Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Irish Defense Isn't Quite What We Thought It Was
On the night that saw Notre Dame absorb its first regular-season loss since 2011, it was the Fighting Irish defense that walked away with more questions than answers in Ann Arbor. From both a personnel and execution standpoint, the Notre Dame defense showed it still has some growing to do to become an elite unit.
Thirty points on the board, seven contributed by the defense, should have been enough to keep Brian Kelly's regular-season win streak going. Yet, with a defensive roster loaded up with talent, Notre Dame could not get off the field in critical spots or stop Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon from having huge days.
The issues started up front for the Irish.
Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt got good push, but the two likely first-round picks routinely came up just short of making the play Notre Dame needed. In passing downs, Gardner was able to avoid the rush, buying himself time to find his targets. In the run game, good technique and good push did not yield the tackles at the line from the linebackers when the team needed stops.
As for the linebacking situation, Prince Shembo also could not quite get to Gardner in rush situations. Ishaq Williams recorded the only true sack for Notre Dame, as Gardner extended plays with his legs and Michigan moved the pocket laterally with called rollouts.
It was not just rushing the quarterback that created issues. Interior linebackers were large nonfactors in coverage. Players were caught between adding to the rush as Gardner moved behind the line, trying to find receivers as the Wolverines picked the defense apart.
In the run game, linebackers took poor angles to get to the ball, guessed at holes instead of playing sound gap football and at times were just slow to make reads. Plays that should have been stopped for minimal gains turned into the first-down runs and schedule-maintaining carries that drives are built upon.
Gallon's eight catches for 184 yards day speaks for itself, with respect to the secondary. The small, but quick, receiver did his damage all over the field, catching three touchdown passes.
Everything Michigan wanted to do in the pass game was accomplished, and the Irish defense added to the success by missing tackles in spots.
A tough pill to swallow for the Irish who must go back to the film room and regroup after being taken apart by Michigan. The positive is, with offensively inept Purdue up next and Michigan State on deck, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his unit have time to fix errors.
Stopping the run has to be job one, followed by containing mobile quarterbacks and getting pressure in the pass game. The Irish have plenty to work on, and with the talent the roster possesses, correcting the issues is something to expect in the coming weeks.
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