The Eye in the Sky - Defense

Part II of IrishEyes' weekly game-film breakdown takes a look at Notre Dame's defensive effort vs. the Wolf Pack.

Note: For Part I of this week's Eye in the Sky, and a review of the Irish offensive game-film, click here.

Defense – First Drive

The Irish played the bulk of their first four defensive series in a nickel defense, with Darius Fleming starting for Kapron Lewis-Moore at LDE and S Sergio Brown serving as the nickel back.

Sophomore Robert Blanton was the victim of late pre-snap communication with FS Harrison Smith, resulting in a 20-yard out-route on the game's second play.

The opening drive was unkind to junior NT Ian Williams, sophomore DE Darius Fleming, and senior MLB Toryan Smith as each was dominated by Nevada's C/RG/RT (Ackerman/Barker/Durham) personnel for 33 total yards on three Vai Taua carries.

  • On the game's first run-blitz, Taua gashed ND for 17 yards as T-Smith blitzed outside (right tackle) and Taua came through the vacated middle. Williams was ushered out of his gap by redshirt freshman Chris Barker.
  • Williams was controlled again on Taua's 10-yard cut back run while Fleming was simply moved out of his gap, though Durham's veteran wrist (hold) didn't help Fleming's cause on the play. Ackerman handled Toryan Smith on the run as well.
  • Different run, same story as Williams was again moved out of his gap while sophomore DT Ethan Johnson fought off a double-team to make the tackle, albeit five yards downfield. Smith was again blocked by Ackerman as the Wolf Pack showed why they ranked among the nation's best ground attacks in 2008.
  • Redshirt Freshman guard Chris Barker won the battle on this drive vs. Ian Williams.

    Junior Brian Smith made a fantastic individual play to halt the drive, fighting off a weak lead block by TE Virgil Green to take down Kaepernick in space.

    An Irish blitz forced a quick throw and short gain followed by Ricky Drake's badly missed 38-yard field goal attempt and the Wolf Pack's most impressive drive of the day ended with no points on the board.

    Second Quarter Drives

    Nevada had just one first quarter possession.

    (Still in a Nickel Defense): Brian Smith's delayed blitz off left tackle and subsequent sack of Kaepernick was timed perfectly and more importantly, Smith displayed a textbook breakdown and tackling effort – you won't see Kaepernick go down in that situation often (and not just because you'll never watch Nevada again…)

    Ian Williams later lost contain when Fleming stunted and Brian Smith blitzed off right tackle. The result was a six-yard Kaepernick scramble. The Irish sent in their dime defense personnel, with freshman Manti Te'o and B-Smith as the two ‘backers and safety Ray Herring threatening a blitz off right tackle. Irish blitzer Sergio Brown rushed a bit too hard and failed to breakdown against Kaepernick who, escaped with a scramble upfield. Fortunately Te'o made the stop(from behind) to limit Nevada to an 11-yard gain on 3rd and 15, forcing a Wolf Pack punt.

    After Floyd's 70-yard touchdown made the score 21-0 Notre Dame the Irish forced a three-and-out thanks to a 3rd and 5 pass breakup by an unblocked John Ryan from the RDE spot. It was an alert play by the senior but some credit belongs to Brian Smith who LT Alonzo Durham picked up on a blitz, allowing Ryan a clear path to the quarterback.

    Finally, credit defensive play-caller Jon Tenuta who dialed up a disguised blitz that looked like an overload of defenders but was in reality just a 5 vs. 5 pass rush situation.

    The Wolf Pack's fourth drive of the game began with three consecutive carries for 29 yards as redshirt freshman Kapron Lewis-Moore was controlled on two of his first three collegiate plays; Williams was stoned controlled by either a Nevada double-team or guard Jonathan Bender; and Ethan Johnson was shoved to the ground by guard Mike Gallett.

    (The entire left side of the Irish defensive line had a tough time on the three highlighted plays).

    An incomplete pass; a short bail-out to Tau and a run for three yards set up Nevada with 4th and 1 at the Irish 19. With the Irish interior of Williams and Johnson taking up three interior blocks, a blitzing Toryan Smith shot through the gap to stop Taua for a one-yard loss and turnover on downs. Additionally, both B-Smith and Ryan had come free on the (offense's) left side.

    After a rough start this counts as a key "win" by the Williams/Johnson interior tandem.

    Fifth Drive – Sending the Kitchen Sink

    With the Irish in a nickel defense, Darius Fleming ran free on consecutive rushes, nearly forcing an interception on the latter. Brown again committed a blitzer's cardinal sin with a full speed/no breakdown pass rush of Kaepernick who easily sidestepped the Irish safety and sprinted down the crease for a 17-yard gain.

