It Starts Up FrontNotre Dame's secondary deserves ample credit for its sound play Saturday night and throughout most of 2012, but its been impossible to begin a film review this fall without first recognizing the play of the Irish front seven.
Playing more 3-down front (approximately 32 in the base defense) vs. 4-down (21) for the first time since a Game Four win over Michigan, Bob Diaco's group won nearly every relevant battle from scrimmage, with Oklahoma gaining 5, -19 (bad snap), 0, -1, 1, 3, 4, 3, 4, 0 3, 2, 5, and 1 yard on first half rushes.
They fared no better in the second, earning 7, -2, 5, 4, 3, 1, and 1 -- though the final was a 1-yard touchdown, the first allowed by the Irish defense this season.
Oklahoma never attempted to run again.
That inability to gain ground allowed Notre Dame to keep four defensive backs focused in coverage for 72 of the Sooners 76 snaps, with but a few secondary blitzes (two off the boundary by cornerback Keivarae Russell and two less successful from safety Matthias Farley) as part of the suffocating wall of defense.
A look at Bob Diaco's defensive game plan shows tremendous acumen for mixing up fronts, blitz packages, and a feel for the game:
3-4: 32 snaps
4-3: 21 snaps
4-3 with Ishaq Williams as a pass rusher: 8
3-4 with WIlliams as a coverage 'backer: 6
True Nickel (5 DB): 5 -- freshman Elijah Shumate each time.
Goal Line D (5-6 defenders in 3-point stance): 2
4-4-Stack (With Matthias Farley as another linebacker near the goal line): 2
Mixing in PressureDiaco called for 12 blitzes on the game's first 51 snaps (through three quarters) and did not dial up a single blitz in the final quarter (25 snaps by the Sooners). His dozen blitzes yielded the following results:
2nd Defensive Series:
- Matthias Farley blitzes over the left side and the Sooners hit the Irish for a gain of 18 yards…
- Boundary cornerback KeiVarae Russell comes on a run blitz in red zone, combining with nose guard Kona Schwenke and DE Ishaq WIlliams for a 1-yard loss...
- Dan Fox blitzes over right guard as Landry Jones reads and picks up 8, though on 2nd and 11. The Irish hold on 3rd and 3 (Louis Nix pass defended) and force an opening field goal…
Dan Fox comes over right guard on 3rd and 7 -- the pressure forces a dump pass engulfed short of the marker by Manti Te'o to force a punt...
Manti Te'o records a 3rd down sack on Landry Jones for a loss of 9 yards, forcing a punt…
6th Series (Last of half):
- The first of two ILB blitzes on the day, this time forcing an incomplete pass
- Farley comes off the boundary near the goal line but the easy pass to his side gains 7 yards and a first down -- Russell too soft since in coverage with less than 20 yards of real estate behind him...
1st Series of 2nd Half:
- Shembo and Spond loop inside from OLB alignment but the Sooners gain 8 yards on a short out good for first down yardage
- Expecting pass, Diaco called his preferred Double ILB Blitz but the Irish caught by Oklahoma play-action for a 16 yard gain. Safety Zeke Motta was a touch late coming up to deliver a (big) hit after the catch…
2nd Series of 2nd Half (and last series of 3rd Q):
- Dog 'backer Danny Spond comes off the edge but a gain of 19 ensues on a pass over the middle as Spond is picked up. Dangerous in that Jones had plenty of time with the picked up edge blitz...
- Russell comes off the boundary and forces Jones to roll left throwing incomplete. Credit Tuitt for staying home to push Jones out of a comfortable angle on his roll...
- Te'o comes off the edge on 3rd down as the pass downfield drops out of bounds incomplete. Pressure by Tuitt, and strong solo coverage good by Russell down the sidelines...
Five Wins by the Sooners: Irish blitzes were hit for gains of 16, 18, and 19, as well as chain moving throws of 7 and 8 yards.
Seven Wins by the Irish: A third-down sack to force a punt; a run blitz for -1; a pressure forcing a gain of 8 on 2nd and 11; three pressures on third down forcing incompletions, a fourth forcing a quick dump-off pass that resulted in a punt.
A soft shell defense that "wins" in more than half of its blitz situations, forcing five punts along the way was just the right mix vs. an offense capable of scoring from anywhere, at any time.
The Irish defense played a "true nickel" (Elijah Shumate as a fifth defensive back) on just five occasions. Three times the Irish blitzed from their nickel and on four occasions, the package delivered the desired end result:
1.) 3rd and 9 -- Te'o blitz/sack
2.) 3rd and 7 -- Fox blitz, Tuitt pressure, pass incomplete
3.) 3rd and 5 -- Te'o blitz, Tuitt/Ishaq pressure, pass incomplete
4.) 3rd and 3 -- Gain of 9 (no blitz)
5.) 1st and 10 -- No blitz but Fox pass defended/Te'o interception
Note: In 14 other nickel situations, Ishaq Williams played either as a coverage 'backer (6 times) or pass rusher (8 times). Those will be broken down in Part II examining the efforts of individual Irish defenders throughout Saturday's contest.