Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Tim Prister’s Tale of the Tape (Part II)

It was a spectacular performance by the Irish defense to thwart Georgia Tech on its first nine third-down attempts and all but 3-of-15 for the game. Most were 3rd-and-longs.

ANOTHER LONG ROAD FOR DRUE TRANQUILL

Drue Tranquill’s popularity among Irish fans is fluid, usually depending upon where the sophomore safety/in-the-box defender aligns pre-snap.

One minute, he’s vilified for his inability to defend the pass on the back end of the defense; the next, he’s literally dominating segments of the game rushing the passer, attacking the pitch man off the edge, and showing that fire and enthusiasm that made him an impact player as a true freshman.

The point is now moot for the rest of the 2015 season since Tranquill’s above-ground celebration resulted in a torn right ACL, matching the knee damage in his left ACL from last November.

Tranquill is one helluva football player within the first seven yards of the line of scrimmage. He is fast, aggressive, confident and fiery. He exudes physicality, intensity and the belief that he is the baddest dude on the field, and quite frankly, he’s right when he’s playing like he was against Georgia Tech in the first half. He deftly took on cut blocks, sidestepping many of them and converging to make plays. He is a much better player moving forward than he is laterally or backward.

Tranquill is tailor-made for defending the triple-option attack because he’s so disruptive. A big reason he’s so disruptive is because he knows his job and is decisive in executing it. He’s a smart kid, which we saw early last season when he made an immediate impact.

He got sealed on Broderick Shoddy’s 17-yard run that preceded Shoddy’s 48-yard run. He also grabbed A-back TaQuon Marshall as Marshall tried to beat him to the corner on a pass route. Tranquill got away with a hold and would have been a victim in the passing game had Justin Thomas been able to show some touch.

But when you add it all up, Tranquill was a huge reason why Notre Dame’s defense threw a wrench into Georgia Tech’s spread-option attack. Tranquill was as consistently disruptive as any player on the Irish defense.

As for the celebration and the injury that caused it, it really does no good to discuss the merits/pitfalls of such actions on the football field. Some may not like it, but it’s 2015 and you’re not going to prevent young athletes from celebrating in mid-air after big plays. Coaches would love to curtail it, but they won’t.

One could argue that an injury on the landing of a body-bump is no more likely to happen than a basketball player landing funny on his foot when coming down with a rebound. As frustrating as it is for “purists,” the expression of emotion on the football field is here to stay.

You had to feel for the kid as he writhed on the turf in agony, screaming and ultimately crying from the pain/disappointment of suffering his second torn ACL in 10 months. Joe Schmidt, who did the bumping, didn’t even realize what had happened since when he landed, he immediately headed toward the Irish sideline and couldn’t see and probably couldn’t hear Tranquill’s screams.

There is a silver lining. By suffering the season-ending injury in the first half of the third game, Tranquill can preserve a year of eligibility. He has an extra two months to rehab his torn ACL compared to last year, and when he returns next fall, he will maintain eligibility for 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In typical Tranquill fashion – being the warrior that he is – he returned from the locker room for the second half in uniform and helmet with a full leg sleeve as he leaned on his crutches.

Tranquill is down and out for now; he’ll return with matching scars and three productive years ahead of him.

Also credit to Matthias Farley, who stepped in for Tranquill in the second half. On his first play, he played off a block and made the tackle with Schmidt on A-back Isiah Willis. He also collaborated with Jaylon Smith on a tackle of Justin Thomas with the ball coming loose as Farley’s shoulder was driving into Thomas. Smith recovered.

Ultimately, Farley was credited with as many stops (four) as Tranquill. He’s not the athlete Tranquill is, but at least he brings great desire and knowledge to the equation.

BROWN MAKES A MOVE; CAN HE CONTINUE PROGRESS?

Anyone in and around the Notre Dame football program pulls for senior wide receiver Chris Brown because he’s a likeable kid. He works hard, he has elite downfield speed, and he’s attacks the game of football enthusiastically.

After two years and basically just his 50-yard catch at Oklahoma in his rookie season to show for it, Brown had made a marginal impact.