    A well-timed blitz and aggressive tackle by T-Smith resulted in a loss of 10 yards with less than 40 seconds remaining. But the Irish give the yardage right back as junior CB Gary Gray showed poor recognition of an obvious stop-route (though the mandate from above was likely to keep everything in front of him) on a 23-yard gain.

    Three plays later, Blanton showed good football toughness and concentration with a jump ball interception in the end zone as time expired.

    Halftime Score – Notre Dame 28 Nevada 0

    Total Yards Allowed by the Irish: 162 on 28 plays. The Irish held Nevada to just one conversion on six third-down attempts and were led by Kyle McCarthy's 7 first-half tackles.

    First Two Possessions/Second Half – Nails in the Coffin

    4-3 base defense.

    • KPLM and Fleming sealed as Taua goes for 9 off right-tackle.
    • Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson stunt themselves out of Taua's inside running lane and Toryan Smith is blocked by Wolf Pack center Kenneth Ackerman. Brian Smith blitzed off the left edge and Nevada took advantage of the gap.
    • Nickel – Sergio Brown effective blitz off left tackle and Darius Fleming/B.Smith make the play on Taua for no gain.
    • Both linebackers blitz (bringing six rushers against six blockers with Nevada tight end Virgil Green staying in to protect) and allowed an acceptable gain of 6-yards on 2nd and 10.
    • Back to the 4-3 defense facing a 3rd and 4 – Fleming lost Kaepernick on contain (his responsibility) outside but the quarterback's pass was dropped by Virgil Green.

    After Michael Floyd's 88-yard touchdown grab, gave the Irish a 35-0 lead, Nevada began its second possession of the half at their own 36-yard line.

    • Irish begin the drive in a base 4-3 defense. Redshirt freshman Jamoris Slaughter makes the first tackle of his career after an 18-yard completion (deep out from the slot). Slaughter seemed to enjoy the contact, I might add…
    • ND goes nickel on 1st and 10 at their own 47 and Toryan Smith sheds a block from RG Mike Gallett to stop Taua for a one-yard gain.
    • Kyle McCarthy and Sergio Brown limit Green to a two-yard gain on a bubble screen. McCarthy continues to excel in terms of coming up at full speed and making the tackle. Brown shed a downfield block to help out. On 3rd and 7, McCarthy slid to his right in coverage, read Kaepernick's eyes and made a leaping interception.

    Deepest Penetration – Preserving the Shut-out

    With the Irish playing a base 4-3, Nevada found success on four consecutive plays, moving the ball from their own 39 to the Irish 6-yard line.

      Lewis-Moore and Fleming were completely sealed from the action on a 9-yard run by Taua
    • It looked like redshirt freshman defensive tackle Sean Cwynar fought off a hold to team with John Ryan on Taua's 4-yard carry for a Nevada first down.
    • Allowing a cushion, junior Gary Gray puts the form tackle of the day on WR Tray Session after an 8-yard gain.
    • Taua took an inside handoff for a 10-yard gain with two nice cuts blocks off left tackle and a near miss by Lewis-Moore who beat his block but not in time to break down and make a hit on the runner. Brian Smith missed in space for only the second time in five one-on-one chances.
    • The entire Irish defenses either blitzes with no regard for the screen while the rest is fooled on an easy 24-yard screen play to Taua. Kyle McCarthy fights a block from the Wolf Pack's best lineman, Alonzo Durham, to save the touchdown.
    • Two plays later with the Irish still in a base 4-3, Taua is unable to handle an option pitch and a hustling Lewis-Moore sprints 20 yards in backside pursuit to recover the fumble.

    Final Possessions – No Cause for Concern

    Three first downs; six incomplete passes and a few small gains for Nevada in two possessions as the Wolf Pack muster just 39 yards in garbage-time against the Irish second string defense.

    The final two Wolf Pack drives did offer Irish fans an extended glimpse at freshman linebacker Manti Te'o, and the weak side LB didn't disappoint with two crowd-pleasing hits including a scrimmage pursuit tackle of Taua who had broken through right tackle. Two plays later, Te'o put a lick on Wimberly after an incomplete wide receiver screen – offering a glimpse of his physical presence in the near future.

    The Irish defense held Nevada to 307 total yards: 200 below their 2008 per-game total. More importantly, Notre Dame limited the Wolf Pack to a 2 of 11 success rate on third down, and held the usually potent Nevada offense to zero points in three red zone forays.

    Tomorrow morning: Unit rankings, one-game player ratings, tracked statistics and a final opinion on Notre Dame's season-opening victory. Top Stories