Eye in the Sky: Defensive Observations

O'Malley runs through the roster with observations of Irish defensive players from Saturday's win over Temple.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was being kind -- and protecting his players -- when he dubbed his inside linebackers' play during Saturday's first half as "spotty."

5th-year senior Carlo Calabrese had a combined three missed tackles/poor run fits in the first quarter alone. Calabrese looked to be in early August form faked out on the near sideline following a bubble screen (one which senior Bennett Jackson had the first shot at, missing on a diving attempt). Both Calabrese and classmate Dan Fox were continually sucked into running lanes on play-action passes early. As a colleague pointed out during the contest, "It's as if they're run-blitzing on every snap."

Louis Nix's senior season debut was less-than-stellar. True sophomore center Kyle Friend played him to a standstill, though often with help the aid of a guard, and Nix committed three penalties, two offsides and one personal foul -- two of the three contributed to the Owls only scoring drive. On one occasion where he exploded off the ball, Friend effectively rode him through the pocket and out of the play, allowing quarterback Connor Reilly a running lane.

Nix will be a different animal Saturday night in Ann Arbor, his lack of engagement in the opener a touch puzzling for a player capable of being the best nose guard in the nation. Exiting week one, that's just magazine verbiage…

Struggling early (with effort) but playing better late (more on the second half below) was Nix's fellow pre-season All-America choice Stephon Tuitt. I dinged Tuitt for allowing himself to be controlled solo right on one quarterback scramble that gashed the Irish, and later being handled on a 3rd and 3 run that gained four yards (Nix was turned around by a double team and Fox's effort to fill the gap failed).

Gone Camping

Three players touted regularly during August Camp had no-show first half: Sheldon Day and Kona Schwenke were secured on a 20-yard carry through the teeth of the Irish front seven and Ishaq Williams resembled a Sunday league flag football defender, failing to break down when he had a free shot at Reilly in the pocket as the quarterback escaped for an easy first down. Previously Williams allowed himself to be sealed on the edge for a gain to the boundary. (Calabrese was late/off balance on run fit on the play as well.)

The most disturbing part of the defense's effort in the first half was its inability to bow up at the goal line. Facing first and goal at their 1-yard line, the right side of the Irish D-Line buckled, with Day breaking free but missing solid contact on his lunging tackle attempt, Calabrese filling the wrong hole (and late, to boot), Shembo uncharacteristically allowing himself to be sealed, however temporarily, outside, and Ishaq WIlliams playing paddy-cake with his blocker as Temple running back Kenny Harper scored easily between left tackle and left guard…

The line's effort in no way resembled the vicious group of competitors that repeatedly negated opponents from the 1-yard line last fall…

Picking on the new guy

Sophomore Elijah Shumate's safety debut was troubling. He looked slow-footed (he's not) on a 26-yard gain trying to defend a skinny post; he was late coming to help on a seam route that helped set up Temple's only score, and he was beaten inside by talented Temple tight end Romond Deloatch on a third-down post route, flagged for obvious pass interference as a result and providing the Owls with 1st and Goal from the 2-yard line…Deloatch would look good in Blue and Gold, I might add…

Shumate will be targeted immediately by the Wolverines Saturday night. He has the athleticism to respond, but he played much slower than his measurables in the opener…

First Half Leftovers

The first quarter pass interference call vs. Bennett Jackson was a false call. Period…Both Jackson and Farley were beaten by a step on deep coverage (Jackson by a step-and-a-half) but there aren't many quarterbacks on the Irish schedule capable of making those throws…Jackson was all over the remainder of the deep throws against him in the first half…

Farley knocked Reilly's Hail Mary pass "up" not down. That could have been an ugly end to the half and a shot in the arm for the visitors but the ball fell safely to the end zone turf…Quite a play by Reilly to deke Stephon Tuitt, spin, and fire the ball 65 yards while getting hammered on his release…

Jarrett Grace filled the hole nicely on Temple's scoring drive but he was sucked up by play-action one snap later, allowing an easy passing lane and 20-yard gain…I can't recall Temple testing Keivarae Russell in the first half (they did twice in the second for completions)…Calabrese was fortunate in coverage, a goal line drop by Temple was reminiscent of the same play vs. Oklahoma last year (both would have been scores if secured with Calabrese trailing the 'back on a short cross…

Austin Collinsworth telegraphed a pair of first half blitzes, but he applied pressure once, regardless, knocking Reilly down as he threw. Collinsworth missed Reilly in the pocket near the goal line and Nix was flagged for a late-hit thereafter...

