Eye in the Sky: 2nd Half Defense

Part II of our defensive film review examines the third and fourth quarter efforts of Notre Dame's defense in Saturday's overtime win vs. Stanford.

Click here for Part I and a review of the first half.

The Irish defense started the second half as it began the first: with a three-and-out, this time with aid of a 1st down holding penalty (1st and 20) drawn by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore fighting down the line of scrimmage…The Cardinal hit the Irish for 13 thanks to workhorse Stephan Taylor, and what appeared to be a hold on Irish nose guard Louis Nix (not called)…Taylor has accrued 328 yards on 76 carries vs. the Irish in his three seasons as a starter…

The Stanford runner was limited to a yard thanks to penetration (but a miss in space) by Carlo Calabrese, and the Irish defensive front took over on 3rd and 6, with Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt sacking Josh Nunes after the quarterback was flushed to the near side boundary. Tremendous bracket coverage by cornerback Keivarae Russell and safety Matthias Farley allowed for Tuitt's seventh sack of the season…

Notre Dame's second straight three-and-out of the second stanza led to a duplicate effort by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense, as the Irish limited Stanford's rushing attack to six yards on two carries (Dan Fox and Zeke Motta helped end a sprint right after Nix penetrated early and Tuitt/Danny Spond set the boundary edge) then forced Nunes to throw incomplete on 3rd and 4 at midfield with an inaccurate throw behind his relatively open target…

Stanford concluded its 19-yard quarter with another three-and-out, this time the result of an incompletion (thrown short) on first down, a short gain by Taylor with Te'o shedding block to make the stop near scrimmage, and finally a 3rd and 8 incompletion due to pressure on a middle blitz by Dan Fox with Te'o coming hard on the outside -- the inside 'backer blitz has become a staple of Diaco's 3rd and medium blitz package, this time with six stand-up defenders attacking Nunes on the snap…Credit free safety Matthias Farley for strong downfield coverage in a man-to-man situation…

Third Quarter Stats: Stanford's three possessions each concluded with three plays and a punt, the first gained one net yard (11 gross), the second six, and the third two, with Nunes missing on all three pass attempts, suffering a sack and two hurries.

Fourth Quarter: One Dominant Drive...and Stop

After failing to move the chains in the third quarter, Stanford did nothing but in the fourth, using a 16-play, 68-yard drive that last more than eight minutes in response to Notre Dame's only touchdown of regulation, a leaping grab by tight end Tyler Eifert that tied the score at 10…

Stanford's methodical march began with a 13-yard gain on a tunnel screen in which Kelcie Young made Calabrese miss in space…After penetration by Fox and Tuitt helped the Irish D limit a "Wildcat" run to three yards, Nunes missed Ertz open down the post, throwing short and behind the 6'6" target. Nunes responded with his most important pass of the day, a 3rd and 7 low and outside pass to Ertz that hit between outside 'backer Danny Spond and cornerback Bennett Jackson who broke a shade late on the play -- Ertz made a fingertip dig grab of the football before it struck turf…

The Irish stopped Taylor for one yard on first down (Nix destroyed his block and ran down Taylor in short space), then benefitted from a replay overturn of a beautiful sideline pass and diving grab by Levine Toilolo, who was deemed to have lost the ball as he fell out of bounds, thereby not completing the action of a catch -- credit Farley for a it as Toilolo fell to the turf…

The Irish caught an additional break when game officials inexplicably moved the ball from the Irish 48 to the Stanford 49 for the ensuing snap (it was also spotted on the wrong hash), but Nunes responded with a 3rd and 9 strike to Terrell for 17 yards down the post as Motta came up late to make the hit…Stanford continued its momentum with two runs by Taylor, the first gaining just two thanks to Nix's penetration, the second for eight yards and another first down as Lewis-Moore, left defensive end Ishaq Williams, and Fox were all controlled with Taylor battering through Farley to move the sticks…

After a holding penalty drawn by Tuitt's penetration, Stanford hit for another five, again going over right tackle, taking advantage of Williams going upfield, thereby vacating his gap as backup defensive tackle Tony Springmann was also controlled (a fine ankle tackle by Russell saved significant yardage)…Nunes then found Taylor for 12 yards on a beautiful stutter-seam route matched one-on-one vs. Fox who actually had excellent coverage…Another run over the right side, this time with Taylor running through Fox's hit for first down yardage…

Staked with first and 10 at the Irish 11 yard line, Stanford followed with two more Taylor runs, the first stopped for a yard by a backfield hit from Tuitt, then a 7-yard burst by the determined senior over right guard as Shembo and Calabrese were controlled with Te'o diving back to help Spond on a tackle at the Irish 3-yard line…

The game's biggest defensive stop to date was made possible by 11 Irish defenders whipping nine Stanford players off the snap -- and apparently a whistle from the crowd that caused Taylor to pull up as Matthias Farley wrapped him up on a perfectly timed run blitz. Credit to Spond for securing the field edge with penetration as Farley came off the boundary untouched. Motta filled an inside gap as did Te'o...

(Several people have reported hearing the whistle from the south end zone, first brought to the media's attention by head coach David Shaw post-game, though its relevant to note none of Stanford's nine blockers stopped (Taylor did) as Notre Dame destroyed the play from the outset.)

The Cardinal settled for a field goal after maintaining possession for eight minutes, a 13-10 lead with 6:12 remaining.

Fans rarely brag about their team's bend-but-don't break defense, but Bob Diaco's scheme is perfectly tailored to Notre Dame's ability to stop the run and guard short space inside the 20.

Note: As explained in our offensive film reviews (found here) the Irish tied the game with a 12-play, 79-yard field goal march to force overtime, then scored first on a Tommy Rees to T.J. Jones touchdown pass to take a 20-13 lead with Stanford forced to match on its opening overtime possession.

What transpired thereafter deserves, and will receive, its own column.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories