Athletes Up Front

IrishEyes reviews the defense's effort in the first half Saturday night vs. the Cougars.

Below is Part I of our play-by-play recap of the Notre Dame defensive effort vs. the Cougars

Opening Drive

The Irish open in a 4-3 look with some of its general Nickel personnel including Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal at DE and Harrison Smith as the hybrid SLB/Nickel Defender. Jamoris Slaughter earned the start next to Kyle McCarthy at S and Robert Blanton and Gary Gray begin the contest at CB for the second straight week. ND 0 WSU 0

  • Neal cuts off Cougars QB Jeff Tuel's immediate step left and chases the freshman to his right forcing an errant throw on the sideline.
  • A shot-gun inside handoff to tailback Dwight Tardy is destroyed by the penetration of sophomore DT Ethan Johnson, who overwhelmed WSU left guard Zack Williams' solo-block. Kapron Lewis-Moore, lined up next to Johnson, drew the double-team from right guard and center on the play. Brian Smith came clean to help on the tackle but the play is nullified by Williams' hold of Johnson. Neal also beat his man on the play as the Irish brought a heavy blitz from the left.
  • On 2nd and 20, Tuel is again pressured by Neal as the QB rolls left with blitzing Brian Smith and (spying) Manti Te'o in pursuit. Tuel had an open receiver as Robert Blanton fell down in coverage but his hurried pass fell short.
  • The Irish stay in the Nickel look on 3rd and 20. Tuel is forced to step up in the pocket vs. a four-man rush and Kerry Neal tracks the mobile QB for a six-yard gain to force a punt.
  • Substitutions: Sergio Brown (for Slaughter) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (for Ian Williams at DT).

2nd WSU Drive

The Cougars began at their own 26-yard line after an Irish opening field goal and are again held without a first down on three snap. The ND defense opened the drive in its Nickel package with Lewis-Moore shifting inside (Neal and Fleming at DE) and Sergio Brown as the Nickel Defender with Harrison Smith at Safety). 3-0

  • Lewis-Moore diagnoses and hustles to stop an otherwise well-blocked screen play for five yards (though Brian Smith was in position as well).
  • Darius Fleming loops (left defensive end to the middle) to stop Logwone Mitz in the backfield for a loss of two yards. Tremendous quickness by Fleming who was stunting for a pass rush.
  • On 3rd and 7 from his own 29-yard line, Tuel misses WR Jeff Solomon on a short out to the right, forcing another Cougars punt. Gary Gray was in the area and attempted to undercut the route (the pass did get by Gray, however).
  • Substitutions: None, but Fleming and Neal flip-flopped sides on 3rd Down and Harrison Smith moved up to the line (with Brown at Safety) for the final two downs.

3rd WSU Drive/End 1st Quarter

The Cougars began with solid field position at their own 43-yard line but again managed just three snaps before surrendering the pigskin back to the Irish. Ian Williams enters at NT for the Irish in the Base 4-3 defense. Fleming (LDE) and Steve Filer (RDE) line up outside the four-man front. ND 3 WSU 0

  • Tuel is sacked for a loss of 9 yards by DT Ethan Johnson. Te'o came on an outside (right) blitz but this was all Johnson, as the sophomore knifed between LT and LG to bury Tuel who never had a chance on the play. Filer had looped inside on a stunt and Te'o came relatively free off the edge.
  • On 2nd and 19, Tardy gains 10 yards on a draw over the left side. Filer was engulfed by a double-team (LT Tyson Pencer and TE Randy Johnson) to allow Tardy the outside lane. Gary Gray fought off a downfield block to make the tackle on the left sideline. The Irish were caught with Smith run-blitzing on the backside and Te'o's one false took him out of the mix in the box.
  • On 3rd and 9, Tuel hit TE Tony Thompson for 6 yards at midfield, three yards short of the marker out of bounds. The Irish brought a three-man rush and Tuel threw too early vs. the Irish zone. Gary Gray had the coverage if Thompson had stayed upright.
  • Substitutions: None.

Three 1st Quarter Observations:

  • Darius Fleming is capable of wreaking havoc up front. The Irish now have a three-man DE rotation (with John Ryan likely adding a fourth to the mix) but Fleming is the ringleader and should only come out when he needs a break.
  • This was the best quarter of the season for sophomore DT Ethan Johnson.
  • Notre Dame's personnel grouping with Fleming, Neal/Filer, and Harrison Smith as part of the front seven gives the Irish their quickest lineup, but it could struggle at times defending the power rushing attacks of the next four opponents. Then again, you can't stop everything.

First WSU Drive/2nd Quarter

The Irish open with Lewis-Moore inside as a DT and Harrison Smith as the Nickel Defender vs. the Cougars 4-WR set. Neal and Fleming are the DE and senior Darrin Walls enters for Blanton at CB. ND 9 WSU 0

  • Tuel gains 14 yards to the WSU 42 for the Cougars initial first down of the contest. Tuel executed a sprint option fake and took advantage of an inside lane between blitzing Harrison Smith (who might have been too wide, then again, he has outside containment) and Fleming who was blocked inside. MLB Brian Smith read "bubble screen" to the right and turned his back to Tuel as the QB ran through Smith's vacated area. Neal and McCarthy combined to crush Tuel after the first-down gain.
  • Tuel is sacked for a loss of 11 by Neal and Johnson. The Irish blitzed Te'o over LT and the freshman beat his blocker and crushed a backfield block attempt by Tardy. Neal simply beat tight end Zach Tatman with a speed rush outside (bad matchup) and Johnson worked his way inside to provide a push and get credit for a half-sack. Te'o would have dropped Tuel had Neal or Johnson been a tick late.
  • Mitz gains just two up the middle as Lewis-Moore fights off a double team for initial contact in the hole. Johnson stood strong at the point to share the tackle and Fleming jumped on late.
  • On 3rd and 19 the Irish remained in their Nickel package. Tuel, on a designed roll to his right, planted and threw back down the left seam to speedy target Johnny Forzani, but Irish deep safety Kyle McCarthy was not fooled and stayed home to breakup the play. Lewis-Moore applied late pressure on the pass.
  • Substitutions: None.

