Irish Defense: 1st Quarter

IrishEyes quarter-by-quarter review of the defense's performance in Pittsburgh examines a solid opening effort but a lack of playmaking across the board.

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

Opening Drive

The Irish opened in a 4-3 base defense with John Ryan at right defensive end and Harrison Smith at strong side linebacker. Pittsburgh native Darrin Walls joined Gary Gray as the starting CB duo. Pittsburgh began at its own 21-yard line and embarked on a 13-play, 62-yard drive that culminated in a Dan Hutchins field goal. The Panthers opening drive was extended by a roughing the punter personal foul call on Darius Fleming. Pitt 3 ND 0

  • Gray remained in his backpedal for an extra step which allowed Oderick Turner room for a 9-yard hook and 12-yard gain on the left sideline to open the contest.
  • LDE Kapron Lewis-Moore and NT Ian Williams apply pressure to Panthers QB Bill Stull on a designed bootleg right and Irish SS Kyle McCarthy immediately diagnoses the pass to freshman running back Dion Lewis in the right flat. McCarthy delivers a high blow but fails to wrap-up Lewis at the line of scrimmage and the nation's best freshman turns a lost play into an 8-yard gain.
  • Stull fumbles the center exchange on 2nd and 2 setting up 3rd and 4 at the Pittsburgh 39-yard line.
  • Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming check in as nickel defensive ends. Freshman LB Manti Te'o's blitz is picked up by fullback Henry Hynoski in the backfield allowing Stull to drill a square-in to sophomore Jonathan Baldwin for 12 yards and a Panthers 1st Down.
  • Ryan and Ian Williams return as the Irish set up in the base 4-3. Te'o delays on a blitz forcing Stull to throw. The senior QB glances at TE Dorin Dickerson in the right flat which draws McCarthy a step toward the talented senior target and allows Stull a clear passing lane behind McCarthy but a wide open Oderick Turner drops the short pass, setting up 2nd and 10.
  • Neal gets backfield penetration from his RDE spot but is sealed off as Lewis carries for three yards over left tackle. Gary Gray makes the tackle as Brian Smith and Harrison Smith were controlled by kick-out blocks.
  • Facing 3rd and 7 at the ND 43-yard line, Stull's pass to the flat is deflected by Kerry Neal (LDE) to force a Panthers punt.
  • Standing at his own 46-yard line, punter Aaron Smith is knocked down by teammate Myles Caragein (shoved by Brian Smith) and nicked by the rush of Darius Fleming, who's whistled for a 15-yard roughing penalty and an automatic first down. Caragein did the damage but Fleming couldn't come under control late and he did make contact with Smith. There's no doubt this should have been the 5-yard "Running Into the Kicker" penalty rather than a 15-yard personal foul.
  • With a fresh set of downs at the Notre Dame 28-yard line, Lewis gains 9 yards on a draw over left tackle. Ryan had dropped into the short zone off the snap and was subsequently controlled in space with DT Ethan Johnson was ushered upfield and out of his gap. Williams was double-teamed and Te'o was completely sealed in space by move tight end Nate Byham. A hustling (all the way from a backside blitz) Harrison Smith caught up to Lewis through the initial hole to make a flying tackle. Gary Gray stayed home to help with an ankle wrap.
  • On 2nd and 1, Hunoski barrels for two yards and a first down up the gut. Johnson, Williams, and Lewis-Moore were pushed back a solid yard on the snap. Ryan penetrated a bit but was safely away from the play.
  • Dion Lewis ran a wheel route to the outside right but Stull's pass falls in front of the wide open freshman. Brian Smith (as pointed out by game announcers) blew an assignment, taking a false step and turn toward the tight end who was easily covered by S Sergio Brown.
  • Te'o evades a block to combine with Brian Smith on a stop of Lewis at the line of scrimmage. Ethan Johnson was held (no call).
  • Stull was able to squeeze in a back end zone post pattern to Turner but the senior receiver bobbled the sure touchdown and stepped out of bounds for a juggling catch, incomplete. Sergio Brown made a play on the ball but missed on his swinging attempt at the ball in the air. Pressure applied by LDE Darius Fleming on the play.
  • 34-Yard Field Goal gives the Panthers a 3-0 lead.
  • Substitutions: SLB Scott Smith checked in for Harrison Smith on the fumbled snap. Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal replaced Ian Williams and John Ryan in the Nickel Defense.

2nd Panthers Drive

The Irish begin in identical 4-3 personnel. Pittsburgh managed two first downs before punting to the Irish after 31 yards on 6 snaps with one minute remaining in the 1st Quarter. Pitt 3 ND 0

  • With 1st and 10 at his own 15-yard line, Stull hits Dickerson for a 10-yard gain on a crossing route underneath the defense. The Panthers ran Dickerson from the left side behind the line of scrimmage to the right side and the senior caught a short pass and simply used his speed to gain 10 yards on the play. McCarthy was caught flowing a step too far toward Lewis who Stull had faked a handoff before rolling right. McCarthy, Te'o, and Lewis-Moore combined for the downfield stop.
  • Lewis gains 9 yards with a nice cutback over the left side. The freshman run underneath Te'o's outside blitz (Te'o correctly stayed with his responsibility, Stull), and past John Ryan who was collapsed (arguably held/collared) on the edge. Sergio Brown slowed and tackled Lewis who put on two moves in space.
  • Ian Williams shed a block to meet Lewis in the hole (on 2nd and 1) but as usual, Low Man Wins, and Lewis trucked the too-high, slightly off-balance Williams to gain 5 yards after initial contact. Te'o and McCarthy combined for the takedown.
  • Dickerson could not handle a pass in the right flat though McCarthy had the coverage, regardless.
  • Lewis gained three yards on a toss left. Neal was sealed on the edge while Gary Gray was blocked to the ground in the fray. Gray, however recovered to wrap Lewis' ankle as Sergio Brown came up for an all hit, no wrap tackle that was ultimately successful
  • On 3rd and 7, Stull was pressured right and forced to throw back left for four yards near the sidelin but McGee was stopped well short of the marker by Harrison Smith. Kerry Neal applied edge pressure from his RDE spot as did Fleming with an inside move that collapsed the pocket. Good zone responsibility by Harrison Smith on the play as McGee crossed in front of him.
  • Substitutions: Neal and Fleming, per usual, in the Nickel Defense.

Three 1st Quarter Observations:

  • Dion Lewis is the best (college) running back the Irish have faced through 10 games this season. Either Lewis or anyone on Navy…
  • If I were to pick two areas of improvement for Te'o in the off-season it would be breaking down and coming under control on blitzes and studying learning better angles toward the ball carrier on outside runs. (The latter is likely solved by playing time/experience).
  • Solid overall effort by the Irish who should have pitched a shut-out through 15 minutes.


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