A closer look at the Irish linebackers and defensive linemen in Saturday's victory over the Boilermakers.
- Toryan Smith – Nice job fighting off initial lead block to allow McCarthy to make a toss right tackle…blocked to the ground on Ralph Bolden's 26-yard run off right tackle…beaten badly by WR Keith Smith from the slot but Smith dropped the pass. This is in no way Toryan Smith's fault, but a terrible adjustment to an audible (Purdue adjusted its formation late) by the Irish defense...targeted on the ensuing play by Keith Smith who motioned and cut back inside Toryan for a 3rd Down catch-and-run for 22 yards…handled by pulling left guard on Jaycen Taylor's 9-yard run up the gut near the end of the 1st Quarter…shot the gap but lost his balance or could have had a big hit on Taylor (Fleming stopped the runner for loss)…targeted in coverage, this time on a well-designed route that used TE Kyle Adams coming out of the backfield (from left of QB Joey Elliot) to the right flat. That's a long run for Toryan in coverage…showed good coverage on Adams two plays later (incomplete pass to Keith Smith)…beaten badly by Smith down the seam for what would have been at least 20 yards and possibly a 74-yard touchdown. The coverage that calls for Toryan to turn and run with the opponent's best receiver is one I'd probably scrap for future weeks…faked off his feet (by Bolden) near the end of the half. Smith continues to wait for the opposing runner to come to him…just missed a diving ankle tackle on Smith (not his coverage) late in the 3rd quarter on a 26-yard catch-and-run…missed solo tackle (lunged) in the hole vs. Bolden but K-Mac limited the ‘back to three yards on the play…hustled to tackle Bolden after a 15-yard gain (would have scored)…looked completely gassed on the next play and never gave legitimate effort on a 20-yard catch-and-run by Keith Carlos (called by 10 for holding).
- Brian Smith – Controlled by the center on Bolden's 26-yard carry (3rd and 1)…failed to shed a block from right guard on Taylor's 9-yard run up the middle at the end of he 1st Quarter…missed a clean shot at Elliot in the pocket on a well-timed blitz, allowing the QB to escape to the right (eventual incomplete)…tremendous ankle tackle of a scrambing Elliot to force a late-2nd Quarter punt…Both Brian and Toryan bit too hard on a 16-yard crossing route by WR Keith Smith vs. the Irish LB zone…excellent coverage vs. Bolden out of the backfield on the ensuing play…TE Kyle Adams put a nice move on Smith for a 12-yard gain on 2nd and 14 midway through the fourth period…on the ensuing play, Smith made a tremendous tackle in space on Bolden to save a first down and set up 4th and 3…apparently responsible for the broken coverage that gave Purdue the walk-in, go-ahead touchdown by Jaycen Taylor. On film, you can understand why Smith might have chosen to cover the tight end coming right at him rather than Taylor slipping out of the backfield. Though technically Smith's fault, I believe this was a poor coverage scheme by the Irish defense.
- Darius Fleming – Showed tremendous quickness on penetration to record a 3-yard tackle-for-loss on Bolden…fantastic play to beat his man inside and shoot back out to stop backup RB Jaycen Taylor for a 3-yard loss (had help from Sergio Brown)…hustle sack on the backside forces PU into 2nd and 16 on the first drive of the 2nd half…heavy pressure on Elliot to force a quick throw late 3rd Quarter.
- Scott Smith – Made one of the biggest plays of the month when he hustled after punt returner Aaron Valentin to make a touchdown-saving tackle…early 4th quarter appearance as the SLB on 3rd and 11 in the red zone and remained in with the team's goal line package.
Observations: I was hard on Smith last week because I thought he fared poorly in what was, at one point, a physical contest that should have allowed him to make plays. Against the Boilers, the Irish defensive scheme often put Smith in a terrible coverage matchup in space. That's not the big MLB's fault. Smith consistently fails to wrap-up as a tackler, something he'll have to work to help the Irish vs. the strong rushing attack of USC after the Bye week.
Observations: This isn't meant as a backwards compliment but Smith was physical away from the ball on pass routes, especially early, often disrupting underneath routes by the Boilers. Smith is curiously missing both opposing QBs and RBs in space this season, but continues to make the occasional big stop as well. A more consistent Smith would be a huge help for the Irish defense.