Last season, he broke out for 39 receptions for 548 yards but just one touchdown, giving him two in his career heading into his final season at Notre Dame.

His contributions are on the rise. He caught three passes for 38 yards and a score against Texas. He followed that up with three more catches for 41 yards at Virginia.

His eight-catch, 65-yard effort against Georgia Tech had its flaws, but it was a notable performance on a day when Will Fuller continued to do his thing on the other side of the field from Brown.

Brown dropped what would have been a first-down catch on 3rd-and-9 late in the first quarter with the Irish leading, 7-0. He also couldn’t hold on to a difficult-to-handle low throw from DeShone Kizer.

But he made a key grab on 3rd-and-9, which led to a 13-7 lead. He came back to the ball as Kizer was flushed left in the final drive of the first half for a 14-yard gain. He caught a swing pass for six yards and a first down. His longest reception was a 20-yarder late in the third quarter that didn’t lead directly to a score, but shifted field position, which ultimately led to a 23-7 Irish advantage.

Brown is a significant part of the Irish offense moving forward. For a guy with as much speed as he has, he’s become more of a possession receiver, running those comeback routes along the sideline and catching stuff underneath more than taking the top off the defense. That’s Fuller’s job.

For Brown to take his game to the next level, he needs to increase his YAC – yards after catch. That’s what he did on that 20-yarder on 3rd-and-7 when he caught the pass short of the first down marker, and then added another 14 yards to the reception.

That is a rare occurrence in Brown’s game and one to track as the season progresses. Most of Brown’s yardage up to this point in his career – 957 career yards through the air heading into the UMass game – has come on the catch with very little after the catch.

THE EVOLUTION OF C.J. PROSISE

Each game at running back is a significant step in the process of developing C.J. Prosise into the great player that he can be. Just three games into the season with the Irish already down a man in Tarean Folston, it is imperative that the Irish keep Prosise healthy over the long haul. The development of Josh Adams remains crucial.

Prosise had his back examined by the trainers during the Georgia Tech game and actually went to the locker room briefly in the first half after getting dinged when he took a hit in the shoulder/chest/chin area. He also came off the field in the second quarter after a hit inside the 10-yard line.

He returned and showed few ill effects, although of the three games, this probably was the most tentative of Prosise’s performances. A couple of those shots probably had something to do with that.

It still was one helluva third start at the position, particularly after his 91-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter gave the Irish a 30-7 lead and raised his line-score to 22 carries for 198 yards and and three touchdowns.

His 17-yard touchdown run late in the first half gave the Irish a slim 13-7 lead despite Notre Dame’s control of the game and its tempo. He narrowly avoided stepping out of bounds and made a great individual play to get to the end zone, although he was sprung when Tyler Luatua set the edge on the second level after right guard Steve Elmer pulled and led the way.

Prosise, with those remarkable feet, easily sidestepped free safety Demond Smith, stiff-armed linebacker P.J. Davis to the turf, and tight-roped the sideline effectively enough to prevent the replay officials from marking him down at the three.

On the 91-yard run, Prosise aligned to the left of Kizer. Elmer surged, left guard Quenton Nelson pulled, Luatua followed Nelson through the hole and sealed as right tackle Mike McGlinchey formed a wall upfield. Prosise picked up an aggressive downfield block from Torii Hunter Jr. with Fuller adding some push. Prosise crashed the crease and benefitted a bit from Elmer’s slight tug of a Georgia Tech shirt.

In three games, Prosise already has 451 yards, which puts him on a 1,800-yard pace in a 12-game regular season. (Note: The Notre Dame record for yards rushing in a regular season is held by Vagas Ferguson, who rushed for 1,437 yards on 301 attempts in 1979. In 11 games, Ferguson averaged 27.3 carries per game.)

Make no mistake, the offensive line generally is giving Prosise plenty of room to maneuver, which gives him time and space to apply that excellent footwork.

The Irish need more from Josh Adams. He’s carried five, three and two times in his first three games. He burst onto the scene against Texas when Tarean Folston went down with a season-ending injury and has performed well (10 carries, 63 yards, two TDs). But the Irish need more. The Irish need Adams to earn the trust of the Notre Dame play-callers so Prosise doesn’t have to average 20 carries per game.

