Eye in the Sky: First Half D

The first of two defensive film reviews looks at Notre Dame's defensive effort in the first half Saturday, one that kept Stanford from the end zone, but resulted in a 10-3 deficit thanks to a late field goal and major error from their offensive cohorts.

Stanford's opening play offered a portent: a Stepfan Taylor rush up the gut with Notre Dame's boundary cornerback -- this time freshman Keivarae Russell -- crashing down to contribute to a tackle on Taylor's legs…The Cardinal began with a three-and-out, one of two such failed possessions in the first half and among the four three-snap-and-punt drives by the Cardinal on the afternoon…

Pressure from a Kapron Lewis-Moore, knifing between right guard and tackle, forced quarterback Josh Nunes from the pocket his first pass fell through star tight end Zack Ertz's hands, with Russell bothered the target with a late leap…

A Young Secondary Continues to Shine

After an Irish drive to midfield ended with a fumbled snap by quarterback Everett Golson, the Cardinal hit the Irish for 20 yards on two plays -- first a 6-yard burst by Taylor during which nose guard Louis Nix was controlled but Manti Te'o fought off a block to make an ankle tackle; then a 14-yard post to Ertz who slipped behind strong side 'backer Danny Spond for a sliding catch on the turf…

Two more runs gained seven yards, with Fort Wayne, Ind., product Remound Wright going through the vacated middle (Nix double-teamed, inside 'backer Carlo Calabrese controlled) for six yards before strong safety Zeke Motta could make the pop in space, driving Wright backward. Taylor was limited to a yard when Spond and backup DE Sheldon Day won at scrimmage (Te'o whiffed on a run blitz that slowed a spinning Taylor's progress)…

The resulting 3rd and 4 from the Irish 20-yard line saw Notre Dame's front shift from a 6-man standing front (no player in a three-point stance with each a viable pass-rusher) to a three-down front with Shembo standing up as a pass-rushing 'backer off the boundary -- the end result was a Nunes fade route to the right (field) corner that was short of its target and intercepted by junior Bennett Jackson, who dropped 20 yards downfield to make the leaping theft. It appeared Nunes read Jackson as a short-zone corner, but never squatted short (nor should he have -- there was no underneath receiving option). It's also possible it was simply a poorly thrown pass…

The Irish survived a first-down gain of 5 yards by fullback Ryan Hewitt thanks to a false start penalty on Stanford followed by a holding call vs. right tackle Cameron Fleming, who simply could not handle Stephon Tuitt's inside pass rush…The resulting 2nd and 20 ended with Nunes throwing incomplete off the chest of his intended receiver just in front of the first down marker -- a crucial drop by the Cardinal, No. 2 on the day.

Stanford's next possession lasted just two plays, the first a 5-yard burst by Taylor as inside 'backer Dan Fox overran his gap. That 2nd and 5 advantage was lost when Nunes threw well behind tight end Levine Toilolo down the saesm (covered well by Fox) and free safety Matthias Farley was in position for an easy pick. Farley returned the offering 49 yards back to the Stanford 16-yard line, setting up Notre Dame with ideal field position though the offense managed just a field goal for a 3-0 advantage to end the first quarter.

Credit nose guard Louis Nix for interior pocket pressure that didn't allow Nunes to step into his already ill-advised throw, and for Farley for cutting back across the field to daylight to gain what should have been game-changing filed position.

Second Quarter: Pressure Aids the Irish

After Taylor fought and scrapped for another five, a Nix/Te'o sandwich stopped Wright's next gain for less than a yard…Stanford's resulting 3rd and 5 was stopped thanks to a Te'o pass defended vs. Toilolo, but Tuitt was flagged for a highly unnecessary and ineffective (soft) late hit on Nunes, extending the drive with a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down to the Stanford 45 -- a rare major mental error by the Irish defense…

The extended drive gained momentum with a pair of short runs (Spond and Motta turning what could have been a 10-yard gain on the edge back for just three; exceptional team defense) followed by a 3rd and 4 completion to Ertz on a well-run corner route that gashed the Irish for 20 yards between Jackson and Motta on the right side. This time Jackson squatted too short with an underneath receiver that would have been covered by nickel back Elijah Shumate. The gain took the ball from midfield to the Irish 27 and posed the second major threat of the afternoon by the visitors...

Taylor gashed the Irish for another eight over the right boundary, one of the rare instances when Prince Shembo didn't set the edge…A penetrating Nix and Tuitt allowed Calabrese and Motta to combine for a one-yard stop setting up 3rd and 1, but, following Stanford's second pre-snap timeout on third down during the drive, Taylor hammered over right tackle vs. a stacked Irish front for six yards as Calabrese and Russell were outmatched by an unbalanced line…

With Stanford set up at the Irish 12-yard line, the Irish defense again stiffened, limiting Taylor to three yards (Te'o) over right tackle again, then forcing a Nunes incompletion thanks to pressure by Tuitt, who avoided a cut block to bother Nunes' angle…The resulting 3rd and 7 option shovel pass to Taylor underneath was destroyed as a penetrating Tuitt recognized the ploy and Dan Fox stayed home to make an easy backfield stop.

Stanford was forced to settle for a field goal attempt, one tipped by Tuitt to end Cardinal drive with no reward after 12 plays, 67 yards, nearly six minutes off the clock, three third-down conversions (one by Irish penalty) and two after timeouts from head coach David Shaw that resulted in first downs on the next snap.

A huge win for the Irish defense that surrendered significant gains for the first time in The Opening half.

Momentum Shifts

Stanford went three-and-out thanks to consecutive pressures, the first by Shembo on second down with Russell defending a comeback route in support; then by Tuitt on 3rd and 5 as the sophomore beat a double-team to bury Nunes with a late burst through the middle, forcing a punt…

But Notre Dame's offense broke, with Everett Golson fumbling in the end zone on a backside sack. The lost pigskin was immediately recovered by the omnipresent Chase Thomas for a touchdown and Stanford claimed a 7-3 lead midway through the second…

After the Irish botched a field goal attempt following their best drive of the half, Stanford moved 44 yards on six plays, stressing the Irish secondary with a 12-yard dig route to Drew Terrell (Te'o on the hit), a well-timed -- not to mention well-blocked screen to Taylor for another 14 (Lewis-Moore hustled downfield for the stop after Calabrese was cut to the turf), and then another 7 yards to Ertz underneath…With 52 seconds left, Stanford played for field goal position, gaining a first down on a three-yard Taylor foray to the boundary (Te'o banged him down with Russell on the ankles) and a key 8-yard hook to Terrell to set up kicker Jordan Williamson for a 47-yard field goal attempt. The junior drilled it, the longest field goal of his career.

Despite a 2 for 7 effort on 3rd Down, and an 0 for 2 performance in the red zone, Stanford took a 10-3 lead and the game's momentum into the break.

Note: Part II will be published shortly.


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