Close and Late Yet Again

Part II of our defensive film breakdown focuses on the second half and the defense's penchant for coming through in the clutch.

Below is our play-by-play recap of the Notre Dame defensive effort in the second half vs. the Eagles. Click here for a review of the first half.

1st Drive/2nd Half

The Eagles opened the half at the ND 44-yard line with a 6-play, 56-yard drive (2:46 time of possession) that ended with a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run by Montel Harris. BC 16 ND 13

  • (4-3 with Darrin Walls in for Gary Gray at CB. John Ryan at DE. Harrison Smith remained at SLB with Sergio Brown at SS and Kyle McCarthy at FS/SS): RB Montel Harris gains three yards over the left side as Ryan and Harrison Smith are controlled while Sergio Brown denies Harris an outside lane. Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson skated down the line to stop Harris.
  • (Nickel D with Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal at DE and Harrison Smith in the "Nickel" role.): A quick-out to WR Colin Larmond in front of Walls gains 4 yards.
  • (Nickel): On 3rd and 3 from the ND 49-yard line, BC sets up slot left (near side) with two receivers matched up vs. Walls (outside) and Harrison Smith (slot). Both defenders cover a slant-and-go-route outside (Smith should have stayed with the slot receiver) as Rich Gunnell runs a simple slant to gain an easy 20 yards and BC first down. Terrible defensive breakdown by Smith who should never cover a slant-and-go behind him with a slot responsibility in front.
  • (Nickel – it appeared Smith dropped back to Safety with Brown up near the line): Fleming beats a right-side double team (tackle/tight end) is held, but still makes the tackle for a one-yard loss on Harris. Fleming threw a cross-body block at Harris' feet after being held (no call). Ethan Johnson, also held, beat his blocker inside to help out on the play.
  • (Nickel – same alignment as previous play): An inside stunt by Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore is blocked and Shinskie steps up to find Gunnell down the post for 28 yards and a first down at the Irish 2-yard line. Gunnell ran from the slot past Sergio Brown and in front of the Irish deep safeties for the easy pitch-and-catch. Brown was badly turned around with the ball in the air from a trailing position. This was a ridiculous defensive assignment by the Irish coaching staff.
  • (4-3): John Ryan slips a block to force Harris inside; SLB Harrison Smith is pancaked by a double-team block at the point; Kyle McCarthy covers the outside left, as does (erroneously) Brian Smith, who had a clear lane to fill and stack up Harris in the backfield. Manti Te'o is blocked effectively by RG Thomas Claiborne though Te'o was the only defender to make any contact on Harris until he crossed the goal. Johnson and Ian Williams were neutralized and Brown ran around the play, never finding the correct angle to fill.

2nd Eagles Drive/3rd Quarter:

BC Drove 85 yards in 5:15 on 10 plays to the Irish 5-yard line before Harris fumbled on 2nd and goal, ending the Eagles threat. BC 16 ND 13

  • (4-3 with Blanton and Walls at CB with Jamoris Slaughter at FS): BC opens in the Wildcat formation and Harris gains 14 yards over left tackle as Ryan is controlled inside; Te'o's angle allows an easy shield block (again inside) and Brian Smith reacts to the fake hand-off right (it appeared McCarthy had that gap covered). Walls undercuts Harris for the tackle.
  • (4-3 – Gary Gray enters for Walls.): A false start backs the Eagles to 1st and 15 at their own 23-yard line. A delayed handoff to Harris is stopped by Ian Williams. Lewis-Moore also showed good penetration.
  • (Nickel. Neal and Fleming enter at DE.): Shinskie hits Gunnell for a 20-yard completion to the left corner. Gunnell, covered man-to-man by Slaughter from the slot, simply owned the Irish secondary on Saturday. Not bad coverage by Slaughter who simply took one step too far downfield as Gunnell broke back to the ball/sideline.
  • (4-3): Ryan drops into the left flat to take away one of Shinskie's option and the freshman misses Gunnell on a cross (left) from the right slot. McCarthy was in the area on the errant throw.
  • (Nickel): Harrison Smith blitzes off left tackle as the play goes right. Harris is held to a gain of two yards by Darius Fleming who fought off a quality block by RT Rich Lapham. RG Thomas Claiborne had completely controlled Brian Smith on the play and the run would have gained significant yardage (depending on FS Kyle McCarthy's eventual angle) if not for Fleming's effort. Te'o hit the wrong gap as well. Credit Lewis-Moore for beating an initial block and diving late at Harris' legs in the gap.
  • (Dime – Zeke Motta as the 6th DB, guarding the right flat): Te'o's outside blitz is completely ineffective (he's much better as a delayed blitzer through the gaps) and Shinskie has time to pump, reload, and fire downfield over Blanton and inside McCarthy for a 33-yard gain to Larmond. The Irish were in Cover 3, which means Blanton cannot go for that pump fake as McCarthy is responsible for the deep middle (not Blanton's sideline). Brian Smith's middle blitz was stymied as the Irish 5-man rush was blocked effectively. ND had otherwise excellent coverage on three other targets. The replay showed a double move (one step post/one step out/downfield) but it appeared Blanton could have made a play on the ball.
  • (Nickel): Lewis-Moore, Brian Smith, and Te'o converge to stop Harris up the gut for no gain. Pre-snap communication by McCarthy to Te'o appeared to help this time.
  • (Nickel - Neal and Fleming as DE): Neal rushes too far upfield and Shinskie steps up for a 15-yard scamper and BC 1st Down. Johnson run an inside stunt with no one covering his gap. Either Neal is supposed to stay home or there was a mistake behind the D-Line by one of the ‘backers. Shinskie gained the final 10 yards after faking Harrison Smith off his feet with a pump fake (one-yard pass the line of scrimmage) and blowing by the struggling defender for a 1st Down. That's inexcusable playground defense by the strong side linebacker. Good downfield hustle by Fleming (from LDE) or Shinskie would have scored as Gray and McCarthy went down on the cut back.
  • (4-3): Harris gains 5 yards on 1st and Goal from the Irish 10-yard line. Brown showed an extremely soft tackle attempt when Harris was initially stopped but Blanton and Ian Williams stayed with Harris to deny what would have been an embarrassing touchdown.
  • (4-3): Brown, from his FS spot, slips a block in space and puts his hat on the football, forcing another Harris fumble near the goal line. The ball squirts out to the 5-yard line where it's recovered by Brian Smith. Neither Ryan nor Brian Smith came close to shedding their blocks (allowing Harris a free run prior to Brown's fantastic play). Smith is called for "Delay of Game" for throwing/rolling the football – on the ground – after the play. I occasionally tire of Smith's antics but this was an needless call by the official.