“That is a lot of work, and over the course of a season, that is going to pile up on him with hits, bumps and bruises,” Doug Flutie said. “They need to find a complementary back.”

THIRD-DOWN DEFENSE

Considering Georgia Tech led the nation in third-down conversions last season at better than 57 percent, there was little hard evidence to believe that Notre Dame’s defense – which struggled against Navy’s triple-option attack last year – was going to be the one that held the Yellow Jackets to nine straight third-down failures and limited Georgia Tech to 3-of-15 for the game.

Here’s a quick run down of the first 11 third-down attempts with the Irish coming out on top on 10 of them. Georgia Tech’s first third-down conversion didn’t come until the fourth quarter. They added two more in the final minutes of the game.

Note how infrequently the Yellow Jackets were able to avoid 3rd-and-long situations after the first three attempts.

  1. 1st Quarter -- 3rd-and-4 – Justin Thomas calls timeout; Drue Tranquill drops Qua Searcy for a four-yard loss.
  2. 3rd-and-3 – Incomplete to TaQuon Marshall as Thomas is flushed right.
  3. 3rd-and-1 – Daniel Cage and Isaac Rochell combine to hold Thomas for no gain as Patrick Skov attempts to take the handoff on the other side of Thomas. (Georgia Tech converted on 4th-and-1 on a four-yard run by Skov).
  4. 3rd-and-10 – With Tranquill in coverage in the end zone – he may have gotten away with a hold – Thomas overthrows Marshall.
  5. 2nd Quarter -- 3rd-and-10 – Thomas runs for three yards with Greer Martini making the stop.
  6. 3rd-and-7 – Joe Schmidt slices through and sacks Thomas for a three-yard loss.
  7. 3rd-and-17 – Thomas throws incomplete to Marshall with Tranquill in coverage.
  8. 3rd Quarter -- 3rd-and-16 – Thomas throws incomplete to WR Ricky Jeune with KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate all over him. (Thomas also threw incomplete on 4th-and-16.)
  9. 3rd-and-9 -- Incomplete with coverage by Onwualu.
  10. 4th Quarter -- 3rd-and-7 – Thomas had to call a timeout first, but he eventually completed the pass to Searcy for a 17-yard gain.
  11. 3rd-and-9 – Incomplete to Jeune with Russell PBU.

MARTINI PLAYS HIS ROLE

That’s twice now that linebacker Greer Martini has been called upon to start against option-based teams. He played well last year against Navy when he finished with nine tackles. Martini also started against USC and finished with five tackles, the same number he had against Northwestern in a relief role.

He looked incredibly well-prepared and dialed in to his responsibilities against Georgia Tech. His reaction time – he finished with eight tackles and two quarterback hurries -- was spectacular. He knew his role, anticipated when he could cut it loose, and was one step ahead of the Yellow Jackets.

These plaudits are offered with a cautionary reminder. This does not mean that Martini should be a full-time player for the Irish at this time. He has his limitations, although at 6-foot-2 ½, 245 pounds, he is a much bigger version of the freshman that got caught in the USC landslide last season in his second career start.

Martini’s game is best-served vertically, not laterally, which Georgia Tech took advantage of late in the game on some swing passes to fullback Patrick Skov. In fairness, those are tough plays for a linebacker to defend. Joe Schmidt wouldn’t get to them either. Schmidt compensates with smarts, instincts and reaction time. Martini has to tap into those same traits to be effective, although he clearly has superior size to Schmidt and is progressing rapidly.

Let’s not read too much into Martini’s performance, but let’s not underestimate his abilities and his contributions to the victory over Georgia Tech, either. Those contributions were significant, which means the Irish have another piece to the defensive puzzle as they move forward.

With Schmidt walking out the door after this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Martini were the one who becomes the stabilizing force of the linebacker corps.

