Eye in the Sky: 2nd Half Defense

Part II of O'Malley's defensive film review includes a scorecard of defensive sets, a final tally on each snap's win/loss/neutral score, and observations on most of the team's defensive personnel...

Notre Dame

Click here for Part I and a review of the defense's effort in the first half of Saturday's win over the Spartans.

A first-half shutout by the Irish defense featured 37 snaps and just 121 yards allowed. Of those 37 snaps, Irisheyes.com charted and score each as such:

18 Wins for ND: Includes a whopping eight big plays by the defense, a "big play" defined as one that alters the offense's drive, a play on the ball that forces a punt, etc.

13 losses for ND's Defense: Among the 13 were just three big plays by the Spartans. In other words, most of Michigan State's "wins" were relative, along the lines of a gain of 7 on 3rd and 6 in a drive that eventually ended in a punt (or no points).

8 Neutral plays: Taken individually, each offered little advantage to either side of scrimmage, such as a 1st down gain of 3 yards or 2nd down gain of 5 yards on 2nd and 10…

The second half, however, swung wildly in favor of the Irish. Below are notes from Notre Dame's second-half defensive snaps in a dominating 30-minute effort vs. Michigan State:

2nd Half: Mixing Fronts, Mashing Spartans

Beginning in a 3-4 front, Prince Shembo and Louis Nix picked up where they left off in a sterling first half, limiting Le'Veon Bell to three yards as an unblocked Shembo came off the edge. The play was notable in that it could be the last for 5th-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter at Notre Dame. Slaughter ruptured his Achilles tendon on the play away from the ball. (Head coach Brian Kelly noted Tuesday that a 6th-year was unlikely for Slaughter, though not impossible.)…SHembo again came unblocked off the boundary to force an incompletion on 2nd down as bookend Stephon Tuitt was held opposite and third down saw a repeat performance by true freshman nickel back Elijah Shumate, who batted down his second pass of the evening to force a Spartans punt…

The Irish switched to a 4-3 front to open the next series and senior Dan Fox allowed one of just two big plays yielded by the defense in the game's second stanza, a 23-yard gain down the seam to tight end Dion Sims as Fox bit on play-action in the backfield…Field cornerback Bennett Jackson was not suckered by a stop-and-go on the outside as the Spartans faked a bubble screen to his side (safety Zeke Motta didn't bite, either) and after Manti Te'o shot the gap on 2nd and 10 to record a tackle-for-loss, the Irish nickel package again rose to the occasion as a three-man line flushed quarterback Andrew Maxwell from the pocket with Tuitt limiting him to two yards on the scramble, forcing a Spartans punt. As he did often in the first half, Ishaq Williams entered the game in the nickel package but in a coverage linebacker role rather than his accustomed defensive end spot….

Three four-man fronts, two three-man looks, and three nickel packages force yet another Spartans punt late in the third quarter as Nix and Tuitt repeatedly collapse the Spartans pocket whie Shembo wins around the edge twice, once drawing a crucial holding call that pushes MIchigan State back from midfield into 2nd and 20 from their own 42-yard line. The previous spot was the Spartans only breech into Irish territory in the contest's second half. After Shumate loses outside containment on a sweep to Bell (gain of 7), the nickel holds again, with Shumate influencing a pass down the post dropped by SIms...

Michigan State's final possession of the quarter includes a 22-yard gain down the sidelines, though sophomore cornerback Josh Atkinson had solid coverage: good throw, better footwork on the sideline, toe-tapping reception…Kapron Lewis-Moore stifles the Spartans brief momentum with a pressure and hit of Maxwell (Te'o again on the spot in coverage) and after Williams misses on penetration (forcing the throw), Te'o and Fox clean up a 2nd and 10 pass after a four-yard gain…The start of the 4th quarter includes a pass defensed by Te'o vs. Sims, forcing yet another Spartan punt…Te'o's second official pass defensed of the evening coincides with Michigan State's fourth punt in as many second half possessions.

The third quarter included 12 winning snaps by the Irish defense (three big plays) vs. just three snaps in the Spartans favor (two big plays). Four snaps were scored as neutral - a win for the team leading 14-3 to be sure.

4th Quarter: Finishing Strong

Two dropped sideline passes by Bell contributed to the Spartans next three-and--out, so to did solid zone coverage by Shumate and Fox to limit a 3rd and 10 throw for just six yards...

With the Irish now ahead 17-3, Bob Diaco's defense puts the final nail in the coffin, alternating 3-4 and 4-3 fronts (no nickel) despite obvious passing situations, and limiting the scuffling Spartans to 16 yards on seven snaps. Included was a brutal shot by Lewis-Moore on Maxwell to force an incompletion, a strong tackle in space by Danny Spond, and an intercepted pitch of a lateral (ruled a fumble recovery) by Te'o to end the drive, as Bell had no recourse but to throw the ball onto the field as the Irish defense, led by Ishaq Williams, forced him out of bounds short of the marker on 4th Down…

The Irish added a field goal for a 20-3 cushion but Notre Dame's defense had one more shot left in it, with Tuitt destroying Maxwell on a blindside rush, forcing a fumble (recovered by the Spartans). It was Tuitt's 5th sack of the season, second nationally after three weeks.

The defense's final tally was as follows:

41 wins: Including 12 big plays (23 second half "wins")
20 losses: Just five big plays allowed (just 7 second half "losses" among all snaps)
16 snaps scored as neutral: A major advantage to the defense when one team leads throughout…
Formations: 4-3 front (29); 3-4 front (29); Nickel (12); Dime (1)

Observations

Motta has played well since (and including) the Stanford game last season…Shembo has two post-play personal fouls erasing his won sterling effort in the last four games dating back to the Bowl loss to FSU…Redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Tony Springmann has just missed two deflections -- and potential interceptions -- in the offensive backfield, one vs. MSU, the other against Navy. He and Day have shown great instincts as young pass rushers…Speaking of instincts, Shumate's knack for under-cutting routes from the slot is uncanny...

Notre Dame's constant changes between 4-3 and 3-4 alignments kept the Spartans offense guessing throughout. The key to both is Shembo, who's strong enough to hold the edge in either a two or three-point stance, and tenacious in pass rush situations…Great game awareness by Bennett Jackson when the Spartans targeted him for a stop and go (fake bubble screen) -- Kudos to Motta on the same play for staying over the top in overage…

Fox's mental error on a 23-yard gain by Sims was not representative of his stellar play to date. He'll be challenged this week by a quick Wolverines skill group…I have no problem with Russell jumping a route and going for the perimeter pick (a 10-yard gain was the end result). The aggression is welcomed, though more experience would likely lead to a blow-up hit by the true freshman corner…The team's base 3-4 covered downfield quite well, they play excellent assignment defense, including the rookies along the back line …

It must be said: MIchigan State's passing game is terrible…

Sheldon Day is a very smart, instinctive, and potentially impact-player - today, not down the road…Ishaq's presence as a coverage 'backer in the team's nickel sets gives the Irish length and athleticism in 8-man drops…Don't listen to his head coach: Te'o's pass coverage has improved tremendously this season - his only remaining weakness appears to be getting sucked in on occasion as a back or in-line tight end escapes to the flat...

Interesting to see Diaco call 3-4 sets rather than a nickel package as the Spartans hit desperation time - likely a "live" practice situation for a defense that made its debut, at least on a consistent basis, Saturday night after a preponderance of 4-man fronts vs. both Navy (an exception due to the triple-option) and Purdue.


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