Observations: Defensive MVP vs. the Boilermakers.
Observations: Nothing says "Special Teams Captain" quite like a game-saving tackle.
Manti Te'o – Started (one play); then played true MLB (solo linebacker in the Dime package) in his second snap (3rd and long gain of 4 and a subsequent punt). Entered again late 2nd Quarter and blitzed off the left edge on 3rd and long (Herring forced Elliot to scramble) and another punt caused by the Irish Dime package…slipped a block but missed an open field tackle on 3rd and 10 that resulted in an 11-yard gain…recorded his first career sack on the game's penultimate play, drilling Elliot at his own 8-yard line.
Observations: I think it's time to see more of the talented freshman.
Defensive Tackles/Defensive Ends
- Ethan Johnson – Collapsed interior line when Neal dropped Bolden for a one-yard loss…forced a holding call with a good inside move on center Jared Zwilling late in the 2nd quarter…missed a clear shot at Bolden in the hole (ran through his arm tackle) midway through the final period but the play was called back due to a procedure penalty…hustled down the line and cleaned up Keith Smith after a quick pass to the flat.
- Ian Williams – Tremendous 1st and goal play at the 1-yard line to stop Bolden for a two-yard loss…followed that with an athletic sprint down the line to tip an Elliot pass, forcing incomplete…solid play near the four-minute mark to limit Bolden to one yard.
Observations: A fine fourth-quarter effort by the big man who could have been the game's defensive hero had Irish coverage held up on 3rd and Goal midway through the final period.
- John Ryan – Charged hard down the line on Lewis-Moore's first tackle-for-loss early in the 2nd Quarter…similar play to end the half as he dropped Bolden after a gain of one-yard…fought off a cut block to force Elliot to hold the ball (Fleming made the backside sack)…nice pressure as LDE in the red zone to begin the fourth quarter.
- Kerry Neal – Nice backside pursuit to drop Bolden for a one-yard loss (Ethan Johnson disrupted the play)…appeared to lose backside containment on a well-designed option left by QB Joey Elliot (gain of 7 yards) but showed his speed by turning and tracking Elliot downfield (a very athletic play after a mental error)…upfield pressure forced Elliot to leave the pocket and throw incomplete…failed to secure the edge on a 15-yard gain by Bolden on the go-ahead drive.
- Kapron Lewis-Moore – Broke through the line (low) to briefly disrupt the play but received no help on Bolden's 26-yard run off the right side…very nice play to shed block and limit Bolden too a two-yard gain…another nice play on the left edge stops Bolden for a one-yard loss - KPLM fought off the block and made the falling tackle…excellent pursuit of Elliot on 3rd and 5 to force an incomplete pass (and punt)…helped pressure Elliot on 2nd and 7 forcing a quick throw (two yards on the play thanks to K-Mac in the flat)…collapsed the line on 1st and 10 to stop Bolden for no gain on the final play of the 3rd Quarter.
- Hafis Williams – Nothing noted (my error.
- Sean Cwynar – Not pushed out of his gap but couldn't shed the center's block on a 9-yard run near the end of the 1st Quarter…hustled downfield to make a tackle (along with Kerry Neal) on WR Keith Smith after a 28-yard gain.
Observations: Fights, scratches…just seems a tick off from becoming a big contributor inside. Regardless, he's helping to plug what would be a huge hole inside without his constant effort.
Observations: Playing the best football of his career as a solid, part-time contributor (technical starter). I believe the Irish defensive staff has utilized Ryan on the ideal number of snaps over the last few games and should continue to rotate him with Kerry Neal at DE.
Observations: Probably in the correct role (consistent rotation with John Ryan). Neal over-pursues a bit but he has some serious makeup speed.
Observations: This was by far the best game of Lewis-Moore's four-game career. KLM should be an excellent 4-3 DE next season and his continued improvement is the key to Notre Dame's run defense in 2009.
Observations: I believe Williams played briefly but I missed him during my tape review (I saw him come off the field from the press box).
Observations: Cwynar's presence in the rotation allowed a fresh Ian Williams to make three big fourth period plays.
For a review of the team's individual defensive back performances, as well as a breakdown of the personnel groupings at the outset of each drive, click here.