RED ZONE DOMINANCE
Brian Kelly said the schemes in the red zone favored the defense during two interludes of Saturday morning’s practice. But the bottom line is that on 16 snaps from the 10- or 12-yard line, the defense succeeded in keeping the offense out of the end zone 13 times with two touchdowns (Malik Zaire to Torii Hunter, Jr., and DeShone Kizer to Corey Holmes) and one interference.
On the first red-zone play of the 16 snaps, cornerback Cole Luke absolutely ate freshman wide receiver Javon McKinley alive as Kizer eventually threw it incomplete. Defensive backs who broke up passes included Julian Love on a Zaire-to-Hunter throw, Nick Coleman on a Zaire-to-Equanimeous St. Brown throw, and Donte Vaughn on a Brandon Wimbush-to-Miles Boykin attempt.
It appeared to be Vaughn (poor vantage point) called for interference against Holmes on a pass from Wimbush. A Kizer throw to Chris Finke was just past the back of the end zone and Finke could not come up with it as D.J. Morgan defended.
The only completed pass for a touchdown among the first nine was a Zaire-to-Hunter throw that looked like a sure interception or PBU by Luke that Hunter reeled in. (Yet another example of why everyone is so high on Hunter.)
Flipping from the north to the south end zone at the LaBar Practice Complex, the Irish ran another seven red zone plays. Kizer completed the first two (to Tarean Folston and St. Brown), but Asmar Bilal stopped Folston short of the end zone and St. Brown’s route was too shallow as OLB James Onwualu made contact at the four. (Note: Brian Kelly was the one who pointed out to St. Brown how shallow he ran the route.)
Of the last five red-zone snaps, four were incomplete. The only completion was a back of the end zone toss from Kizer to Holmes as both quarterback and receiver patiently waited for traffic to clear.
Back-to-back throws by Zaire-to-McKinley were incomplete. The second one was caught, but out of bounds in front of the goal line as Coleman forced the issue. Coleman then tipped an end zone pass from Zaire-to-Finke.
In three practices viewed by the media, it would be accurate to say that we have seen as many as six cornerbacks play promising-to-outstanding football, led by senior Cole Luke.
Luke is putting his 26 games of starting experience to use. He is in tremendous physical condition. He’s showing a good understanding of routes and anticipation. He is rerouting receivers. He’s playing them physically when the ball arrives. Frankly, he’s doing a little bit of everything very well.
Shaun Crawford hasn’t quite been the lockdown guy we saw in the spring, but he’s a very young player – he’s yet to take a game rep – and he’s made enough plays to suggest that he’ll do nothing but continue to get better. He stepped in front of a pass intended for Holmes that he could have/should have intercepted.
Through one week of practice, this has been a breakthrough camp for sophomore Nick Coleman. He showed life early last year and gradual improvement was expected as the season carried on. He probably was a bit overwhelmed by the depth of the defensive package and didn’t have the confidence he is showing now. Coleman is decisive, proactive and confident in everything he’s doing. He is proving to be the aggressor against most of the Irish receivers. It’s no wonder he is the fifth cornerback on the field in the nickel package (with Crawford moving to nickel).
Another sophomore, Ashton White, is a good-sized, confident, demonstrative cornerback who, like Coleman, looks like he’s matured and is in a position to make a contribution.
Freshman Donte Vaughn has been very impressive with his length, his willingness to compete, his fearlessness in press coverage, and his confidence to make plays. Whereas the game is too fast for most freshmen, he has looked faster than the game. This could be a star in the making.
Another freshman, Julian Love, hasn’t looked as dominant as Vaughn, but he’s certainly made a number of noteworthy plays in three open practices to suggest that he is well ahead of the pace. He continued to work as the No. 2 nickel Saturday.
It makes you wonder which one or two of these corners – particularly once Nick Watkins is healthy – could get a look at safety where the productivity, particularly by the younger players, is no where near what we’ve seen from the cornerbacks.
DEPTH CHART CHATTER
No changes with the starting base defense of Jay Hayes and Isaac Rochell at end, Jerry Tillery and Jarron Jones on the interior, a linebacker corps of James Onwualu, Nyles Morgan and Asmar Bilal, and a secondary of Cole Luke and Shaun Crawford at cornerback with Max Redfield and Drue Tranquill at safety.
With nose tackle Daniel Cage still slowed by a hamstring, Pete Mokwuah worked with the second unit inside with Elijah Taylor. The ends were Andrew Trumbetti and Jonathan Bonner with Khalid Kareem working behind Bonner and Daelin Hayes entering the lineup situationally at right end.
Although Greer Martini continues to line up with the second base unit, he becomes more prominent when the Irish go to their sub packages as he replaces Bilal and teams up with Onwualu and Morgan at linebacker.
7-ON-7 ZONE COVERAGE
Unofficially, the offense completed 10-of-15 passes against zone coverage in a 7-on-7 exchange.
Kizer was 5-of-8 with completions to Sanders (two), Hunter, St. Brown and Durham Smythe. Two of Kizer’s three incompletions were intended for Holmes, the second of which was the near interception by Crawford. The third incompletion was intended for Kevin Stepherson.
Zaire completed 3-of-4 throws – one each to Chris Finke, Smythe and Chase Claypool. The incompletion was intended for Deon McIntosh.
Brandon Wimbush was 2-of-3 with completions to Nic Weishar and St. Brown.
SCRIMMAGE PLAYS OF NOTE
• C.J. Sanders torched Max Redfield on an inside move that led to a 35-yard or so completion. A similar result occurred between Sanders and Redfield with Kizer making the throw.
• Despite a quality redirect by Tranquill, Wimbush hooked up with Weishar downfield.
• Crawford was beaten by Hunter on a deep ball (from Kizer) that fell off his fingertips.
• Love was beaten for a 30-yard gain on a pass from Kizer-to-Boykin.
• Deon McIntosh beat Avery Sebastian on an up-and-out route thrown by Montgomery VanGorder.
• Zaire threw high to Stepherson on a pass well defended by Vaughn.
• Luke made a truly outstanding play on a ball thrown by Wimbush to St. Brown as Luke clogged up the route.
• Love defensed a pass from Kizer-to-Boykin.
• Kizer connected with walk-on Austin Webster on a crossing route in front of D.J. Morgan.
• Tranquill sacked Zaire after a poor long snap by Sam Mustipher.
• Mokwuah dumped Kizer for a two-yard loss on a designed run.
• Coleman was credited with a pass defensed on a Kizer-to-Hunter attempt. Six plays later, Coleman defended a Kizer-to-St. Brown throw.
• Daelin Hayes made the stop on a designed run by Kizer.
• Josh Barajas drilled Finke for a loss on a jet sweep.
• Julian Okwara, who looks undersized to play much of a role now as a defensive end, sacked Zaire late in the drills.
• Jonathan Jones stepped in front of a Brandon Wimbush pass for an interception.
“You’re a big player! Play strong! (Todd Lyght to Donte Vaughn)
“Get your head across, Troy!” (Brian VanGorder to Troy Pride, Jr.)
“Don’t stop your feet on contact!” (Lyght to D.J. Morgan – twice)