection vs. the Irish 4-man rush.)

Said Kelly of leaving his base back seven on the field (Calabrese, Te'o, Fox, Farley, Russell, Jackson, and Motta, with the absence of a fifth defensive back):

"We had our base defense, which is our bracket defense out there. We would have been in that in most situations, even two-point play. We had a bracket (coverage), it's a 3-on-2 bracket. We had three defenders to their two (receivers). The rules of bracket, one guy's inside-out (Calabrese) one guy's outside-in (the cornerback), one guy's over the top (Farley). If two guys want to be outside-in, that creates a problem. We feel really good about the scheme and what we're teaching, we just have to execute it better next time we get in that situation."

After the Boilers tied the score at 17 with TerBush's 15-yard touchdown strike vs. Notre Dame's bracket coverage, backup quarterback Tommy Rees drove the offense for a game-winning chip shot field goal and a 20-17 finish (Click here and here for a review of the offensive game tape).

Play-by-Play (Win, Loss, or No Advantage)

Our new film feature at Irisheyes.com is part subjective (my view of the play and situation) and part objective, with down-distance and yardage gained or lost included.

In Saturday's contest, I had the Irish defense graded, play-by-play, as follows:

Irish First Half: 16 Wins (5 big plays, no huge momentum changing plays by the defense)
Irish Second Half: 16 Wins (two huge plays and three other big plays)
Boilermakers First Half: 17 Wins (two big plays and four huge plays)
Boilermakers Second Half: 7 Wins (4 big, one huge - the game-tying touchdown).

The remaining 13 plays were either dropped passes (2) or standard football action (1st and 10 gain of 3, etc.) that offered little advantage to either the offense or the defense.

Its apparent the Irish defense improved greatly in the second half and the stat sheet concurs as Notre Dame did not allow a third-down conversion in the second stanza, though the game-tying play occurred on 4th down.

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