3rd Eagles Drive/3rd Quarter

BC loses 3 yards on 3 snaps (0:52 off the clock). BC 16 ND 13

  • (4-3 with Sean Cwynar in for Johnson at DT and Kerry Neal at RDE): Cwynar fights off a double-team to combine with a good fill by Brian Smith, stopping Harris for 2 yards. Really nice effort by Cwynar. Te'o throws down a blocker at the tail end of the play, then tight end Lars Anderson post play…just ‘cause he can…
  • (4-3): Neal drops into the right flat (near side) and the Irish 5-man rush with Harrison Smith gets no penetration. Blanton bit on Shinskie's pump but recovered and the sideline pass to Gunnell falls incomplete. Cover 3 by the Irish and Blanton was up to the task as he gained inside position on Gunnell downfield.
  • (Nickel with Neal and Fleming at DE and CB Raeshon McNeil as the "Nickel" defender. FINALLY!): After a false start, Shinskie is intercepted by Kyle McCarthy downfield. The Irish were in "Man Under" with McCarthy and Brown splitting the field behind the cornerbacks. Gray, who lossed Gunnell at the line, might have interfered on the play, but since I hate BC…who cares? McCarthy returned the pick for 20 yards. Neal applied inside pressure stunting (untouched) from his RDE spot as the Irish rushed just four.

Three 3rd Quarter Observations:

  • Gunnell must be much quicker than he appears on tape. He obviously runs excellent routes but regularly lost his coverage with his first fake.
  • Neal forced Shinskie's interception with his closing speed. More consistency by the junior will cement his role in passing downs with Filer knocking on the door.
  • Cwynar should probably rotate in a bit more often up front.

1st Eagles Drive/4th Quarter:

BC gained just 4 yards on 3 plays (2:03 time of possession) after holding the Irish offense on 4th and Goal from the 1-yard line. BC 16 ND 13

  • (4-3 with Hafis Williams at DT and Slaughter at FS): Shinskie's sneak from his own 1-yard line is stuffed by Ian Williams and Brian Smith.
  • (4-3): Harris gains two yards over the left side as Harrison and Brian Smith converge on the tackle.
  • (4-3): On 3rd and 8 from their own 3-yard line, BC stays conservative, handing off to Harris for two more yards as Brian Smith and McCarthy make the stop. Te'o took on the left guard to allow McCarthy a clear lane at Harris. An initially blocked John Ryan arrived late to receive the official ½ tackle. The Eagles punted to the ND 49-yard line and the Irish took the lead for good three plays later on a Clausen-to-Tate touchdown catch-and-run.

2nd Eagles Drive/4th Quarter:

Another three-and-out for BC as the Eagles lose 4 yards in 1:12 before punting back to the Irish. BC 16 ND 13

  • (4-3 with Cwynar at DT and Slaughter at FS): Lewis-Moore immediately pressures Shinskie into an errant throw (to Gunnell) on the right sideline. Gunnell was open and could not handle the forced early throw as he turned back to the quarterback. Calling a "stop-go-stop" route for Gunnell on 1st Down shows the Eagles believed they'd have ample time vs. the ND pass rush.
  • (4-3): BC shows the Wildcat formation but Cwynar again slips through the gap while Te'o blows through behind him to hit Harris in the backfield as Lewis-Moore and Brian Smith clean up the mess. Ian Williams also won at the point.
  • (Nickel with Raeshon McNeil as the "Nickel" and Filer and Fleming at DE): Filer, Fleming, and Ethan Johnson (up the gut and with the most influence) pressure Shinskie into a panicked early throw over the middle to a crossing Gunnell (well short of the marker) as Brian Smith could have cleaned up the play (game broadcasters were incorrect that Gunnell would have run by Smith on the play).