Second WSU Drive/2nd Quarter

Following a Golden Tate touchdown run, WSU took over at its own 28-yard line but after a first-play 1st Down, punted back to the Irish on the four-play, 16-yard drive. Walls and Blanton began the drive as the team's CB with Steve Filer and Kerry Neal at DE. Lewis-Moore lined up at DT with Ian Williams on the bench (if it ‘aint broke; don't fix it…). ND 16 WSU 0

  • Tuel uses effective play-action to escape right (short side) and find Jared Byers for 12 yards and the Cougars second first down of the contest. Neal, at LDE, bit two steps too hard inside in pursuit allowing Tuel time and a passing lane to find his fullback who snuck out of the backfield underneath Te'o as the Irish freshman also took two false steps forward toward the rolling QB.
  • Lewis-Moore fights off the zone blocking to his left to limit RB Carl Winston to four yards over the right side. A tremendous, saving ankle tackle by Lewis-Moore as Neal had been sealed on the edge and Te'o misdiagnosed the play (badly) to his right. Winston had two blockers and daylight down the sideline
  • Tuel's pass to Gino Simone is broken up by Harrison Smith. Smith read the hook in the right slot. Darius Fleming was blatantly held (dragged down by his jersey) on his backside pass rush and might have sacked Tuel (or at least applied a big hit).
  • Tuel throws incomplete under heavy pressure and the Cougars are forced to punt. The Irish (Dime Package) sent Johnson up the gut with Neal and Fleming on the edges and delayed blitzes with Brian and Harrison Smith through the left guard's hole. Brian Smith leapt over a cut block to apply the heaviest pressure on the play. Motta made a nice play in coverage (at least disrupted if not tipped the crossing route).
  • Substitutions: The Irish employed their Dime Package on 3rd Down with Zeke Motta as a sixth DB (playing near the line of scrimmage). Darius Fleming entered on 2nd (and 3rd) Down for Filer.

Final WSU Drive/1st Half

Following another Irish TD drive, the Cougars take possession at their own 33-yard line and embark on their best drive of the contest, moving 67 yards on 7 plays (2:49) and the score: a 11-yard pass from Tuel to WR Jared Karstetter. Gary Gray and Robert Blanton serve at CB on the drive with the Irish in their 4-3 defense (eventually switching to Nickel). Fleming and Neal begin at DE (substitutions below). ND 23 WSU 7

  • The Irish are gashed for the first time on a 20-yard carry by Tardy as the Cougars make their initial foray into Irish territory. NT Ian Williams is pancaked and Johnson is controlled up front (both by solo blocks). Cougars veteran center Kenny Alfred gets a free release and blocks Te'o in space while Brian Smith took a bit of a sloppy angle toward the play (it seemed to me that Harrison Smith already had that gap covered). Gary Gray was blocked outside but McCarthy made a nice open-field tackle at the Irish 47-yard line.
  • Mitz barreled over right tackle as Fleming is secured by a double-team on the edge Harrison Smith is neutralized by fullback/TE Jared Byers. Ian Williams was effectively blocked (though he did make initial penetration) and Te'o fought off another one-on-one block by Alfred this time to make the TD-saving ankle-tackle 11 yards downfield.
  • Mitz is stopped for no gain by Brian Smith (who slipped a Byers block). Both Johnson and Williams had good initial penetration to break up the designed middle run. Kerry Neal was moved from his gap a bit but helped hold up a cutback over the left side, allowing Smith to make a clean tackle.
  • On 2nd and 10, Tuel escaped a hole in the four-man Irish rush (Williams dive at Tuel's feet forced the scramble) and the QB gained four yards (eluding Harrison Smith, who didn't square his body on Tuel's cut to the right) before going down in front of Sergio Brown.
  • After a WSU timeout, the Irish employed the Nickel package but Tuel, on 3rd and 6, hit tight end Tony Thompson for 15 yards to the ND 16-yard line. Thompson came from the inside of "trips left" and ran a fake wheel-route, then cut-back inside of Gary Gray (who read the wheel) for a leaping first down catch. Decent coverage by Gray but a great adjustment (and route) by Thompson. The Irish brought a four man rush with Johnson and Lewis-Moore stunting inside.
  • Tardy gains 5 up the gut, stopped eventually by Lewis-Moore who spun to make the diving stop after the initial block. The Irish brought both Brian Smith and Te'o on B-Gap (between guard and tackle) blitzes but both were picked up.
  • On 2nd and 5 at the ND 11-yard line, Tuel threw a fade to the outside (right) to Karstetter for a touchdown. Blanton had fine position but located the ball late and never got his feet under him to jump and challenge the 6'4" receiver for the ball.
  • Substitutions: Lewis-Moore in the Nickel defense.

2nd Quarter Observations:

  • The Irish Nickel package, though vulnerable vs. a committed ground attack, offers the team its most athletic and versatile personnel grouping and could cut down on the perceived defensive confusion we saw through the first seven games.
  • Rest easy Ian Williams backers: the Irish nose tackle will play the bulk of the contest vs. Navy, Connecticut, and Stanford (with a heavy rotation expected vs. the Panthers in Pittsburgh).
  • The Irish cornerbacks continue to struggle to make plays on the ball at its highest point.

Halftime Score ND 30 WSU 7

A review of the 2nd Half will be published prior to today's press conference. Top Stories