BCS Championship 2013: Why Notre Dame's Defense Suddenly Looked Like a Mid-Major
The final horn has blown on the 2012-2013 college football season, with the Alabama Crimson Tide hoisting the crystal football. Nick Saban's team gets their third title in four seasons, and sends the Fighting Irish home humbled. The 42-14 beating of the Irish is another testament to "The Process."
For Notre Dame, this was a team that many folks did not recognize. After spending the year watching the Irish defense be a steady performer, a constant pillar of discipline and producer of timely playmaking, it turned into something else. Monday night, in Miami Gardens, the ND defense was a sloppy mess that could not get out of its own way.
Were you surprised at the poor performance of the Irish defense?
Sure, Alabama deserves credit for its execution and precision in manhandling the Irish. However, in watching this Irish debacle, you'll notice that there is enough blame to go around on the Notre Dame side of things.
Chalking it up to Alabama just being the superior squad does this effort a disservice. Point is, guys on Notre Dame's defense—players who have showed up all season long—did not show up in the BCS National Championship Game.
It starts with the leader, Manti Te'o. The senior who has won every single award he could possibly grab this season, save for the Heisman, looked remarkably pedestrian. Te'o was a non-factor in coverage. He was a non-factor against the straight ahead run. He was a non-factor in going side-to-side. He was a non-factor on the blitz.
In other words, Manti Te'o just did not produce. The heart and soul of the Fighting Irish defense was merely a ghost on the field. Te'o missed tackles. Te'o could not get off blocks. Te'o could not get through the gaps. Te'o took bad angles. For the first time in his illustrious career at Notre Dame, the list of things that he seemingly could not do was a lot longer than what he did right.
To be fair, Te'o was not the only established Irish player who did not come to play. Zeke Motta, the experienced safety in the back end, threw a no-hitter in several big spots. The safety came on dialed-up pressures from Bob Diaco and, with a chance to make tackles for loss, he came up empty-handed against Alabama.
Linebacker Dan Fox got moved around the field and took bad angles for much of the game. Matthias Farley and Keivarae Russell were liabilities in coverage. Ishaq Williams proved he has a long way to go when it comes to being a capable defender in space. Danny Spond got pushed around.
Ultimately, the list of what Irish defenders did wrong is quite long, but it does not stop with just the players. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco also did not call his best game. On the first two 'Bama drives, the Irish lined up in a less traditional four-man front, moving Louis Nix III off the point, and off the injured Barrett Jones.
Diaco also opted to play the smaller, better in pass coverage Dan Fox over the run-stuffing Carlo Calabrese for much of the game. Much of a game where tackles were being missed, holes were going unfilled and the linebacking corps needed to be playing more downhill.
Quite honestly, the lone positive play out of this game from the Irish's defensive standpoint came from Louis Nix III. The big boy from Florida routinely got the better of Alabama's Barrett Jones. Unfortunately, Brian Kelly's LBs were either nowhere to be found behind Nix, or they were missing tackles.
It was a wildly uncharacteristic showing from the Fighting Irish. Hats off to Alabama for coming in better prepared and for executing, but if you're Notre Dame, the defensive effort is a big disappointment. The defense is where the team hung its hat all season, and on the biggest stage, it was the defense that let them down.
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