AROUND THE GRIDIRON

Think about it: For an offensive lineman, an elongated cadence puts him in a very difficult situation. You expect your offensive linemen to really fire off the football. But that requires timing and a confidence that the snap count is going to be tight and consistent. For Ronnie Stanley to jump early three times (and Mike McGlinchey once), there had to be some significant timing issues with DeShone Kizer…A lesson to all of us football observers: Do not assume the offensive lineman is at fault on a false start, particularly when a new quarterback is in the mix…Alize’ Jones is playing much more relaxed than he was against Texas when he dropped a pass to open his career. He’s reacting with some emotion to plays he didn’t make, which means he now believes he should be making them. The fumble against Georgia Tech was a critical mistake in Irish territory. Credit to the Irish defense for bailing him out and preserving a 13-7 lead…Right guard Steve Elmer absolutely whiffed on defensive tackle Adam Gotsis on the play that led to intentional grounding. Elmer is not playing with the consistent confidence level that he had at the end of the 2014 season…Doug Flutie provided several insights in this game, but it was confusing to hear him say that there really isn’t a penalty for intentional grounding anymore. Notre Dame lost a down and was penalized 10 yards. It’s not offering up one’s first born, but it’s a notable penalty nonetheless…

Georgia Tech’s kick-blocking prowess (12 in the previous 29 games) had Justin Yoon a bit spooked. He was slow on his operation time on his first extra point, which hit the right upright and caromed through. He reacted to nose tackle Jabari Hunt rising up in the path that his second extra point would travel and pushed it right. Still believe he’ll be a great one…When C.J. Sanders fair caught a first-quarter punt, the closest defender was 11 yards away. He also made the mistake of turning a 10-yard punt return into a six-yarder by going sideways and then backwards. The kid’s still learning…Daniel Cage didn’t get many reps against Georgia Tech, but his 3rd-and-1 stop of Justin Thomas late in the first quarter from the Irish 17 was important. Of course, it helped that B-back Patrick Skov hit the wrong hole and wasn’t there for the handoff. Georgia Tech converted on 4th-and-1, but had to burn a second timeout because of the confusion caused by Notre Dame’s defensive front…Really like Josh Adams’ ability to detect and then slice through a hole. He’s a blade, ala Terrance Howard from the Bob Davie era, only bigger and faster…Not much call for Andrew Trumbetti in this game with Romeo Okwara’s standup/Cat linebacker background playing a role. The Irish need Trumbetti to make more of a contribution than he’s made one-quarter of the way through the regular season…Good call by the officials on Alize’ Jones fumble. He may never have had a firm grasp of the football, but he had control of it as he began to run. Linebacker Tyler Marcordes stripped it…

Tyler Newsome is developing into a master at tucking those kickoffs into the left corner of the end zone…BVG is a scary presence even when he’s happy with your play. Exhibit A: Motivating Martini after a successful defensive series…BVG goes chin first into ref’s left elbow as the ref is waving incomplete. He couldn’t contain his exuberance…Will Fuller has reduced his drops. But on the easiest catch of all on 3rd-and-4, he dropped it, due largely to making a move before looking the pass into his hands. As for Fuller on the tunnel screen, that’s one explosive dude…Nic Weishar gets his first career reception, going down to his knees for a low throw, and then throws a key block on 1st-and-goal from the six that gets Prosise to the one on the first play of the fourth quarter. Also had the presence of mind to fall on the incomplete pass that was ruled intentional grounding. Better safe than sorry…Somewhat of a unfair holding penalty against Ronnie Stanley as linebacker P.J. Davis turns his body, forcing Stanley to put his hand on Davis’ back…Jaylon Smith had two passes broken up. Combined, they were about 75-to-80 yards downfield. That’s just not right for a 6-foot-2 ¼, 240-pound guy…Alize’ Jones was way too passive on that first onside kick, sitting back on second level and waiting for the ball to get to him instead of attacking, just as he’s taught as a receiver. Corey Robinson tried to be the aggressor but couldn’t come up with it. Both Kelly and special teams coach Scott Booker chewed on Jones. I’ve never liked freshmen on the hands team because of that reason right there. The reluctance to be the aggressor and the susceptibility to being passive because you’re young, you’re doing something you haven’t done a lot, and you don’t want to make a mistake. I’d put a hungry Chase Hounshell out there before a freshman.


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