Cleaning it Up, Eventually

Notre Dame was markedly better in the second half, but fans vexed by the inside linebackers continually giving up short hitches in front of them better get used to it: that's the way the base defense is designed -- allow the short catch, make the tackle, tighten or bring pressure when there's less field to cover…

Shembo began the second with a full-speed collision on the boundary for a short gain (he took the brunt of the hit)…Shembo and Day later strung out a boundary run to the right while Calabrese fired through the hole (no hit) but the textbook team defense by Shembo/Day limited the run to no gain…

Russell finally got dinged, giving up a short third-down slant to move the chains (pretty good coverage, though he never disrupted the route in man-to-man coverage and later was a touch too soft in zone, though the pass rush was non-existent on the play…

Schwenke struggled to win his one-on-one assignments with the sophomore Friend. He was pushed around on a 3rd and 1 up the gut and wasn't helped much by Williams, who still watches a lot more than he engages at the point…I'm not yet sold on his move to defensive end other than the reality it's necessary to manufacture depth...

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco dialed up the pressure when faced with a 1st and Goal at the 10 yard line midway through the 3rd Quarter: three pressures while showing seven-man fronts on first, third, and fourth down -- and the Owls dropped a touchdown on second down when the Irish dropped back into a zone…Better to stick with pressure than give a decent quarterback time to find a passing lane…

Like Collinsworth, Jackson is telegraphing his blitz off the edge -- unlike Collinsworth, Jackson's not receiving any help from his fellow boundary defenders, with Calabrese far to late coming over on a short hitch (no reason to hesitate, he had no other eligible receiver in the vicinity) and Farley late on a mid-range toss to the boundary sideline…

Calabrese began filling with authority late in the third quarter…Shembo brought pressure all day and received late help from Schwenke and Williams to end a Temple drive at tithe third -- Williams can really get from Point A to Point B in a hurry when he's so inclined…

Getting Their Sea Legs?

Calabrese kicked off the fourth with another aggressive (and effective) run fit while both Shembo and Schwenke provided pressure on a 3-4 nickel front…Day added consecutive disruptive plays with Tuitt skating down the line to deliver a hit early in the fourth…

Another 3-man nickel front saw freshman Cole Luke beat as Temple had far too long to throw. Williams was the assigned spy on the play, an effort to negate Reilly's continual gashing of the middle for cheap yardage -- but Williams took the assignment a bit too literally: he actually just watched and mirrored Reilly who moved calmly around defenders in the pocket (Jarrett Grace, assigned to the running back also standing near scrimmage, alertly charged Reilly forcing the throw)…

To reiterate: "Spy" does not mean "watch"….

Williams made up for his lapse by bringing serious middle pressure on a loop stunt from the outside as Shembo and Tuitt collapse the pocket late in the contest as well…

It worth re-stating that Nix committed three mental error penalties Saturday…

If this was your first viewing of the Notre Dame defense, you'd doubtless wonder what the fuss was all about. But the Irish showed very little defensively Saturday and Irish fans will see a much different, more engaged approach Saturday night in Ann Arbor. It's nonetheless troubling how much slower the front seven played in comparison to the entire 2012 regular season.

Defensive Fronts

Diaco employed the following defensive fronts vs. Temple. In nickel sets, Grace (for Calabrese), Williams (for Day) and Luke (for Jaylon Smith) enter the contest. The Irish did not run a technical dime (six defensive backs) Saturday.

3-Down: 40 snaps
4-down: 25 snaps (including three snaps near the goal line in which each member of the front seven was at scrimmage prepared to bring pressure)
3-down/Nickel: 4 snaps.
4-down/Nickel: 5 snaps. The defensive ends are Shembo and Williams….
Goal line: 2


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