Eye in the Sky: OLB and DBs

A full-film review of the Irish outside linebackers and defensive backs from Saturday's contest.

WMU opened in their "Lonesome Polecat" formation (which looked like a swinging gate), an unbalanced line with the center, quarterback and two eligible receivers near the right hash and the rest of the line plus a tailback on the left hash. ND handled it easily as Fleming shot through to knock down Alex Carder's first pass into the flat. Why not save that for a goal line play rather than first down, 80 yards from the end zone? The Polecat did work one series later for a one-yard first down on 4th and 1 at the Irish 11…

Darius Fleming

Strong penetrating effort on 4th and G from the 1-yard line but Calabrese and Te'o failed to wrap up the finishing hit and Carder spun in for the score…Performed his best pass drop of the season, backpedaling into the right flat t step in front of a 9-yard out route intended for the nearside wide receiver. Heck of a play by Fleming who looked like a pro 3-4 OLB on that particular snap. The Irish offense scored on a 32-yard TD pass on the turnaround…Teamed with NG Ian Williams on the next defensive snap for a 12-yard snap of Carder; good edge push by Fleming and pure force from the senior Williams.

Applied late pressure (completed pass) on the ensuing play as well…Good backside pressure and pop of the RB in pass protection but Carder completed an 11-yard pass during the Broncos' late-half field goal march…Buried from a down RDE position as Winchester gained five yards to set up 1st and G at the ND 4-yard line…Sealed inside on Carder's 3-yard draw TD two snaps later.

Brian Smith and Kerry Neal

Smith blew a containment assignment on the Broncos' second series, biting too far inside vs. an option to his side (the only thing you can't do). Zeke Motta covered for him with a tremendous run fill and hit of the pitch man…Incredibly stupid late-hit (spear) by Kerry Neal midway through the second quarter. Making things worse: this is the first reference to Kerry Neal and its late in the second quarter…Smith cleaned up Juan Nunez after the receiver bounced off a Te'o hit (no wrap up) on a curl route inside.

Second Half: Neal hustled down the line unblocked to stop Winchester for a gain of 1-yard on the half's first snap…Neal fired off the backside on the ensuing play to team with Ethan Johnson for a 2nd down sack of Carder.

Prince Shembo: Also appeared early, but nearly provide a highlight late, playing a garbage-time reverse perfectly but failed to finish the tackle for loss in the Broncos backfield (the play resulted in an ugly limited gain.

Robert Blanton and Darrin Walls

Blanton held up on the corner vs. a 1st down option run on WMU's second series, taking on pitch man Aaron Winchester for a solid hit and one-yard loss; credit to Brian Smith for forcing the early pitch and Ian Williams for taking away the middle, then a cut back lane.

Walls took away an outside lane on a 3rd and 3 pass to the flat but his inside pursuit (Brian Smith) slipped down and the Broncos moved the chains…As noted in our live game notes from the press box, Walls was beaten badly on a pump-and-go but Alex Carder threw opposite…Blanton gets caught holding on an out-route to help the Broncos convert a 3rd and 2 first down late in the half.

Second Half: Blanton showed good solo coverage on a corner route vs. Jordan White, forcing a 3rd and 10 on the Broncos' second series of the half…On the following series, popped Winchester on a toss left; Aligned basically as the OLB in a nickel role, Blanton popped the left tackle in the chest then burst through to make the backfield hit (seriously). Great job on the edge by Darrin Walls to cut off the outside lane…

Gary Gray

Caught for hooking the receiver with his inside hand – the second such call against Gray in three weeks (always a tough call for the officials)…Continues to play smart position defense, this time taking away a receiver's inside cut on a stop-and-go from the 18-yard line…Ankle tackle after a 7-yard gain on 3rd and 8 (credit to Juan Nunez for a nice stutter route)…Forced a fumble on the game's fourth series, coming up to hit Jordan White who had converted his 3rd down catch for a first down (recovered by Ethan Johnson).

Deftly cut off a 1st Down go route with under four minutes remaining in the first half; Gray diagnosed that route from the snap…Two plays later, dominated Juan Nunez on a sloppy slant route, picking off the Carder pass to set up the Irish with 1st Down at the WMU 44-yard line (ND scored on a Crist to Eifert TD four plays later).

Second Half: On the Broncos second series, Gray came up for a strong ankle tackle in run support to take down Drake for a 1-yard loss in the flat….

Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith

Tremendous effort coming up late to stop a surprise option to the right side: Motta sprinted from 11 yards back to drill Tevin Drake after a two-yard gain… A tad late (discretion probably the better part of valor on the play) in his Cover 2 assignment and a 20-yard near side out-route on 2nd and 22 is completed in front of him. Decent hit but Smith broke late on the play…Smith allowed himself to be picked on a crossing route in front of him for 11 yards down to the ND 9-yard line with just over six minutes to play in the first half…

Motta showed good coverage on a deep corner route late in the half but on the ensuing play, failed to knock down a late throw, then missed the tackle at the sticks on what became a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 3 to buoy the Broncos late-half TD drive; slop-fest by Motta and I have a feeling Brian Kelly had that particular play in mind during his post-half chat with Alex Flanagan.

Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy, Barry Gallup, Chris Salvi and Lo Wood

Slow to break behind a 12-yard hook inside from the right slot (tough coverage assignment if that was really Te'o's pass drop as indicated by game announcer Mike Mayock…Entering the game midway through the final quarter, McCarthy was late getting to the deep corner in Cover 2 (despite a nice deep drop by the cornerback in front of him, Barry Gallup...The Broncos targeted McCarthy on the next play, beating him deep with Nunez down teh slot: one step to the corner and a burst to the post froze the rusty McCarthy for 48-yard gain.

Wood was close enough to break up the ensuing fade route touchdown attempt, but the freshman corner never got his head around (dropped and should have been six)...McCarthy came up to make a tackle on a broken trick play to eventually negate the late march and force a field goal...Walk-on Chris Salvi earned much deserved late-game snaps from scrimmage as the Irish limited the Broncos to a field goal on their final drive with what has now become their trademark bend but don't break defense.

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