3rd Eagles Drive/4th Quarter:

Trailing 20-16 with 6:04 remaining, BC gained consecutive first downs but their 4-play, 27-yard drive ended with another interception by Kyle McCarthy. ND 20 BC 16

  • (Nickel with Slaughter as the safety with McCarthy; McNeil as "Nickel" DB and Fleming/Neal as DE): Shinskie hits Gunnell for 12 yards on an out-route from the slot. McNeil was locked up one-on-one with the BC playmaker and reacted late to Gunnell's stutter-cut. The Irish brought six pass rushers including a stunting Fleming who did get through to apply pressure.
  • (Nickel): A well-timed draw play gains 13 up the gut as the Irish dropped into coverage. Brian Smith never saw the handoff and Te'o was blocked before shedding and making the downfield tackle with Slaughter.
  • (Nickel): McCluskey is stopped for 2 yards on another draw as Lewis-Moore fights off a block to make the stop.
  • (Nickel): Facing 2nd and 8 at the ND 42-yard line with just over 4:30 remaining, Shinskie's deep corner to Gunnell is undercut and dropped by McNeil, but McCarthy was again on the spot to make the interception. Good discipline and depth by McNeil in his drop but the senior has to catch that ball. BC attempted to high-low the Irish as USC had on three occasions the previous week but the veteran McNeil did not bite.

Final Eagles Drive/4th Quarter:

Six plays, 41 yards, 1:44 time of possession. Described below… ND 20 BC 16

  • (Nickel with Filer and Fleming as DE and McNeil as the "Nickel." Slaughter began the drive at FS but gave way to Sergio Brown): Te'o absolutely blows up Harris on a screen left. Loss of six yards courtesy of ND's most explosive defender. Te'o showed impressive instincts on the play yet again.
  • (Nickel): An ND inside tackle stunt is stymied as the four-man pass rush does nothing to bother Shinskie who misses Larmond down the right sideline. Larmond lost Blanton with a quick shake move to the inside at the line of scrimmage. McCarthy was a bit late in his help as the Irish again ran a "Man-Under" defense. Te'o lost an Eagles runner on a circle route of the the backfield that would have gained at least 15 yards.
  • (Dime package with Motta and Harrison Smith in as a slot defender): Fleming applies pressure with an edge rusher over right tackle and as Harrison Smith expertly covered a smash route by Larmond on the right side.
  • (Dime). Facing 4th and 17 at his own 26, Shinskie plays pitch-and-catch with Gunnell for 28-yard gain to the ND 46-yard line. ND brought five pass rushers with Brian Smith controlled late over right tackle and Te'o picked up late in the middle. BC ran trips right with Gunnell inside and the receiver ran a simple deep cross to the left hash, leaping to make the catch inside three Irish DBs. Slaughter was beaten badly by Gunnell's hard step to the right. McCarthy arrived late after also biting on the step by Gunnell.
  • (Nickel with McNeil over Gunnell in the slot): McCarthy breaks up the corner route to Justin Jarvis but is called for pass interference. It looked good live but K-Mac used his left arm to climb the ladder in defense.
  • (Nickel): Shinskie can't find a target downfield after a pump-and-go. As the pocket collapses, Shinskie carries Te'o, Brian Smith, and two other defenders for an extra five yards. Still solid, disciplined defense by the Irish ‘backer duo. Blanton had excellent coverage deep down the right sideline and ND had three defenders on Larmond down the post (Gray, Slaughter, McCarthy). Fleming's outside pass rush was stopped by a one-armed choke hold (not called with the official staring directly at him).
  • (Nickel): After a BC timeout, the Eagles faced 2nd and 6 at the ND 27-yard line with 1:48 remaining. Shinskie rolled right and was pressured by the closing speed of Darius Fleming. He appeared to try to hit Gunnell breaking downfield after a shallow cross (from left to right) but did not see Brian Smith who secured the interception to seal the contest and snap the Eagle's 6-game winning streak vs. the Irish. Excellent downfield coverage by the Irish on the final play with Te'o and McNeil underneath passing lanes. Sergio Brown fell down near the goal line but Gary Gray might have been able to cover the slip as he was in the vicinity.

Final Thought:

  • Raeshon McNeil is the team's best choice as the Nickel defender in passing situations. It's ludicrous to use a safety in that role. He's not perfect, but he's the player to use vs. slot receivers underneath.

Final Score ND 20 BC 16

Defensive Game Balls: Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore overall. Kyle McCarthy and Brian Smith in the 4th Quarter (yet again). Unsung hero: Darius Fleming.


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