A closer look at the play of the Irish defensive backs in Saturday's victory over the Boilermakers:
Set the tone with a big stick in open space on the game's first play; followed it up with another play in run support to hold tailback Al-Terek McBurse to a minimal gain…Stayed home nearside to limit another run, this time vs. Jared Crank for 4 yards; Gray with three of the defense's first four tackles…fought off fullback lead block to make initial stop of McBurse on 2nd and 2, limiting the runner to a yard…Stayed home (again) as the backside defender to stop an otherwise deceptive toss play for one yard on the boundary side…form tackle on Keith Smith immediately after the catch a big change from last season…Saved a first down, possibly a touchdown with backside, boundary side fill vs. Edison in space, forcing a field goal.
Second Half: Excellent play on 4th and 1 to deflect a Marve pass, killing the Boilermakers drive inside the 5-yard line.
Observations: Extremely tough for one wide receiver to block in space. Hard to argue against Gray as the team's defensive MVP vs. the Boilers.
Dropped deep from his Cover 2 flat responsibility to pick off QB Robert Marve at the Irish 16-yard line; Walls read Marve's eyes as he left his coverage to take away the deeper route option for his third career pick; diving safety Jamoris Slaughter
might have made the play had Walls not picked it off…showed good force in run support to take down an inside handoff to the slot receiver who had cleared the tackle box…solid through the first 20 game minutes as a tackler vs. powerful receiver Keith Smith.
Second Half: Beaten badly by Cortez Smith on a simple go-route at about the nine-minute mark…Walls responded with a fantastic hit on Keith Smith for no gain the following play, chopping down the oversized target at the line of scrimmage; that's how you respond to a poor previous play…decent coverage deep downfield vs. Walls on a scramble pass that traveled 50 yards, though either Walls or Siller could have been called for interference simply because officials routinely screw up that judgment call…Finally looked a little sloppy on reverse during Purdue's final possession…
Observations: Strong consistently as a tackler after allowing the short catch…Gave up a few catches to Keith Smith but consistently made the stop and that's the key vs. the strong and aggressive Smith. If he plays that aggressively each week the Irish will win 9-10 games.
Finished a couple of 1st quarter tackles (downfield) with authority…did the same in the 2nd Quarter but again 13 yards downfield…saved a first down with solid support vs. a tunnel screen to Keith Smith deep in Irish territory...Solid one-on-one coverage in goal line stop of Boilers on first play of the 4th Quarter…Quiet game for Smith, which is fine for a boundary safety.
Nice break on a scramble deep ball to break up a 3rd and long pass attempt; Slaughter came off his deeper receiver to make the breakup…looked quick on containment blitz outside but Marve completed the off balance 3rd down pass…Cleaned up a Te'o mistake in space with a perfect form tackle on Antavian Edison
Second Half: Sat out the bulk of the half with an ankle injury.
Observations: Even on replay I never noticed where/when Slaughter suffered his ankle injury. The safety position needs his athleticism next week.
Made a key clean-up tackle after a teammate's open-field miss of Dierking midway through the 3rd Quarter…Recovered vs. tight end Kyle Adams, denying an easy passing lane for Marve on 4th down to open the 4th quarter.
Observations: Played extensive second half minutes in place of injured Jamoris Slaughter…top play was a diving fumble recovery of Cierre Wood's error on 38-yard kick return. Motta will be a good one but he just looks like a huge linebacker on the back end right now.
Showed solid coverage vs. Boilers short routes…Played the role of Gary Gray, staying home on a boundary side run to hold Dierking to a gain of two yards in the 3rd Quarter…Also made consistent tackles with limited extra yards allowed vs. Keith Smith.
Observations: Blanton will be a solid No. 3 cornerback with the addition of more zone coverages this year. Confidence remains the key for the junior corner.
The secondary missed no tackles in the first half (linebackers, on the other hand)…Outnumbered once in bunch formation on 3rd and 7 (obvious forthcoming conversion was noted by a few of us in the press box pre-snap). Likely the team's most impressive defensive unit in the season opener, due largely to the play of cornerbacks Gary Gray and Darrin Walls.
IrishEyes' film review of the Notre Dame defensive backs in the season-opener.
Gray defensive MVP while fellow corner Walls plays a strong game as well.